No Signpost. And, lessons left on the table.
The militant nationalist and former PNGDF Commander Jerry Singirok was the kingpin. And, he was critical of PNG's political failures that prompted his talking to power in 1997.
He later wrote his book entitled, 'A Matter Of Conscience'.
Today, his country, still hanging on, is ravaged by the same story he arrested in 1997, 24 years ago. The series of within - systems political changes happened, and PNG moved on, forging the way ahead.
This year, 2021, is 45 years. The challenges of independence and nationhood tested our leadership:
(1) 1997 Sandline Crisis.
(2) 1999 Governance Crisis.
(3) 2011/12 Political Impasse.
(3) 2019 Laguna Effect ' Hung' Parliament.
(4) 2020 ' Hung' Parliament, Legitimacy Crisis, 63 Sitting Days Deficit.
The point made by Jerry Singirok when he caused the demise, and dislocation, of the reigning regime in 1997 is clear.
It was the mood of economic nationalism in PNG which no leader can ignore, and the focus by what he sees as the role of leaders to constructively channel it from there to pursue the national interest.
He defined outlawing of backroom deals , but this could happen without isolating the country
and its national interests.
In the latest of the waves of uncertainty, and political turmoil:
(1) in 2019, the result of the within - systems political change hit Peter O’Neill, who was dethroned as Prime Minister.
By virtue of his longevity and energy, he was probably PNG’s most powerful prime minister, a skilful politician, and he appeared invincible for so long.
But, he finished his time as prime minister isolated and defeated by what even he admitted was a perceived “need for change”, his achievements insufficient to counter his mistakes and vacillations.
And, he was also perhaps the most divisive.
(2) But, his definition of national interest means the midstream within - systems political change in 2019 has come under attack, and PNG politics goes to the courts.
Oneill is fighting to defend his space.
There were three cases pursued by the Opposition: (1)Validity of James Marape’s election as PM; (2) Legality of parliamentary session on 17 November 2020, and subsequent adjournment of Parliament to April, 2021; and (3) final adjournment of Parliament to August 10, 2021 with 63 minimum required sitting days challenged in court.
James Marape and his predecessor, Peter Oneill will play their cards in the next 12 months. The practice of politicians turning to the court may have left many constitutional questions unanswered.
And, for MPs the stakes could not be higher, and time is short.
(3) Both Marape and Oneill are exploiting the instability, and predatory landscape of PNG politics, to be in government when elections are held in the second half of 2022.
O'Neill could still institute or pull a vote of no confidence less than 12 months before the issue of writs for the next election.
(1) Peter O'Neill will count on this option. The roadshows to different, and key electorates in the country already happened.
And, FB branding of PNC as the stand alone example of the dream team for PNG through live chat twice with 1000s following took the fight closer to conclusion than thought possible.
(2) And, if the vote is successful, the Governor General will dissolve parliament and bring elections forward 12 months.
With the high turnover rate, in which about half the incumbent MPs lose their seat every election, the pain of losing their seats in 2022 will cause MPs to side with an early winner.
In 2022, the turnover is likely to be about 80 percent from data available. It is a disturbing scenario post - Covid 19 scar or 'scam' which has embedded itself.
The Marape/Basil regime gets all the blame.
And, MPs have no time to defend themselves through debate in Parliament and therefore insulate, take cover from raging public sentiments against sitting MPs.
(3) In the event of a vacancy in the PM’s post, however, parliament can vote in a new PM without dissolution of parliament.
In the aftermath of 2011 political impasse, with eight months left before the issue of writs for the 2012 elections, political change still occurred.
The absent Prime Minister Michael Somare (in Singapore receiving medical treatment) in 2011 was removed as MP by a motion put on the floor of parliament, and the PM seat declared 'vacant’.
Parliament then elected Peter O’Neill, instead of running a vote of no confidence.
The opposition now pinned its hope to win the last of the three cases. And, keep hopes alive through the courts to have a go at dislodging Marape. The prime minister on the other hand needs to win all three. He won two out of three.
Still, there is no guarantee the Opposition would win any vote of no confidence, which it would still need to do – unless the Prime Minister is forced to resign.
If it does come to a vote of no confidence, the outcome is unclear. The numbers game counts. Any political change will suggest the scenario to unfold into 2022 NGE. And, after.
In the developing story, and drama, Peter Oneill possibly comes back into the conversation as the man to watch.
The courts will play a critical role in PNG politics to say whose definition of national interest was correct, sustainable, politically correct.
Meanwhile, the lessons from Sandline Crisis are still on the table.
The definition of national interest is illusive. It saved Peter Oneill. Or, contaminated? James Marape, his successor, is firing blanks.
We follow the discussion on economic nationalism, and the opportunities that went begging in which the story became blurred.
The ideal remains on the table.
17 March 2011
Sandline Mercenary Crisis – PNG Failed to Learn the Lessons, Says Singirok
(Source: Post Courier, Jerry Singirok, OPINION)
The former commander of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force reflects on the 1997 Sandline mercenary crisis that grabbed international headlines. His professional judgement at the time on the future of his country was critical. His conscience outweighed what was deemed a lawful executive order.
The former commander of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, Jerry Singirok, reflects on the 1997 Sandline mercenary crisis that grabbed international headlines. His professional judgement at the time on the future of his country was critical. His conscience outweighed what was deemed a lawful executive order.
It has been 14 years to this day when, as Commander Papua New Guinea Defence Force, I made a conscious decision, not only to abort the Sandline Contract “Contravene”, but also to expel Sandline mercenaries out of PNG and subsequently ask the then Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, his deputy and the Minister for Defence to resign.
Historians and many commentators have marked this event as a major crisis in PNG history.
However, in the main it was a result of series of blunders on the part of the executive arm of the government and policy advisor who had far ulterior motives other than addressing genuine plea for increased benefits for the landowners and the Bougainville Provincial Government.
The result was a significant shift in the security decision making thus affecting national security within the context of protecting PNG’s national interest, subsequently unleashing the contract by the grieving party which was me as commander and a handful of military hardliners who supported my opposition and successfully executed Operations “ Rausim Kwik”.
Upon reflection, it is disheartening to say the least that nothing has changed much since March 1997.
From the influx of illegal immigrants, lack of effective border security, and hegemonic tussles between the economic global giants, PNG continues to be an open and free playing field for investors and opportunists who by cohesion with our decision makers and respective agencies in the name of economic development ignore the plight of landowners and continue to generate uncertainties, frustrations thus creating a certain air of frustration throughout Papua New Guinea today.
Our era (1975-1997) was in the cold war era, where the military had to re-think and re-strategise new roles in Civil Military Affairs whereby the military if it had to justify its existence, must be restructured and re-trained into a military force that should be ready to assist during natural disaster, assist mainly in policing roles and contribution to international peace keeping and law enforcement.
It was therefore incumbent that those in position of command at that time understand the transition of a fighting force to a force for peace-making and the constraints and limitations it had was most daunting task for any military commander.
This was the dilemma I had as commander where the Papua New Guinea Defence Force was not tailored to fight a prolonged civil war against antagonists as it was not prepared, ill-equipped, lacked combat power which drastically affected the morale of the troops and most significantly lacked the political support.
I had been a career soldier and attended one of the most prestigious and reputable military colleges where future generals were bred. I have been privileged to be an exchange officer with the United States Army, British Army and was accorded a two-year employment opportunity with the Australian Defence Force as a lecturer in military arts and tactics at the Land Warfare Centre.
These exposures and professional training I received were an insurance that assisted me to take command of the Defence Force even at a prime age within the bounds of good command, leadership and stewardship based on strict military ethos based on empathy.
I will always mitigate and justify my actions regardless of public opinion and what lawyers and critics say. My professional judgement at the material time was critical where my conscience far outweighed what was deemed as a lawful executive order. To me, were superior orders seemed unlawful because of the serious consequences of a planned military operation against thousands of innocent civilians.
The consequence of the actual military onslaught according to my professional judgment would result in a carnage that would have been devastating to include serious crimes against humanity and would have drawn global condemnation and possible indictment to the Hague to face the War Crimes Tribunal for atrocities against thousands of innocent civilians.
The indictment would have included members of the National Security Council and me as commander, as we would be deemed to be culpable for conducting surgical military operations.
The experiences by Bougainvillians, Panguna landowners, royalty issues, the environmental damages and the lack of negotiation on their behalf by the National Government and the developer, Bougainville Copper Limited were critical issues that were not mitigated well.
The lessons of good governance which lacked wider community and professional consultation are still ambiguous even to this day. Investors with multibillion investments are flocking into PNG to exploit the people and the resources that are now becoming scarce globally regardless of community concerns.
Today foreign and commercial security companies have taken over national security functions it seems, a service reserved for state security forces with little or no government investment has been redirected to revitalise and revamp PNG’s own security forces. As a result of this neglect, the national security agencies have become defunct, disjointed, and operationally ineffective to protect PNG’s interest, sovereignty and security to say the least.
The concerns of lack of comprehension and understanding the issues of protecting national interest and security are appalling. It requires a government that puts the wellbeing of its citizens first before any other agendas.
Papua New Guinea’s law and order problem is escalating, HIV and AIDS is on an endemic rise, use of illegal guns, poverty is widespread, rural infrastructure is deteriorating or has been deteriorating and the government services of basic health and education have not been provided to many remote parts of PNG.
The land border with Indonesian-ruled Papua remains porous and the maritime boundaries and air space are not protected.
Equally of significant concern is the environmental damage as a result of industrial waste by the multimillion investors are a force of destruction that has and will continue to affect and plague Papua New Guinea.
Open door policy:
Really, if we continue the trend in the next five years of neglect to our national security then we may as well have an open door policy where exploiters globally can help themselves to our God-given resources forcing the next generation to opt to resort to antagonism as seen globally where established regimes are being literally ousted by the mass.
It is too evident to see the parallels of what is happening in PNG today even after a series of governments came into power from 1997 onwards – except today there is tactfulness in the way large contracts are handled so as to suppress and distort public opinion.
The landowners and the citizens always get the raw end of the deal.
Regrettably the lessons learnt from the engagement of Sandline mercenaries and Bougainville civil war is easily forgotten it seems.
While Papua New Guinea continues to go down a path of self-destruction based on omissions, self serving and false proclamation of the wealth creation for only a few, the reality is that the next generation of Papua New Guineans may turn out to be a generation of disgruntled, misfits, uneducated, city roamers who may see those in authority as tyrants, self serving and may decide to take up arms to engage in a prolonged armed resurrection against the government, foreign investors and exploiters.
In any case, this security quagmire offers scenarios anticipated in the coming decade that would be very difficult to deal with as lessons in the past have never been learnt.
It has always and will be the people’s call first for good governance while upholding our Constitution for the wellbeing of our citizens. It’s time to learn from the lessons learnt from Sandline in 1997 and correct them for the better.
Major-General Jerry Singirok, MBE (Rtd), was Commander of the PNG Defence Force at the time of the Sandline crisis in 1997.
This article is republished from the PNG Post-Courier.
Sandline Mercenary Crisis, 1997. This was 24 years ago. PNG may have missed the opportunities. The years of an oil boom passed by.
The PDM - led regime was faulted, found wanting, in 2002. In 1997, PNC rose to power on the wave of publicity generated by the Sandline Crisis, and Bill Skate ascended to office as Prime Minister. And, he lasted for the next 2 years.
PDM led by Sir Mekere Morauta stayed in office for 3 years until 2002.
Then, NA was swept into office. In 2011, 9 years later, Great Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare was dethroned prompted by the events of 2011 political impasse.
In 2012, PNC returned to office the third time after taking control 8 months earlier. Peter O'Neill clinged onto the office of Prime Minister for 8 years.
Finally, the rise of Pangu Pati from a long slumber. On 30 May 2019, former Finance Minister under PNC years at the top for 8 years and Tari MP James Marape split with PNC with his 27 followers.
He ganered the support of Parliament to vote him in as the 8th Prime Minister of PNG. And, Pangu Pati under his new role as party leader sounded the slogan to ' Take Back PNG'.
On the public notice board, the Sandline Crisis in 1997 remained the yardstick to measure PNG's leadership where it matters most.
The challenge to get it right continues to evade Parliament. There were 5 NGEs, 25 years having lapsed, and the coming into the limelight of PNG politics of 6 Prime Ministers: Bill Skate, Mekere Morauta, Great Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, Peter O'Neill, and James Marape.
Jerry Singirok. 1997. His mission may be defined as an ability to invoke his conscience, '...a matter of conscience', to define economic nationalism, and the national interest.
It seems to compel great interest. The lessons to be learnt. They are left on the table.
And, his opinion. The short - term shocks up till 1997 had shortchanged the national interest namely by Investors flocking, weak peace-making, and open door policy which remain largely beyond the call to action by the government.
The nationalist slogans are good. 1999, 'Date With Destiny'. 2002, 'Fairer, Wealthier, Healthier Nation'. 2012, 'Wok Mas Go Yet'. 2019, 'Take Back PNG'.
But, historical arguments offered powerful legitimation to imperialism and colonialism, helping, for instance, to justify the conquest of indigenous peoples. Thus powerful settler societies such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand managed to marginalize the indigenous population not only in real life and in mainstream conversations.
But, also in history books.
Jerry Singirok pulled the plug on the historical argument. This was also the contemporary ideological and political battle to be fought.
The Sandline Crisis in 1997 is one of the features of our past. It is 24 years later. We have left-behind populations.
And, many citizens, or all citizens hold the government responsible for their plight.
2022 NGE looms. The signpost must be somewhere. Wise men from the East. And, the star prompts.
Kumul flai yet. Antap. The dark horse. And, the outside lane. Momase, here I come. Madang 'double - war' sing sing . Kundu pairap.
Enter, Jerry Singirok!
(Photo caption: Sandline Crisis, 1997- the role of militant nationalists in the PNGDF led by Brigadier - General Jerry Singirok himself, was explained in terms of moral consciousness to promote national interests ahead of parochial interests; State authority - in the aftermath of the Bougainville Crisis, and Sandline Crisis, legitimacy of PNG's capitalist state diminished when monopoly of lethal and combat capability of oppressive arms of state including PNGDF was undermined by the Sandline Crisis; Sir Julius Chan - he wanted to resolve the Bougainville Crisis his way in order to win the 1997 NGE, and return as Prime Minister; PNC ascends to hold high office - 1997, and returns in 2011/12 after political impasse and stayed in office for 8 years under Peter O'Neill as Prime Minister; PNG - challenges of independence and nation - building is a call to action)