Just how divided public opinion on the allegation of rape made against Police Commissioner Henry Greene has become is evidenced in the view expressed recently by Education Minister Priya Mannickchand that the controversial 57-year-old ‘top cop’ should no longer occupy public office. This, despite the fact that the government which she serves has allowed Greene to continue to occupy the office of Commissioner despite the unrelenting controversy that attends the accusation. As far as anyone can tell there is no precedent of high officials of the PPP/CIVIC administration publicly breaking ranks with the government on matters of controversy, though, in expressing her opinion on the Greene issue the Education Minister would have been reminded that her last portfolio embraced, among other things, responsibility for seeking to stem the tide of widespread abuse of women in Guyana.
By also expressing disquiet over the ruling by Chief Justice Ian Chang that the recommendation by the Director of Public Prosecutions that Greene be charged and taken before the courts, Minister Mannickchand, herself an attorney-at-law may well have been seeking to make the same point that has been made by other attorneys, that is, that the decision resembled an instance of curry-favouring for the privileged.
Sent on leave in December after being accused by a 34- year-old married woman of raping her in a hotel room in November, Greene had fought tooth and nail to avert the ignominy of having to answer the charge in court while the newly-elected administration of President Donald Ramotar had resisted public pressure, including calls from opposition political parties, human rights activists and the Guyana Women Lawyers Association that Greene, now almost three years beyond retirement age, be removed from office. The decision by the government to endure the public and political criticism arising out of a matter which it inherited from its predecessor has already been interpreted in some quarters as, at the very least, an indication of sloth on the part of President Donald Ramotar in removing his administration from the shadow of Bharrat Jagdeo’s.
It was Mr. Jagdeo who in 2006 appointed Mr. Greene to act as Commissioner of Police in the teeth of objections particularly from Washington but also from London and Ottawa. Just prior to Greene’s acting appointment the US Embassy here had revoked his visa reportedly on the grounds that he was the beneficiary of proceeds from drug-related activities. A subsequent WikiLeaks cable from the then US Charge D’Affairs Michael Thomas asserted among other things that Greene was “bad for Guyana’s security.”
With the new government having to face so many ‘holdovers’ from its predecessor the Greene controversy has been slow in securing any kind of traction though in the wake of the court ruling public opinion has become more robust, the main opposition party A Partnership for National Unity has called for Greene’s immediate removal from office and one of the country’s more prominent lawyers is reportedly contemplating filing private charges against the Police Commissioner.
If this is not the only political hot potato that the government of President Donald Ramotar has inherited from its predecessor, it is certainly one of the more awkward ones. If Mr. Ramotar is to honour his administration’s undertaking to tackle what is widely believed to have been the endemic corruption that manifested itself under the Jagdeo administration he will be expected to look closely at the Police Force where, under Greene there have been numerous revelations of corrupt officers and ranks alike and accusations of police involvement in illegal rackets ranging from traffic ‘shakedowns’ to running drug operations.
The damage to Greene’s image apart, the rape accusation further darkens the cloud that had long settled over the Guyana Police Force. After the decision by the Chief Justice was made public a local activist opined that the decision that Greene not stand trial amounted to a further stain on a local police force that is generally regarded as being indifferent to crimes like sexual assault and other forms of violence against women. “The fact that the government has not, up until now, seen it fit to remove Greene from office is doing much to further harm the already seriously tarnished image of the Force.”
There now seems little left for the Ramotar administration to do than bring an end to Greene’s career and Head of the Presidential Secretariat has already said that Greene’s retirement will be attended by receipt of his full benefits.
It was, of course, the government’s choice, whatever the reasons, to keep faith with Greene in circumstances where in so doing it appears to have needlessly spent a great deal of political currency. Now that there seems to be nothing left to do than to finally separate Greene from public office the Ramotar administration may well find itself regretting the fact that it did not move in that direction much earlier.