Forestry meets Police in first ever meeting

Newly appointed Acting Managing Director of the Papua New Guinea Forest Authority (PNGFA) Mr. John Mosoro for the first time, hosted a meeting with the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) to bring to light certain forestry issues of concern and work towards drafting a partnership agreement to address them.

RPNGC representative, Acting Deputy Commissioner Operations Mr Donald Yamasombi, attended the meeting at PNGFA Headquarters in Port Moresby on July 1st, 2021. Also in attendance were directorate heads and senior staff from the Field Operations Directorate.

At the meeting, Mr. Mosoro raised four concerns which included law and order at forestry project sites, harassment of forestry officers; training forestry officers to undertake policing roles; and PNGFA involvement in the Police Legacy System (PLS).

“There’s a big problem where landowners or people from outside are going into forestry project areas and sabotaging operations by harassing and kidnapping people for ransom”. The concern was especially for Gulf and Western provinces where people from Southern Highlands, particularly from Bosavi often walked to and from,” Mosoro said

Last year, some expatriates and nationals at Makapa TRP (Timber Rights Purchase) forestry project in Western province were kidnapped and later released after a K300,000 ransom was paid. The law and order concerns are especially for the Western and Gulf provinces.

“Because these forestry projects are sanctioned by the government, it is our duty to take care of them because we regulate them and issue them timber permits to operate. The industry has been writing letters to us, expecting us to take the lead so we must show leadership in this area of law and order by utilizing our police force,” Mosoro added.

Mr. Yamasombi expressed satisfaction over PNGFA’s efforts in trying to take the lead towards addressing the lawlessness in forestry projects.

“Investors came to my office and begged for police to attend to this. That’s how the police got involved. They are government sanctioned projects so we have to give that support. PNGFA as the government body that regulates the forestry sector, should take on board and address the issues, not the investors, which looks bad on us. I therefore appreciate PNGFA for forming this working relationship so we can make it conducive for investors,” Yamasombi said..

“We also have concerns over junior policemen harassing forestry officers, especially here at headquarters over royalty claims. Landowners bring their own policemen here and sometimes get our directors and managers locked up over claims of not paying royalties on time,” said Mosoro.

“I want such harassment of our officers who are protected under the Forestry Act to stop. They come as criminals and intimidate our officers. We will do a formal letter on this to the police commissioner.

“My officers deal with substantial amounts of money which are paid out as royalties so when the resource owners divide themselves into factions, and go and get their own policemen, my officers try to protect people’s royalty money, and sometimes get arrested. We however are thankful that police have been assisting us with our royalty runs,” Mosoro added.

Mosoro also told of his plans to have forestry officers trained as police reservists through a Memorandum of Agreement or Understanding saying.

“I want our field officers to be trained under some sort of arrangement by police as reservists under a formal understanding with the police so there is transparency in what we are doing, and get the industry to support us in this to include our camp sites, regional and provinces offices, so they have the legal power to do certain work.”

“In my previous employment, we had a very good working relationship with the police when through PLS, we provided financial assistance to the families of police officers who lost their lives while on duty. When a police officer dies while on duty, we support their families, especially their school aged children through PLS.”

“I want us to start visibility here through PLS as part of our corporate social responsibility. We must give back to the community, and the police force is the right one I believe we should give to because they will protect us. PNGFA will contribute and assist police officers who die while on duty,” Mosoro continued.

In reply, Mr. Yamasombi agreed that law and order was problematic in Gulf and Western provinces and he was happy that PNGFA wanted to seriously be part of addressing this, for its forestry projects.

Some people cook up stories that they have this and that and that certain people are blocking them from getting it, and involve the police. They go police shopping from one station to another to find any officer willing to assist them. Two offices you can deal with in such instances are Office of Assistant Commissioner Crimes for criminal matters, and Office of Director Fraud and Anti-Corruption for fraud matters.”

“The police commissioner had at the beginning of this year stood down all reservists because many a times, we find police officers being accused of many things involving corruption while in uniform. The RPNGC is now entering into MOU arrangements through which, any reservist sworn in can only serve in and around a particular jurisdiction. If you are serving in NCD and get transferred elsewhere, it ceases. The arrangement lasts as long as the MOU allows because when people start moving, unlike regular police members, no one keeps track of who is who. They report at will. If you are wearing uniform elsewhere without anyone monitoring your attendance to duty and what you are doing, you are bound to do anything.” Mosoro concluded.

Yamasombi elaborated that RPNGC has MOUs with the resource sector but the police engagement with the oil and gas industry is now being reviewed.

The RPNGC now has service agreements in the resource sector which now considers risks involved, unlike previously.

Regarding PLS, Mr. Yamasombi explained that it is sustained by K4 being deducted from the salary of each member of the police to the PLS. He said that the police force would greatly welcome PNGFA coming on board to support the PLS.

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