From the Archive — Arrested

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I worked in Port Moresby for five years managing a Technology company. One of the businesses under management was an ISP (Internet Service Provider) that used Microwave transmission technology to connect homes and businesses. A Microwave Dish attached to the building would receive a signal from a local Microwave transmitter. This is called ‘line of sight’ as both the dish and transmitter need to be pointed at each other.

Port Moresby is subject to almost daily tropical storms or downpours, these combined with many run-down and dilapidated buildings regularly cause the dishes to come out of alignment. Technical crews regularly go out to fix problems with the dishes.

Not long after I started working at this company, I was told by my staff that a local police station had called to say that some of our technical staff had been arrested for trespassing and that the ‘whitefella in charge had better come down and sort it out.

What’s going on?

My staff explained to me that this was a common occurrence for businesses across town. A homeowner, usually, would call in to say he had lost his internet connection and needed a repairman. At the same time, he would call the local police to tell them a repairman was coming out. The police would go to the homeowner’s house, wait for the repairman to turn up, then arrest him or them on some trumped-up charge — usually trespass or menace, such as making threats to the homeowner. My staff told me that I had to go to the police station to pay a fee to have the staff released, as this was expected and was the only way to get the staff out. This was a scam, a racket, a rort by the. police with a kickback to the homeowner.

To make matters far worse, my staff also told me that the arrested staff would be absolutely terrified as receiving a good beating from the police was on the cards. The police in Port Moresby has a brutal reputation and for good reason, unfortunately. (you should see what they have to deal with.)

The first time this happened I went on my own as I was told that if I took any staff with me there was a risk they would be arrested as well and besides, they didn’t want to go. I jumped into my Nissan four-wheel drive (with the crash bar from hell for driving through roadblocks — hold-ups), sped to the police station wanting to get there as fast as possible to get my staff out and relieve their terror and risk of a beating. On the way I decided I was not going to contribute to any form of corruption, I was not going to pay a bribe. I also realised that I had no idea of how I was going to do this, I would just have to wing it.

I found the run-down police station, went in, put on a brave face and voice and introduced myself by giving the policeman a business card and said, “I want to see my staff please”. The reply was very curt, “You can’t, they are under arrest for trespassing and threatening a man — serious charges.” I replied something like, “I understand that, but before I can discuss how to fix this with you, I need to see my staff”. Reluctantly he took out back to the concrete-walled cells with heavy iron bar doors. My staff were over the moon to see me. I took my wallet out, just holding it, and said to the policeman, “thank-you for taking care of them, I’m sure we can settle this matter and I’m happy to do that. But I need you to let my staff get back to work first, this has caused big problems for me that I will do anything to fix”. He thought about this for a moment, no doubt thinking he was a winner. He let my staff out, I managed to speak quietly to them for a moment, gave them my car keys and said, “get out of here now and where are your truck keys?” They said, “the policeman has them.” “Ok I said, just get going” and with that they did.

I then took all my money out of my wallet and stuffed it into my pocket. I went to the front of the police station and said, “my staff can be a bit silly sometimes, but they are good fellas, if I could make a contribution to the local children’s fund (his pocket) would that settle things?” He gave a big smile and nodded in agreement. I took my wallet out and said, “Oh dear, no money, I will have to go to the bank and come back.” “Can I have the keys to the truck”? With that, I left and did not return. This scenario happened many times and each time I used exactly the same response, with no retributions.

Originally published at https://www.russellfutcher.com on September 30, 2020.

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