Letters & Opinions

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Defence Commander has a big task ahead

THE PNG Defence Force has a new Commander and General.  He is infantry Colonel Francis Agwi and former Chief of Defence Intelligence who replaces Commodore Peter Ilau after two tours of duty (2001 - 2009).

Congratulations to General Agwi on his new command appointment and farewell to Commodore Ilau and bon voyage and safe passage to him and his family to their future destination.

While Prime Minister Somare and his big entourage were attending the Copenhagen climate change conference, the National Executive Council (NEC) appointed a new defence commander. The new command changes comes just four days before Christmas and twelve weeks after the tour of duty of Commodore Peter Ilau expired in early October 2009.  Since then, the commodore has been on an acting capacity until Monday 21st December 2009.

In addition, Cabinet also appoints another senior infantry officer as the Chief of Staff to the Force commander.  He is Colonel Tokam Kanene who is presently the Defence Advisor within the PNG High Commission in Djakarta, Indonesia.  Colonel Kanene comes from the Simbu Province in the Highlands.  
Former Commander Ilau was appointed as Defence Commander in October 2001 by a new Government in office under former Prime Minister, Sir Mekere Morauta.  The Defence boss was politically directed to cull the force manpower strength to 2,000, and de-mob the rest by December 2001 under a very controversial one-time reduction program.

What followed was a total national debacle and disgrace to loyal servicemen who dedicated their whole life to their country's military before and after Independence.  The whole political exercise was virtually an administrative nightmare for many long serving servicemen and their families for over eight years.  Many servicemen have not received their full payout service entitlements to this day. 

Many complaints by ex-servicemen still stranded in the barracks and bases, and in the community are falling on deaf ears.  Many servicemen have passed on while still waiting to be paid leaving their immediate families destitute in the cities and towns.  These families need money to be properly repatriated to their provincial villages.

The government seems oblivious to their plight.  Maybe the next government in 2012 will do something to resolve this situation.  Many more ex-servicemen will die while waiting.  The list of destitute ex-military families grows with many children dropping out of the education system to joining the unemployment ranks as military widows can not afford today's high school fees.   These military families have been failed by the system.  Governments have done them a great disservice.

As a result of the forced reduction of service personnel in 2001, all three PNGDF elements now comprise of hollow operational units.  This must now be fixed by the new PNGDF commander.   General Agwi will have an almost impossible job as he takes over a grossly underfunded, undermanned and a demoralized force. 

These are most trying times for this once proud national icon, as defence and national security seems to be not a top priority for the PNG government.  The present political regime has unfortunately shown its ignorance and apathy about improving PNG's national security situation for a long time.
Commander Agwi in his new role must see that some good basic changes be made to a force that needs a better deal.  The new commander will no doubt have his hands full to whip the present military into top shape and form. 
 This can be done if the new general resists the temptations of all predecessors not to take too many unnecessary 'out-of-town' overseas trips, and have a completely new 'no-nonsense command team to help him.
  A new good command team is an absolutely must.  It will ensure the Commander's Intent and Mission is not unduely compromised and carried out without fear or favour by fully committed, dedicated officers and subordinates.  This is the only way to make the PNGDF really work to the expectations of the people. 

Commander Agwi needs to put his job on the line by ensuring the PNGDF is not maintained as a mere 'paper tiger", but a true national force.  The PNGDF must now be made into a strong force.

To achieve his new defence mission, General Agwi must tell his government and the beauracracy to 'put up, or shut up'.  The government has two choices: give the defence force what it needs now or scrap it. 

Reginald Renagi
The Big Smoke

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