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  • Papua New Guinea
  • Solomon Kantha (bio)

It was another year of political drama for Papua New Guinea. The year was dominated by shifts in political allegiances, changes in political camps, swaps in ministerial portfolios, the replacement of two deputy prime ministers, and a constitutional blunder in the reelection of the governor-general. In spite of the political rollercoaster, the Somare government successfully thwarted numerous attempts by the Opposition to remove Sir Michael Somare as prime minister, thus making the government more confident than ever to assert its grip on power until the national elections in 2012. It was also a year of legal battles and protests on controversial constitutional amendments and environmental issues. The concerned public, landowner groups, and nongovernmental organizations have become a fortified mouthpiece of the people on issues of human rights, equality, environment, and the constitutionality of amendments to laws that seem to favor politicians and multinational companies over people’s rights. Unlike in previous years, these interest groups showed the government and resource companies that they are a force to be reckoned with concerning the legality of laws and decisions made by the government that have the potential to affect the welfare of communities.

The event that galvanized the nation in the early part of the year was the prison “walkout” of the country’s most-wanted bank robber, William Kapris, on 12 January from the maximum-security unit of the country’s top prison, Bomana, outside of Port Moresby. Kapris was involved in a string of million-kina bank robberies in the Gulf and Madang provinces. (One kina equals approximately us$0.39.) He was released by a woman pretending to be a human rights lawyer who entered the maximum-security [End Page 491] unit. He was recaptured on 5 February in a Port Moresby guesthouse and claimed in a police video interrogation to have close ties to certain politicians and the Asian triad in the country. He also claimed to have links to Minister for Treasury and Finance Patrick Pruaitch, Minister for Correctional Service Tony Aimo, and Deputy Speaker of Parliament Francis Marus, all of whom are from the same province as Kapris.

With these insinuations, the prisoner received high-level visits to his prison cell from the police commissioner and the then minister for justice and attorney general, Dr Allan Marat. It was alleged that Kapris was the most expensive prisoner, due to the costs involved in capturing him as well as the security provided to prevent any further escape attempts. His escape led to the suspensions of Correctional Service Commissioner Richard Sikani and Minister Aimo. Both the commissioner and the minister were later reinstated after investigations cleared them of all allegations.

Frequent jailbreaks have become an increasing public-safety concern and questions have been raised as to the capacity of the Correctional Service to manage the country’s prison system. In what was seen as a startling response to the situation, Minister Aimo announced his decision to use K9 million to buy guns for the Correctional Service. The announcement was immediately condemned by Transparency International PNG (tipng), which argued that the community must be satisfied that this expenditure will result in improvements in the performance of the Correctional Service (Post Courier, 8 Oct 2010). Earlier in August, Minister Aimo was considering the option of recruiting an expatriate to head the Correctional Service, as Commissioner Sikani’s contract was expiring. This proposition also received criticism from the president of the Public Employees Association, Michael Malabag (Post Courier, 12 Aug 2010).

At the end of February, outspoken National Capital District (ncd) Governor Powes Parkop launched his new political party, the Social Democratic Party. About 1,000 people registered with k100 each as foundational members. Parkop had run for election in 2007 as an independent candidate with no political party affiliation.

The Maladina Bill, introduced in May 2009 by Esa‘ala mp Moses Maladina for a constitutional amendment to remove the powers of the Ombudsman Commission, remains one of the most controversial constitutional amendments, attracting protests from wide segments of the community. Despite the outbursts, on the second reading of the bill on 9 March, Parliament voted 83 to 0 to amend section 27(4...