Since Francis Agwi became the new commander of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) last December, I paid him a courtesy call to find out what the general's agenda is for the PNGDF in 2010; and beyond.
The impression I got was positive. I felt satisfied that several key aspects of defence and security I had been promoting in the media in recent times appeared as salient points in the command's recent media 'statement to the nation'.
Judging from this, the rest of this year promises to be an interesting period for the PNGDF; we can expect a new defence capability plan by the year's end. While his statement foreshadowed some new policy developments in the near future from what I gathered, General Agwi is quiet serious for the PNGDF to do its job well in his 'back to basics' approach of conducting future defence business.
In his media statement, General Agwi shares his thoughts with the public of a "new PNGDF" and the "way forward." He assured the government, PNGDF and the people of PNG that "the force is in good hands" and that its loyalty to the constitution of PNG remains unquestionable. This is a positive bold statement to set his new agenda for the PNGDF.
General Agwi takes a different approach from his predecessor with regard to the defence reforms. As commander, he is not waiting for a 2030 vision, but wants to see things happen within the next decade. He plans to speed up the reforms so objectives are achieved in "… a short time frame", and outlines his command strategy of rebuilding the PNGDF.
The commander plans to rebuild the PNGDF on a "4 R Strategy: Re-consolidation, Re-construction, Re-development and Re-evaluation.
This strategy sets General Agwi's agenda on what will be his force development focus. Agwi also plans to review PNGDF roles and functions to closely align it with the government's vision 2050. He further wants the new roles and functions to focus around: national security, international relations, resource protection and nation building.
A new force build up plan will be needed as since reducing to a 2,000 manpower ceiling, the PNGDF roles and functions have not fundamentally changed. People issues will also pre-occupy Commander Agwi by taking personal responsibility for some pressing issues that demands immediate attention.
In the next 10 years, the PNGDF must reconstruct itself with a new mission in compliance with government guidance. In this time, outstanding issues of new capability development will be addressed through retraining and re-skilling of personnel, buying equipment and introducing new technology through a ten (10) year development plan. This will enhance government policy guidance, future budgets and procurement.
In future, defence will have to decide whether to train for war against an "invisible enemy" or focus on defending PNG's sovereignty, people and rich natural resources.
The PNGDF needs to also measure its own success and steady growth through a process of self-evaluation. It is important that this be done through annual reviews, auditing and inspections for transparency and accountability of action.
General Agwi writes a new chapter for the PNGDF by continuing the reforms started in 2002 with a different strategy. If past trends are any indications to go by, this writer believes the new commander seems serious about getting the PNGDF back 'on track'. He hopes to do it by speeding things up a bit and reviewing its roles; added with realistic missions, budget and government support in future.
Welcome aboard, Sir!