The number of polling days in Milne Bay will be shorter because of the increase of 130 polling teams in this year’s National General Election (NGE), says the Milne Bay Provincial Police Commander (PPC), Superintendent Peter Barkie.
The 130 polling teams were assigned three security personnel each as polling security to assist the Electoral Commission to cover the four districts of Alotau, Esa’ala, Kiriwina Good Enough and Samarai Murua and the 16 Local Level Governments.
Mr Barkie said in the 2017 national general elections there were 79 polling teams dispatched into the LLGS and it was a struggle to cover the country’s largest maritime province which has over 252,000 square kilometres of water.
He said, “We have over 600 islands of which only 160 are inhabited. So, you can understand the logistical nightmare we have.”
Most of the polling started as scheduled on Monday July 4 and ended on Sunday July 10, 2022. Most teams did polls for only three to four days. By Saturday July 9, the Esa’ala district completed polling. Kiriwina Goodenough completed polling at 6pm on Saturday and on Sunday July 10 began transporting ballot boxes into Alotau.
Mr Barkie said, “For the Alotau district and all the other LLGS polling is completed except for two LLGs in Rabaraba. We have some landlocked areas that are not connected by road or water so you have to walk for days to get there. We are still waiting for air support to get into those two areas – Daga LLG and Weraura LL.
“We were told that helicopters would come on Sunday 10 July so hopefully we get them inserted on Sunday and they poll for two to three days and come back on Wednesday or Thursday this week.
“Alotau district has 7 LLGS. Samarai Murua district is mostly islands so all their polling is completed except for one LLG with no communication so we don’t know. We will only know when the boat returns to Misima. Murua area has no communication at all.”
He said that as PPC he “planned for the worst but hoped for the best”. He acknowledged that Milne Bay has been known for the wrong reasons, criminals and piracy, but none of that happened during the election period so he is happy that polling is now coming to an end.
“Those worst-case scenarios did not happen. We know that there will be discontentment over the ballot boxes or common roll and a lot of people did not find their names in there, but the situation was managed and we proceeded with polling,” he said.
According to the Provincial Returning Officer Ivan Maraka, counting should start today or no later than Wednesday this week. The counting will be done at the provincial headquarters in Alotau.
Meanwhile, network coverage remains an issue along with other logistical hiccups that stalled polling in some parts of Milne Bay.
“Most of our islands do not have networks. So, when you send troops up there, you don’t know what they do up there until they return back on boats from Misima and Alotau,’ Mr Barkie explained.
Although Milne Bay only has a total strength of 76 policemen and women for the four districts, he is happy and confident with the boost in manpower of 534 security personnel now on the ground who will assist the Provincial Election Manager to deliver a safe, fair and free 2022 National General Election.
Mr Barkie highlighted the arrangements on the ground included the polling security of which 65 reinforcements came NCD, the Quick Response Force (QRF) comprising of 20 Mobile Squad members, 25 from the PNG Defence Force, the Correctional Service with a contingent of 17, 25 members of the Navy Maritime Platoon and seven Water Police personnel.
He has activated 285 special constables who assisted in delivering this election with the assistance of his policemen and women including the Command and Logistics support team