PORT MORESBY 4 March 2022: In the closing session of the second hearings of the Parliamentary Committee on GBV, the Committee heard from Ms Cathleen Alua, Gender Equity and Human Rights Officer with the National Department of Health who offered sobering testimony. She advised: “Between 2018 to 2021 58,000 victims of gender-based violence and sexual violence were attend to by the National Department of Health. Another 36,227 were victims of violence generally... It is a time bomb. We are a very sick society...”.
The Special Parliamentary Committee on GBV spent Day 2 of their hearings listening to testimony from frontline government departments from the health and law enforcement ministries, who respond to GBV cases every day and made clear that considerable more work still needs to be done to keep women and children safe from violence.
Listening to the testimony throughout the day, the responses of the GBV Committee members were consistent: Chairman Charles Abel, Deputy Chairman Governor Allan Bird and Committee member Governor Powes Parkop all pledged to use all of the powers of the Committee and as parliamentarians to actively work to end family and sexual violence, even as they near the tail end of the 10th Parliament.
All three Committee members repeated their calls from the previous day to immediately establish the National GBV Secretariat by endorsing the 11 position descriptions developed by the Department for Community Development. Governor Parkop stated: “We continue to demand that the National GBV Secretriat be established as an urgent priority – otherwise the time bomb we have been warned about will blow up”.
Chairman Abel made it clear that the Committee was focused on using their powers to get concrete results that would benefit GBV survivors. He told witnesses: “We have brought you here because we want to hear specific responses to our recommendations. Not to hear problems, because we heard those in our May 2021 hearings – but to hear your solutions.”
A number of commitments were made on the day. During his testimony to the Committee, Police Commissioner Manning advised the Committee that a recent police restructure would result in the 26 Family and Sexual Violence Units currently funded by donors being brought into the official RPNGC establishment.
"We have a one-strike policy, taking into account the seriousness of the offence, which applies to GBV as well. We take it for granted that all members of the Constabulary should behave as model citizens." -- Police Commissioner David Manning
He also made clear that he believed all police officers have a duty to properly investigate GBV and to reject violence in their own personal lives. Commissioner Manning told the Committee: "To ensure the professionalism of the RPNGC, we use the disciplinary processes under the Police Act. We have a one-strike policy, taking into account the seriousness of the offence, which applies to GBV as well. We take it for granted that all members of the Constabulary should behave as model citizens. However, if based on reports, there needs to be specific activities to provide awareness for police officers of these offences as they relate to their own conduct, we would be supportive of conducting it within the rank and file of the police force."
In response to testimony from the Magistrates Service highlighting the unfilled positions of 1/3 of the magistrates of the country, Governor Bird made a very concrete suggestion. He advised the delegation: "If you give me a proposal for what you need at the provincial level, in specific terms, to make very clear your requirement, I will find the money as Governor for East Sepik at least. I will talk to my Provincial Administrator to find 500,000 Kina and you can send similar requests to ever other Governor." Hon Abel asked him to follow up more broadly, by submitting a comprehensive proposal to the Committee.
Committee Chair Hon Abel engaged in a very comprehensive discussion with the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Pondros Kaluwin, regarding the specific needs of his office to ensure more timely GBV prosecutions. Hon Abel spoke in support of a number of specific recommendations made by the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP), which aimed to address the severe lack of personnel and operational resources of the OPP, which were a major constraint on their work.
"We are not slacking off. We have dedicated officers who are very willing to do the work, but we need to be equipped and resourced in order to do this." -- Ms Mercy Tamate, Director of the Faily and Sexual Offences Unit, OPP
Ms Mercy Tamate, Director of the Faily and Sexual Offfence (FASO) Unit within the OPP spoke passionately about her work, stating: "We are not slacking off. We have dedicated officers who are very willing to do the work, but we need to be equipped and resourced in order to do this. Our conviction rates are ok, and we have good interactions with our investigation officers. But we even have to use our personal phones and resources often to locate witnesses, which can be risky to our own safety. I strongly urge the Committee to consider our report and our request for support. But I am thankful that we have a committee that is willing to take up our issues at the highest levels. We hope that the Committee can come to our aid to help us to do our work better."
The Committee has pledged to use the remainder of the term to continue to push for action. The Committee will table their next Report at the end of March 2022 and will use that parliamentary sitting to table a motion to make the GBV Committee a permanent parliamentary committee whose work will extend into the 11th Parliament.
The current Special Parliamentary Committee on GBV was set up in 2020 by the National Parliament. It has six members, in addition to the Chair: Deputy Chairman Hon Allan Bird (Governor East Sepik), Hon Powes Parkop (Governor NCD), Hon Aiye Tambua (Goroka MP), Hon Michael Dua (Governor Chimbu), Hon Allan Marat (Rabaul MP) and Hon Ginson Saonu (Governor Morobe).
For more information on the Committee, see Coalition of Parliamentarians to End GBV: https://www.unitedforequalitypng.com/. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is providing technical support to the Special Parliamentary Committee on GBV as part of its gender programming and the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative. This support aims to address Gender-Based Violence and support longer-term efforts to promote women’s participation and leadership in the Parliament.