Police Commissioner and SOE Controller, David Manning, said as this is a health related emergency, the Prime Minister, James Marape, has delegated Health Minister Jelta Wong as the official government spokesperson on the PNG Government response to the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is critical and necessary that the established protocols with regard to the release of information are observed so that the correct information is being disseminated to the people of PNG,” Manning said.
The Controller made this statement following the release yesterday (Sunday April 5) of internal intelligence reports on the Joint Agency Task Force teamwork in Daru, Western Province.
Manning said the information released on Facebook contained a snapshot of an internal police intelligence report which was disturbing, to say the least.
“I received information that a situation report from an incident in the Western Province Border area was posted on social media today (Sunday 5th April 2020) and shared widely by the various Facebook pages.
“Raw data which has not been verified or analysed cannot be published in such a manner. All State workers and others involved in the whole of government COVID-19 response are directed not to release unsanctioned information regarding government operations from around the country.
“Officers are privy to information that is not available to the public for the purposes of our Government response to manage the coronavirus pandemic now posing a serious threat to mankind.
“While our country has been spared from any confirmed case apart from the first case who is now out of PNG, we must remain vigilant and committed to ensure PNG remains safe.
“And spreading false, unconfirmed or unsanctioned information cannot help our efforts. In fact, it can destabilise all the advances we have made thus far. The Government must ensure our people are well informed with accurate and timely information cleared by authority for release to the public where and when appropriate.
“We want to avoid any misreporting and misinformation going out to the public to stop any cause of concern and anxiety, which can lead to confusion and panic.
“I therefore direct that all information going out to the public from the COVID-19 National Operations Centre and the Provincial Centres MUST be vetted by the office of the Controller and or authorised officers in the provinces.
“Severe penalties shall be imposed on persons who wilfully disobey this directive,” Manning warned.
This is not the first time information was leaked out regarding the COVID-19 situation. Both the Department of Health and Prime Minister’s Office had their fair share of the release of unauthorised or unsigned statements early last month. Now, the lastest leak, from the Royal PNG Constabulary, included snapshops of an intelligence report regarding a suspected COVID-19 case in Western Province.