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SBS TV Australia
Transcript Dateline 3/11/04
*RH = Rimbunan Hijau
Mark Davis: And now to our exclusive report from Papua New Guinea (PNG). A country of great concerns to Australia in recent years, after 12 months of negotiation, it has recently been agreed to that a contingent of Australian Federal Police (AFP) will be deployed to PNG to assist with the justice system there. But their task may be even harder than has been anticipated to date. In this report Bronwyn Adcock (BA) travels to the remote Western Province (WP) for a revealing look at policing PNG style- her investigation exposes an unholy alliance between corrupt police and a major logging company.
BA: This is the only way to travel in the WP of PNG. Incredibly remote and vast, it is the poorest and least developed province in PNG. It is also home to one of the world's great rainforests. This airline is owned by logging company RH PNG Ltd- related to Malaysian multinational RH. It’s the biggest player in PNG's logging industry. Today it's taking me for a close-up look at the province it virtually controls. We are landing at Kamusie- one of its largest logging camps
Guide: This is it, this is Kamusie. You are going to meet very shortly the boss of this area.
BA: Ling Kuok Poh (LKP) is the operations manager here. He has been in charge of the camp for 14 yrs. For years critics have accused RH of damaging the environment, mistreating workers and exploiting local communities but Ling is at pains to point out that his company is a model corporate citizen. So this is the school..? Schools, medical clinics, shops, houses- almost everything here and in most logging camps across the province was built by RH. With few exceptions, the national govt. has simply abdicated responsibility to the company. This has large parts of Western Province in the unusual situation of having a foreign company as de-facto govt. and here in Kamusie, and an operations manager as de-facto governor.
Gabriel Samol, RH senior manager: And with regards to the landowners, they have a lot more respect for him than their own leaders, unfortunately that’s the perception they have. They call him as a governor of the province for the local people here because he has been present with them for the last for 14 yrs. One thing you will find around here….the presence of govt. institutions is zero.
BA: Another thing lacking here is a viable police presence. When law and order breaks down the company has to fly in police at its own expense. But just who do the police work for when they come to Kamusie, the govt. of PNG or RH? I';ve come to see a policeman who was one of those regularly flown in. He says it is the company calling the shots.
Emmanuel Bani (EB): So our duties on that camp was to patrol the roads, highways in the jungles to make sure the company operations were running smooth without fear or without being attacked by local landowners and when the landowners complained about their rights, that's where we stepped in- we stepped in on behalf of the company.
BA: Constable Emmanuel Bani is a member of an elite police unit called the Southern Command Taskforce. For seven years his allegiance was to RH. Now in an extraordinary move he is breaking ranks. For his security and that of others we can't tell you certain details about his situation including which country he's in now.
EB: I thought of the welfare and the safety of my family. I feel safe now and I can do anything and say anything that I want to say to the media to expose the corruption.
BA: So you were essentially the private security of the company?
EB: We are deployed as security guards, personal A team of the RH company and every RH company worker in Port Moresby headquarters and any camp in the Papuan region knows us by name.
BA: So how did the local landowners feel about you then?
EB: They feared me a lot, they feared me and my boss and my other members, they feared us, they hated us.
BA: They had good reason to hate EB, he and his fellow police officers were more likely to dispense justice with their fists than with the law. As a young recruit fresh out of police college he was hand picked to join the Southern Command Taskforce based in Port Morseby. He discovered how the law was enforced in Western Province in 1999 when RH took him to his first assignment.
EB: I was woken up from my bed with a knock at the door and orders where given to me saying there was a RH bus waiting for me. I was supposed to get on that bus and taken up to the airport.
BA: The task force was flown here, to the Panakowa veneer mill. In recent years RH has invested millions of dollars into this mill and when I visited last week there were no signs of trouble. But 5 years ago disgruntled workers were rioting and foreign staff were being attacked. Constable Bani says the manager, who is now dead, gave orders to allow police on the ground.
EB: We handled those suspects good and proper.
BA: What do you mean..?
EB: I mean we bashed them up, we hit them with huge irons, and when we mobilised there, we made sure that these people who complained against the rights of their benefits were being manhandled. We belt them good and proper.
BA: So how violent, did people get seriously hurt?
EB: Yes, some were flown to a Daru hospital, some broke jaws, some broken hands, legs, beaten black, deep cuts on their hands, the pain they got was just so big- they bled you know.
BA: But why are you blaming the company for your actions, I mean aren't you the one who went in there and was violent?
EB: I became violent because of their actions, because of their instructions.
BA: According to Bani, it was his understanding that he and fellow officers were expected to use violence on workers and landowners. But sometimes there were explicit orders as well. Did you take orders directly from the company?
EB: Yes, we took orders from the company management on the ground.
BA: EB soon found that his new line of work was a profitable one, especially for a lowly paid policeman. He says whenever he was working in logging areas the company paid him a daily allowance. On top of that he received sporadic lump sum payments and he names the operations manager at Kamusie as the one who paid him.
EB: For example, Mr Ling he paid us appreciation money some sort of money which I call some sort of like bribery type of money. I've got monies worth about 3/4/5 hundred extra to my allowances, there on the campsite. When I'm trying to come back to Port Moresby, when he hands this over to me hiddenly, he gives it to me and he tells me that I'll see you back next week again.
BA: The lump sums Bani was paid varied. And it was his impression that at times the money was a reward for being violent. And how did it make you feel towards the company when you were given that money?
EB: I felt that the Asians respected me, they had respect for me and I felt that the police force couldn't give me this type of money, and money was my life, that was something that my family benefited out from.
BA: Did it make you want to do a better job for the company?
EB: It made me feel to do anything that the management wanted me to do, the company, RH company. If instructions were given by them, when I knew that the orders were not good for the benefit of our country, I did it because I knew I would be paid well.
BA: Over lunch in the company dining room, I put these allegations to Ling. Some people do say you even sometimes pay the police to do jobs for you?
LKP: Actually we just give them support, support for when they go out. We give them meals, transportation and some assistance on the refreshments.
BA: Do they ever get paid bonuses for doing jobs?
Ling: We are not doing any social payment.
BA: Do they ever work for the company on jobs, do you ever request they do things?
BA: At its company headquarters on the other side of the country in Port Moresby. RH agreed to respond to the allegations raised in this program. The 3 executives I spoke told me that the task force is only ever flown in when there is a genuine law and order issue to deal with. There is a history of violent attacks on company staff and property.
J.K. Balasubramaniam (JKB), RH Company Secretary: If there is situations on the ground which require a task force assistance of course we called it, but this requests are not often.
BA: Do you accept that there has been a major problem with police brutality in some of the logging areas over the last 7-8 years?
JKB: I don't think so, there's been any police brutality.
BA: None at all?
JKB: I.. I don’t think so
BA: RH acknowledges that an official allowance to cover incidentals is paid to visiting police. It also provides transport and logistical support but it denies paying lump sums.
JKB: It in inconceivable that a large multinational like RH would pay large lump sum to the independent Royal PNG constabulary to suppress and conduct police brutality against the peaceful citizens of PNG in Western Province. That is simply inconceivable.
BA: But he is saying that when he is working, he still is a member of Southern Command Task Force (SCTF), he was paid money on many occasions by Mr.Ling and that the company both directly and indirectly condoned the violence he perpetrated against people.
JKB: As I said earlier the company do not condone police brutality against the peace loving Papua New Guineans.
BA: One of the main sources of tension in logging areas comes from land owners who won't fully co-operate with the logging company. John Danaiya (JD) and Mauli Kulu are landowners from near Kumusie. Today they are in Port Moresby to meet with their lawyers to discuss a legal claim over the issuing of timber permits. It's a trip they have made before. They have been complaining about both the company and police brutality for years now.
JD: The police aren't following govt. policy. Are they working for the govt. or for the company?
BA: Although they don’t have the insiders view that constable Bani has, is their perception of what goes on around Kamusie the same?
JD: It's like the company wants to weaken the people. They want to disadvantage them. For example, if I’m the landowner and the company wants to cut my trees for timber I allow them to do so because people are frightened. The company called the police in and authorised them to go against the landowners. Do the police who deal with the landowners do this of their own accord? Or is it Mr Ling's doing because he's part of the Task Force and acting like one of them? He always sends them out in airplanes and some days he sends them out in vehicles because that's what he does.
BA: At the end of my interview with John and Manali, I pass them a photo of Constable Emmanuel Bani. Is he a member of the Task Force this man? John and Munali are coy, they don't want to say too much about Constable Bani, but there's no doubt they would be astonished to learn that their one time adversary is now on their side. Do landowners have a real reason to fear that the police will get them if they speak out against the company?
EB: Yes of course because they have seen it. Their children grew up and they have seen it happening, their father opened mouth and the mouth it was been shut by a huge timber 4 by 4 ;and otherwise the son says the same thing and it will be shut by a maybe a gun barrel.. you know.. so this fear has been there and they cannot fight against the company and so the company can do whatever it wants to do.
BA: EB says he's been considering his decision to speak out for some time. His main motivation is personal. He too was a landowner in Western Province and RH will soon begin operations on his ancestral land. He doesn't want what happened to the people around Kumusie to happen to his people.
EB: My old land is going to be under threat. My old land, I don’t like RH to get it there because they have soon bad practices bad pictures when I was with them.
BA: I took EB's story to the RH executives but RH insists it has a good relationship with landowners in the logging area. I have spoken to and interviewed a member of Southern Command Task force and he worked for the Taskforce since 1999 and he says “that RH used the police to drive fear into land owners'
JKB: Well, we deny this allegation, they are unsubstantiated. I think the police has many times investigated this in recent years and it has also been published in the local paper that all these allegations are unsubstantiated.
BA: So do you deny having any knowledge of police violence in the area?
JKB: I'm not saying that we don't have any knowledge, we are saying that we do not condone or encourage police brutality against the peace loving people of Western Province.
BA: The Southern Command Taskforce is a small unit with its own hierarchy, it’s ultimately answerable to the southern command division of the PNG police. John Maru is in charge of southern command. He says he has conducted a thorough investigation into allegations of police brutality. So do you accept that there has been a problem at al with police brutality in some of the logging areas?
JM: I think it is a lot of utter rubbish. That is not the case that I know of.
BA: What about the allegation that the southern command task force essentially acts on behalf of RH company out in Kumusie?
JM: That is again utter bullshit, it does not serve the purpose of the company.
EB; maybe I don't know he's got his own reasons to state what he says. I would also at this point in time like to deny categorically categorically that policeman are not on the payroll of the RH logging company.. never. they are never on the payroll.
BA: He said, that at times he was incredibly violent, you know, broke people's jaws, either because the company either directly asked him to or indirectly asked.
JM: I don't think he would have been guided by the company to do anything of that sort. He knows in himself that he is a trained and basically qualified policeman doing such things again of course is against the law.
BA: On a guided tour of Kamusie by the company we found evidence that police brutality does occur. We are introduced to Dr Willie Bellarosa, who runs the clinic in Kamusie. Do you ever see any cases that people are bashed up by the police? Assaulted by police?
WB: Yes, sometimes often sometimes not… I would think when was the last time this month I haven't encountered any .. I think last month was the last time.
BA: Earlier this year a forestry review team, set up by the PNG Govt. traveled to WP to look at logging areas. It was interested in all aspects of logging but found particular problems with police activity in a number of camps. Dateline has obtained a copy of their draft report into the RH logging site of Wawoi Guavi where Kamusie is. It says
V/O: The use of physical force by the Police Task Force to intimidate employees and landowners was one of the major issues raised by all members of the community. The people most certainly welcomed the presence of police in the area but not in the manner they were behaving and under the total control of the company.
BA: At one camp, the review team spoke to landowners who
V/O: claimed that any agreement they signed for the land to be used freely by the company was signed under duress in the presence of the police force.
BA: RH rejects the findings in this draft report. Although the final report is yet to be signed off on, the draft has been circulated and the Govt. has already acted.
Joshua Kalinoe, PNG Govt. Chief Secretary: Yes, we have commenced action on the reports. Firstly is the police, we've asked that I’ve requested the police commissioner to withdraw the taskforce which he has done and we are monitoring the situation on the ground very closely to make sure that policemen in logging camps are not there for too long.. we rotate them.. because the longer you keep them.. they become too friendly to the operating company.
BA: The man ultimately in charge of the SCTF, John Maru denies his men collaborate with the company and is clearly disgruntled by this decision. So why did the commissioner order you to take the SCTF out of Kamusie?
JM: I don’t know.. I told you before no answer was given no reason..
BA: But clearly he thought there was a problem with the SCTF to remove it ..?
]M: I can't suggest that it's best you interview him he will tell you.
BA: Despite the withdrawal order, Constable EB has told Dateline that some members of the Taskforce are still going into the area. Do you feel a bit like you have made some really foolish decisions in the last seven years? Do you feel regret?
EB: Of course.. Yes I regret.. I feel sorry for my people you know. I apologise for what I have done but I followed orders because I wanted my bread and butter like any other employee.. you know.
BA: The money was obviously incredibly important to you?
EB: It was important, it was very important to me.
BA: Is that the only reason you did all this?
EB: It wasn't the only reason.. it was because of the orders that was given you know .. the relationship between the company and the bosses.. the superiors that I have was very tight you know very close and if I didn’t execute what the company wants well they would complain to my bosses.
BA: Constable EB believes that the work he did for RH held sway with his bosses in Port Moresby. So do you think SCTF does a good job?
LKP: Yes they are doing a very good job. Very good job.
BA: Dateline has recently obtained a copy of a letter written by RH operations manager Ling Quok Poh. It concerns Constable Bani. It's written to Bani's overall boss John Maru and cc'ed to the Commssioner of Police. It commends Bani for his work in an intelligence operation in WP for which RH provided logistical support. The letter recommends
V/O: .. EB for immediate promotion at your discretion whenever convenient, strongly recommended, your favourable consideration and action shall highly be appreciated.
BA: Constable EB no longer expects he’ll receive any promotion. Once this interview is broadcast do you expect that you will be able to return to PNG?
EB: I don't think so.. I don’t think so I will return back to PNG that soon. It will take me a couple of years before I get back to PNG because this is very fresh.
Mark Davis: Filmed and reported by Bronwyn Adcock. And that story has already created something of a stir in PNG. As she tried to leave the country her passport was confiscated and she was questioned by police about this story. Despite today’s claims by the PNG Govt., Bronwyn entered PNG on a legitimate journalist visa.