Date first published: 03/01/2023

Key sectors: oil and gas

Key risks: civil unrest; violent clashes; business risks


Risk development

On 16 December Prime Minister James Marape unveiled plans to extend by one year the country’s military presence in Hela province as well as in the neighbouring Enga and Southern Highlands provinces. The plans also include operational orders for shoot-to-kill in high-risk situations. While details remain difficult to confirm, the announcement followed reports of a worsening state of lawlessness in resource-rich Hela which has allowed for a surge in arson attacks, killings, tribal violence as well as the proliferation of heavy weapons and increased activity of criminal gangs and local warlords.

Why it matters

Many – including opposition leader Joseph Lelang – have called on Marape to declare a state of emergency in Hela amid the worsening violence. However, Hela Governor Philip Undialu came out against further military involvement and instead called for the police to be given additional resources and capacity to address the violence. The province hosts the main natural gas reservoir for the critical PNG LNG plant in Hides township. The US$19bln project operated by ExxonMobil includes gas production and processing facilities that extend from Hela, Southern Highlands, Western and Gulf provinces to the capital Port Moresby. The continued deterioration of the region’s security could conceivably impact LNG processing operations and its export. It also risks threatening the viability of further energy projects in the region.


The July 2022 general election brought about an outbreak of election-related violence across the country which was exacerbated by systemic tribal cleavages. While the violence has subsided in most areas, it has persisted in Hela. On 12 December William Bando, a Member of Parliament representing Koroba-Kopiago district in Hela, stated that security forces were outnumbered and outgunned by local warlords. Bando urged the government to provide immunity for security forces in the province to fight criminal gangs. Hela reportedly has only 60 police officers and is largely served by auxiliary police officers and aging officers. The 2023 state budget allocated US$111m – a 28 per cent increase – in funding for law and order, which will go towards recruitment efforts to increase the size of the police force by up to 40 per cent by 2024. Security forces are also plagued by desertion with Provincial Police Commander Chief Superintendent Joseph Tondop on 29 December urging officers stationed in the province to attend to matters on the ground or risk losing their employment.

Risk outlook

The extension of military personnel in the province will likely remain a temporary solution to the broader underlying problems linked to lawlessness in Hela and its surrounding provinces. The marked increase in funding for new police recruits in the 2023 budget is a step in the right direction. However, the impact of such measures will not be felt on the ground for a while. Without a sustained and holistic strategy in the funding and training of law enforcement personnel as well as broader efforts in community-oriented policing, Hela’s security environment is unlikely to improve. Left unaddressed, it could even pose greater security risks to other regions. The government’s continued inability to restore law and order will further impede its efforts to bring in foreign investment crucial to the development of the province and the rest of the country.