Human security

Security in PNG ahead of the 2022 elections

As Papua New Guinea nears an election year, the country’s policymakers face a range of critical security challenges, from climate change to organized crime, writes Michael Kabuni.

Policymakers in the Pacific Island region face multi-faceted security challenges. This fact is not lost on the leaders of the region, as the 2018 demonstrated Boe Declaration on Regional Security, who expands the definition of security beyond geostrategic concerns to human security. These non-traditional security issues such as food security, water security and the protection of precious ocean resources feature prominently in the Boe Declaration.

For Papua New Guinea (PNG), the events of October and November 2021 alone demonstrate how multiple security issues can strike simultaneously. These issues, including displacement induced by climate change, COVID-19 and transnational crime, have dominated national politics for the past two months and will continue to do so as elections approach next year.

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow was important for PNG, not least because it will be among the first nations to deal with large-scale displacement and refugees linked to climate change. The country’s Carteret Atolls are becoming increasingly uninhabitable due to the rise in sea level. There are plans to relocate residents of this island to other parts of PNG – perhaps to one of the larger islands in Bougainville.

But internal resettlement has its own challenges: less than five percent land in PNG is allocated for government use. As such, resettlement will require complex negotiations with customary land owners. Mandatory land acquisitions are one way forward, but this requires compensation to landowners for land at market price.

However, past experiences show that the government is unwilling to do so. For example, when the inhabitants of Manam Island of Madang Province were displaced by volcanic eruptions, they were resettled on customary land in Bogia on the Madang mainland, where there are now Conflicts between the peoples of the continent and the settlers.

Despite the importance of COP26, the Prime Minister of PNG lack the meeting because the country was grappling with another threat: COVID-19.

COVID-19 exposed the weaknesses in PNG’s health infrastructure and capacity. The country has less than 500 doctors and less than 5,000 hospital beds. The fact that only about two percent of the population of nine million have been fully immunized is of great concern. Reluctance to vaccination, rugged topography, lack of road networks and a host of other factors hamper adoption.

In addition to these existing challenges, funds for the COVID-19 response, which are typically kept in a trust account within the PNG Ministry of Finance, have come under attack by ransomware hackers October 22. Ransomware attacks work through a virus designed to enter a computer system or network undetected, allowing unauthorized access to hackers who then demand payment in exchange for return of control of computer systems or the network.

Affecting all levels of government, the cyber attack targeted the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS), an information technology-based financial management, budgeting and accounting system that facilitates budgets and accounting for revenues, grants, expenses, payment processing and reporting. Although the government said no ransom was paid to hackers and the system was restored, the extent of the damage is uncertain.

In addition to these threats, the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) reported on November 3, that illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing in PNG remains the most significant threat to the long-term sustainability of PNG’s marine resources. PNG loses approx 400 million kina every year due to IUU fishing.

Surveillance of the PNG maritime border has been difficult due to the lack of capacity of the NFA and the PNG Navy. The problem extends to the surveillance of the 700 km PNG-Indonesia border. There are at least eight illegal entry points along this border which are largely unmonitored, resulting in movement of illegal materials, such as firearms, which end up being used in tribal fighting in the highlands.

These countless security concerns will only receive special attention in the coming months, as national elections are set for April 2022. There is reason to fear that the above issues could ignite elections already more and more tense and violent. In 2017, there were over 100 registered deaths directly linked to the elections. Vandalism, arson and destruction of life and property are becoming more common features of political participation.

This internal division contributes to the strengthening of transnational criminal unions, which tend to thrive in an environment of corruption and weak institutions. The growing strength of these criminal networks was underscored by a massive cocaine bust in 2020.

On 500 kg of cocaine bound for Australia was discovered after the plane failed to take off from the outskirts of Port Moresby. Drug unions have adapted and changed, particularly in response to COVID-19, reminding policymakers to persist and adapt as well.

In many cases, responses to these threats require international and regional cooperation. For example, there is very little that PNG can do on its own to reverse the impacts of climate change. A great responsibility lies with the leaders of the developed world, who must honor their commitments at COP26 and continue to step up their efforts to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Likewise, transnational and IUU criminal activities require regional intervention. Australia and New Zealand in particular have a big role to play in helping Pacific island countries tackle IUU fishing, which seriously hinders the economic development of small island nations.

TO At the national level, PNG must strengthen its military, police and health capacities. All three are underfunded and under-equipped, in terms of personnel, infrastructure and equipment. Like his recent deployment to Solomon Islands As has been shown, PNG must be prepared to face national and regional contingencies.

Although much depends on external partners, PNG needs to invest more in its health and safety sectors to manage its resources, ensure the safety of its citizens and secure its future beyond the elections of the year. next.