by Sasha Pei-Silovo – EM TV Online
The Governor for the National Capital District, Powes Parkop, has come out to clarify his stance on the betel nut ban in Port Moresby in light of the recent death of buai vendor Veronica Memi Onne.
The late Mrs Onne, from Goilala in the interlards of Central province, was run over and killed by a 25-seater PMV bus outside the PNG Power headquarters at Hohola last week while attempting to flee from police.
He said that as the main advocate for the law banning betelnut, he was placed in a moral dilemma as to whether to continue the ban or not and assured the public and relatives of the deceased that ‘if’ the police reservists concerned are found to have committed any criminal wrongs, they would be referred to the police for criminal prosecution.
“The picture of her grandson grieving at her side brings tears to all our eyes and demand those of us who make such decisions to search deep within our conscious the merit of the decisions we make”, he stated.
Governor Parkop, while expressing his condolences to the relatives of all those who have died since the ban began, reiterated that the ban was in place because of the irresponsible behaviours of persons who vend and chew betelnut.
“The ban is only in place because of their irresponsible behaviours; if they change, the ban can be lifted”, said Parkop.
Since the tragic death of Veronica Onne, many city residents have expressed remorse over the treatment of vendors by the buai ban enforcement agencies, which include the NCDC Reserve Police and regular police, with claims of blatant abuse and excessive use of force in enforcing the betelnut ban law in the nation’s capital.
There have also been claims by vendors and witnesses alike, who say that goods for sale such as drinks, biscuits and other food items, etcetera, are unnecessarily confiscated and their takings removed from them by the reservists and police.
Claims of physical abuse and police brutality have also been issued against the buai ban enforcement agencies.
Governor Parkop is adamant that any moves to abandon the Betelnut Ban Law would mean that all efforts placed in initiating and implementing the ban would be in vain and that the city would go back to ‘what it was or worse’ prior to the ban coming into effect.
He said, “the costs of stopping the filth and have people die from cancer and TB would also increase in the future if we abandon the ban now.
“Some decisions are not easy to make but for the benefit of all our people into the future, the residents of our city, especially the vendors and chewers have an opportunity to show that they care for the city, our health and our welfare when we soon to move to licensing sales of betel tin the city”, the Governor said.
Parkop further stated that the NCDC had already spent millions of kina in policing and enforcing the Betelnut Ban Law and posed the question of whether the city residents would willingly and voluntarily keep Port Moresby city clean and hygienic if the ban was abandoned.
“Would it reduce the expenses that we spend on cleaning the city and policing the sale of betelnut? Would it reduce the rates of people contracting TB as a result of chewing betelnuts? Would it bring a better city than before?” the Governor pointed out in his statement.
He urged city residents to share and carry the moral dilemma that the reported deaths have placed and to work for a better tomorrow for the city and the people of the National Capital District.
Director of NCDC Urban Safety, Paul Komboi, has also come out in defense of the NCDC Police Reservists who have been reportedly blamed for causing the death of the buai vendor.
Mr Komboi has outrightly said that that all reports of the NCDC reservists being responsible for the death of the late Mrs Veronica Onne are untrue. He said that though her death was unfortunate, Mrs Onne was never chased by the unit but rather, was attempting to escape when she was tragically hit by the oncoming PMV bus.
“The unit members never saw, approached or spoke to her to provoke her to run away; yes, the unit’s vehicle was there but they were dealing with two other female suspects for illegally selling betelnut at that time. The deceased fled upon seeing this without even being seen or spoken to by the reserve unit members”, Komboi said.
Mr Komboi stated that the reserve unit city patrol were mandated just as other police units and also dealt with, from time to time, criminal offences such as the sale of illicit drugs on the streets and petty crimes – bag snatching, pick pocketing, etcetera – and worked tirelessly to enforce the Betelnut Ban Law to keep the city clean, healthy and safe.
He further added that the ban had been in effect for over a year now and although the public in NCD were aware of the ban, many continued to smuggle and sell the banned nut through illegal means, thus defeating the purpose of the ban.
He extended his sympathy to the family and relatives of the late Veronica Onne, on behalf of the NCDC Reserve Unit and the NCDC Urban Safety division.
Also in light of the recent tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Mrs Onne, Paul Paraka, owner and principal of PNG’s biggest law firm has vowed to take up the fight against the buai ban in the Supreme Court and lead a city-wide awareness on issues affecting the lives of ordinary people who depend on betelnut to survive. He made this statement whilst visiting the deceased’s house of mourning last week.
The late Veronica Onne is the sister of Paraka’s school mate, Albert Tumei.