The National Assembly has finally approved the Report of the Disciplined Forces Commission. Will the administration implement its recommendations?
Six years after Justice Ian Chang handed over the Report of the Disciplined Forces Commission to Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran on 6th May 2004, the motion to approve it was unanimously passed by the National Assembly on 10th June 2010.
The Report’s leisurely, six-year passage through several special select committees was not unrelated to the public safety problems in the country and the predicament of the security forces today. The longer it took to approve the Report and implement its recommendations, the worse criminal violence became.
The Commission had its origins in the dreadful days of the troubles on the East Coast which started in 2002. President Bharrat Jagdeo and opposition leader Mr Robert Corbin agreed to establish the Disciplined Forces Commission with a mandate to inquire into the Guyana Police Force, Guyana Defence Force, Guyana Prison Service and Guyana Fire Service in order to identify their shortcomings and to recommend remedies to respond to the public safety crisis.
The President, in accordance with the National Assembly’s Resolution No. 21 of 2003 of the 16th May 2003 for the constitution and appointment of a Disciplined Forces Commission, appointed Ian Chang, Justice of Appeal as Chairman; and Charles Ramson; Anil Nandlall; David Granger and Ms Maggie Beirne, as members. Ms Beirne resigned from the Commission and, on 14th January 2004, Professor Harold Alexander Lutchman was appointed in her place.
The Commission had a broad mandate “to examine any matter relating to the Public Welfare, Public Safety, Public Order, Defence or Security including the Structure and Composition of the Disciplined Forces and make recommendations, generally, with a view to promoting their greater efficiency, and giving effect to the need in the public interest that the composition of the Disciplined Forces take account of the ethnic constituents of the population.”
The four forces into which the Commission was required to inquire were the
Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Defence Force, the Guyana Prison Service and the Guyana Fire Service, the heads of which were the Commissioner, Chief of Staff, Director and Chief Fire Officer, respectively.
The Commission started its work on 1st July 2003 and presented its final Report to the Speaker of the National Assembly on 6th May 2004. The Report was then laid before the National Assembly on 17th May and was accepted unanimously. The Report, despite the gravity of the public safety situation at that time and the urgency of the Commission’s recommendations, was then sent to a special select committee of the National Assembly. This, however, was not established until 4th November 2004 with a mandate to report to the National Assembly in four months. The committee dawdled for sixteen months instead.
As a way of wasting time, it then proceeded to invite the same chiefs of the security forces who had already given ample oral evidence to the Commission to repeat their views to the Committee. The Committee, faced with the dissolution of the Eighth Parliament on 2nd May 2006, however, never got around to presenting its interim report to the Assembly. The Ninth Parlia-ment was convened on 28th September 2006 but the National Assembly waited over one year to establish a new committee to restart to examine the Report.
The Guyana Government by that time fell under the spell of diplomatic duress by the United Kingdom Government. It was required – as one of the conditionalities of the DfID-supported interim memorandum on the Security Sector Reform Action Plan 2007-2011 that the two sides signed on 10th August 2007 – to table a motion in the National Assembly by 31st October 2007 to establish a new special select committee to examine the same Report of the Disciplined Forces Commission, among other things.
The National Assembly eventually managed to appoint that Committee on 26thJuly 2008. The Committee requested an extension of the deadline for the submission of its final report to 15th December 2008 but seemed unable to complete its work by that date. The National Assembly finally approved a further extension of the deadline for the submission of its report to 6th August 2009. And so the years went by.
Neither administration nor opposition members of the National Assembly seem to be concerned about the fact that their procrastination has been costly. They seemed unable to make the connection between the high crime rate in the country during this period – when some of the most bloody mass killings were occurring – and the non-implementation of the Commission’s recommendations to reform the Forces to correct their shortcomings.
The Commission, in the final analysis, made 164 recommendations to reform the Disciplined Forces. It found that Guyana faced transnational dangers to national security and public safety posed by narco-trafficking, weapons-smuggling, money-laundering, back-tracking (illegal migration) and terrorism. National and international developments had impacted on the operations of the Disciplined Forces but commensurate changes in legislation, organisation and administration in all such areas seem not to have been made. Given their current resources, composition and capability, the Forces seemed unable or unwilling to confront social disorder and internal disturbance. Public safety and national security suffered as a consequence.
The Commission recommended that a National Security Sector Reform Pro-gramme – which methodically addressed the deficiencies of the Forces and which would enable them to cope with these evolutionary challenges – should be considered for implementation. As part of their responsibility, therefore, it was recommended that Ministers should have their technical officers prepare long-term strategic plans for each of the Forces and that ministries should be configured to allow for the periodic monitoring and review of those plans.
Seventy-one recommendations concerned the Guyana Police Force. The Commission recommended, with regard to manpower, that the Police Force should aim at achieving greater ethnic diversity without employing a quota system – which would be constitutionally offensive. To achieve this, ethnically-diverse recruitment teams should be employed as openly and extensively as possible.
It recommended also that urgent consideration should be given to the examination of the three cadet schemes to determine whether any changes should be made to them and what should be done to place the selection and training of cadets on a regular basis.
A revitalised cadetship scheme could be canvassed among successful secondary school and university graduates and a Police Academy should be established, with at least one intake of cadets every year, owing to the need to produce well-educated officers.
With regard to oversight of the Force, the establishment of a Commission on Public Safety in the National Assembly, to which the Minister of Home Affairs would be answerable, was recommended. Matters of priority for such a Commission could include the police annual report and the collection and dissemination of crime statistics. The Police Complaints Authority should be provided with an investigative team consisting of trained police investigators who would be responsible and accountable directly to the Authority. The Authority’s independence should be maintained by providing adequate administrative and financial resources
The Coroners’ Act should be reviewed in its entirety to achieve its high ideals and remedy its current deficiencies and application. A Coroner’s office should be administratively established to hold inquests or inquiries where the magistrate or magistrates of any Magisterial District cannot do so. The Office should be staffed with magistrates with national jurisdiction and should fall under the administrative superintendence of the Chief Magistrate. Coroners should be provided with investigative resources to reduce their dependence on Police investigations. This would enable them to conduct independent investigations.
During training, emphasis should be placed on the use of the minimum force necessary; this is always to be preferred, even in confrontations with armed and dangerous criminals. Appropriate instruction and training should be given to policemen about the circumstances under which they may resort to the use of the firearm.
There was need to legitimise the practice of community policing within some legislative framework so as to ensure that community-policing functions are institutionalised, strictly supervised and monitored. The membership of community policing groups should be carefully screened for induction into the Rural Constabulary and a proper system of training and instruction relevant to community policing and other rural constabulary duties should be implemented for those selected and appointed.
Further, it was recommended that attention should be paid to strengthening the Force’s investigative capabilities and to the establishment of a sound national criminal intelligence system.
The Commission paid special attention to the capabilities of the Defence Force’s Air Corps and Coast Guard. It recommended that there should be an increase in manpower, if possible, within the present calendar year  and that the Defence Board should seriously review the support given to the Coast Guard. There should be adequate arrangements for recruitment and training of pilots and engineers and for the retention in service of all skilled personnel.
It was proposed also that there should be increased operational employment of aviation resources in coastal, maritime and border surveillance. To do so, the Air Corps should be assisted, in a more concrete manner, to conduct routine patrols in cooperation with the ground forces and Coast Guard, respectively. This would assist in the interdiction of contraband activities on the country’s border and the detection of illegal fishing and other violations of its maritime zone.
Inshore patrol vessels, similarly, should be acquired to enable the suppression of illegal fishing, illegal migration, narcotics-trafficking, gun-running and contraband-smuggling. There should be a Coast Guard presence in the Corentyne area, in particular, to suppress smuggling. Funds should be granted to permit the financing of regular, long-range maritime patrols.
With regard to manpower, the Commission recommended that recruitment procedures should have a particular focus on the Indian-Guyanese community because of its general disinclination to join the Force; this should not be done to the neglect or exclusion of other ethnic groups. The Force should adopt recruitment procedures which must take into consideration cultural, sociological and psychological imperatives, designed to attract Indian-Guyanese in particular to the GDF.
The Guyana Defence Board should create a separate establishment and organisation structure for the Reserve Force, similar to that of the Regular Force, showing the strengths and detailed descriptions of the various units.
The Commission found that the issue of paramount importance to Fire Service’s fire-fighting efforts was the supply of water at the scenes of fires. The Commission recommended that the Minister of Home Affairs use his office to ensure that fire hydrants are supplied with adequate water for fire–fighting purposes. The issue of who bears legal responsibility for the maintenance of the fire hydrants should be speedily resolved, even if it requires legislative intervention.
The Commission also recommended that immediate efforts should be made by the Minister to acquire at least one fire boat for the Service in the short term. Additional fire stations should be established at appropriate locations between Ogle and Rosignol and Georgetown and Timehri “with dispatch.”
The Commission’s greatest concern, with regard to the Prison Service, was the growing size of the prison population. As numbers increase, there ought to be a commensurate increase in the actual and authorised strength of the Service’s security personnel.
It was felt that the risk of over-burdening the Georgetown prison with too many high-security prisoners should be reduced by the transfer of the convicted to the more commodious Mazaruni Prison after completion of its physical rehabilitation and structural expansion. It was recommended, therefore, that the Georgetown Prison should be rehabilitated and its facilities improved and modernised if found to be economically feasible; that the Mazaruni Prison should be expanded and provided with the requisite human and material resources for greater prison intake as a solution to the overcrowding problem in the Georgetown Prison and that there should be a female remand prison in the vicinity of Georgetown.
The Commission recommended that there should be a constructive regime of activities geared to beneficially occupy prisoners’ time. This should include learning useful skills such as masonry, carpentry, joinery, agriculture or reading books on topics in electronics and mechanics.
These, therefore, were some of the 164 recommendations for reform of Guyana’s Disciplined Forces. They were considered relevant to current social conditions and should be reviewed periodically if they are to remain relevant to functional effectiveness and efficiency. The Commission’s work should not be seen as final. It is merely a part, if not the start, of a continuing process of adaptation and change to improve the performance of the Disciplined Forces in the discharge of their responsibilities. The practice of conducting periodic national security reviews with the aim and objective of examining changes in the security environment on the one hand and recommending improvements in the Disciplined Forces on the other, should be considered.
The Report of the Disciplined Forces Commission was, essentially, a performance report on the Ministry of Home Affairs. Now that the National Assembly has approved it, will the administration implement its recommendations? Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee last March explained that the passage of the Report of the Disciplined Forces Commission should see stakeholders in the security sector being tasked with the responsibility to implement the recommendations. He expected that the recently established Standing Committee on oversight of the Security Sector “will have general oversight of the security sector under which the Report of the Disciplined Forces Commission will be implemented.”
Many of the recommended changes are administrative in nature. They have little to do with yet another slow-moving standing committee. They require decisive governmental action, particularly by the Ministry of Home Affairs. But everyone is not optimistic about the future of the forces. Leader of the Alliance for Change party Raphael Trotman, expressing his concern at the length of time it took to approve the Report in the first place, moaned, “We shudder to think that if it took seven years to consider the recommendations, how many centuries will it take to implement them?”