Public Report on delayed action by police to curb unrest at Paunangisu Village – August 12, 1997 - Emalus Campus
In 1996, Panuanangisu Village on north Efete experienced a dispute between 2 men (Chief X and Chief Y) both of whom claimed to be the legitimate successor to the deceased former Chief. A restraining order against Chief X and 10 of his supporters was made in March 1996. Between June and September, the dispute grew as the village became divided over the issue. The unrest resulted in widespread arson, damage to property, assault and theft.
The Police Act, Civil, Procedure Code, and Police Standing Orders in place at the time imposed duties on the police in respect of the preservation of civil order, the investigation of offences and the power of arrest. The restraining order specifically imposed a duty on the police to act in respect of a breach of the restraining order.
In July, 1996, police did not respond to complaints from Chief Y that roadblocks had been erected and cattle set loose by Chief X in breach of the retraining order. The complaint was not recorded in the police complaint book for nearly 4 months. Sergeant George who took the complaint did not report it to his superior. A week later, Chief Y attended to the police station to speak to Deputy Commissioner Ierongen to follow up the complaint. No appropriate action was taken.
On August 15, Chief X brought supporters from Port Vila to the village. They engaged in numerous criminal acts. On August 31, 1996, the Police Public Relations Officer Chief Inspector Pakoa Samuel released a press statement that the police would not interfere with the situation at the village but that it must be handled by the chiefs. The Ombudsman found that this statement encouraged people to take the law into their own hands.
The Prime Minister, Donald Kolpakas became personally involved in early September. This was followed by a visit to the village by the Deputy Commissioner Ierongen who reported the extent of the damage and violence. A police operation was mounted the next day. However this was not successful and further violent incidents including arson and looting followed. A Superintendent of Police went to investigate and immediately ordered reinforcements with riot gear, radios and torchlight. Five hours later 25 VMF personnel arrived with only 3 torchlights. Their delay was blamed on the fact that the personnel had been at sports day and needed to change into their uniforms. Upon arriving, they refused orders to set up camp overnight due to the continuing non-payment of outstanding subsistence allowances.
The Ombudsman found that if the initial complaints regarding the breach of the restraining order had been followed up and prosecuted, it would have prevented further violence.
The former Commissioner of Police, Mr. Luc Siba, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ierongen and the Deputy Commissioner of the VMF were found to have conducted themselves below the required professional standards. Former Commissioner Siba was found to be in breach of the Leadership Code in that he allowed his integrity and leadership to be called into question in respect of the delay in police action. Mr. Tamata, the former officer commanding Police District (southern), Mr. Knox Kalkaua, the former Acting Police Operations Officer and Mr. Pakoa Samuel, Police Public Relation Officer were also found to have been responsible for the state of civil unrest at the village.
· That Mr. Luc Siba not be appointed again to a senior post in the Government.
· That Deputy Commissioner Ierongen and Deputy Commissioner Takal and Police Force Spokesman Samuel be reprimanded in respect of their role in the delayed police action.
· That the officer commanding the Southern District, Mr. Noel Tamata not be re-appointed to that post and that he face disciplinary charges concerning his performance in relation to the delayed police action.
· That the Public Service Commission review and take appropriate disciplinary action against senior officers involved with this matter.
· That all members of the Vanuatu Police force review their attitudes.
Written by Edward R. Hill
UNDP Governance and Accountability Project
© Ombudsman of Vanuatu
Published here by University of the South Pacific, School of Law Web Site - www.vanuatu.usp.ac.fj