by NEMO YALO
This week is the Supreme Court week. Usually at the end of each second month, except where dates are set as special fixtures, the Court conducts trials of Supreme Court matters. Yesterday, the day started off with a bomb threat. As reported in the media an anonymous caller called the Chief Justice’s office informing of the bomb threat. Court staff and Judges stayed out of the Court premises of the Supreme Court and National Court Building in Waigani. With the turn off to the Court premise cordoned off and Lawyers and litigants were advised to wait along Independence Drive until the threat was cleared.
It is commendable that the Court administration took the threat seriously and took appropriate steps to clear the threat. Whilst we hear of bombings causing mass destruction to properties and mass loss of lives in quite distant lands the perception that they only happen over there and not here thereby inviting casual approaches to such threats will be a grave mistake. It is far better to prevent than to regret.
Issuing such a threat to an important institution comprising Judges and the highest courts on the land and disrupting its very important business is serious. It is a threat to the core of the judiciary. Every effort should be made to apprehend the culprit and prosecute him or her. Even more serious threat to the nation is the truth of the State’s unpreparedness to respond to such threats, real or otherwise, which came to the fore yesterday.
On 2 May 2016 a comprehensive operational plan to improve safety and security during the 2018 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit was launched in Port Moresby (The National, 03.05.16). Isaac Lupari, Chief Secretary, was quoted on the day as saying: “What we have seen today is the product of what’s being done over the last two years, a very comprehensive operational working order”.
The plan was prepared by the security committee co-chaired by Police Commissioner Gari Baki and Defence Secretary Vali Asi and its membership comprises all the disciplinary agencies plus Foreign Affairs, Health, Customs, National Agriculture and Quarantine Inspection Authority, Civil Aviation Authority and provinces. Mr Lupari on the same occasion announced that the nation is well advanced in its preparations for the hosting of the APEC Summit.
Whilst we have the security plan it is as good as useless if the government is not prepared to start implementing it. There is no doubt the government is surely making progress in implementing the plan. However observing the dressing of two military officers present at the Court premise yesterday, Mr Lupari’s assurance of preparedness rang hollow. Whilst this writer has no military experience it was regrettable to see the officers in their ordinary military fatigue, a ballistic vest or bullet proof vest worn on their torso and a hand held radio and nothing more.
The bulletproof vest, is an item of personal armor that helps absorb the impact and reduce or stop penetration to the body from firearm-fired projectiles- and shrapnel from explosions. Whilst the government has financial issues and whilst it is not expected to procure and arm our Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit with advanced bomb suit such as the type we have seen worn by an actor in the Academy Award winning movie “The Hurt Locker” it is surely expected to provide the basic protective gear. That is its responsibility. How is a soldier’s face and head protected from the energy wave impact to the brain and from fragments with velocities of over 683 m/s, without a helmet? A soldier’s body should be protected from shrapnel, heat from explosion and impact from the pressure wave from a blast which can cause severe damage to the lungs, eardrums and trauma in other body areas.
On 1 July 2016 The National reported the Special Force Director Major James Vogae, head of a Defence Force special unit preparing to provide security for world leaders at the 2018 APEC as saying that his unit needs specialist weapons. Such weapons are required during hostage rescue operations, urban warfare and counter terrorist attacks. Major James Vogae was reported as saying that he had submitted the request to the APEC Coordination Authority. He was quoted saying: “Our own weapons are not ideal for providing specialised security for the APEC meeting.
It has been reported that the Police Dog Unit and its sniffer dogs turned up at the Court premise yesterday after seven hours. This is because the specialized Dog Unit vehicle was taken away from the unit. To say that it was disappointing is an understatement. It is appalling. Was it taken away outside of town? If so, by whom and for what purpose? Was the vehicle in town? If so, why the delay for seven hours? It seems the Police has single purpose-kitted vehicle. It must have sufficient number of officers, trained Dogs and properly kitted-for-purpose vehicles.
Whilst our government may be taking steps to be efficient in its security preparedness we are not quite there yet, it seems. Perhaps it is wise to refrain from ambitious assurances which an event like this is exposing a telling scenario. The government assured the public of security preparedness during the 2015 South Pacific Games however it excluded the Water Police completely. It means that the security planners left out the Port Moresby and Central Province shorelines wide open for any security threats. We are confident this will not happen this time.
Whilst the government may be taking steps to achieve full security preparedness for the APEC Summit this incident and calls for specialist gear and weapons should be wake up calls. Security preparedness is vital not simply for the purposes of one-off international summits but to protect our national sovereignty and public safety at every other time.
*The writer is a former acting Judge of the National and Supreme Courts.