Alliance for Change Chair-man Khemraj Ramjattan commended top PPP member Ralph Ramkarran for speaking up against police abuse of law-abiding citizens and noted that this could open the door for the constructive criticism of other matters of national importance.
“I am calling on others, those who are now learning, who are the sultans and sahibs of the party to come forward. I am happy that the culture of questioning authority is opening and emerging,” he said.
Ramkarran, a former Speaker of the National Assembly recently said in the Weekend Mirror that citizens are targeted by TSU and traffic ranks often because of their age or the type of vehicle they drive.
Home Affairs Minister and executive member of the PPP party Clement Rohee, when contacted on Monday was unable to comment. “I cannot go on what you say, I have to read it first,” he said. When asked if a call could be returned later on the issue he said he could not say when he would have time to read the article since he was very busy. Calls to him yesterday went unanswered.
Police Commissioner (ag) Leroy Brumell could not be contacted and according to Crime Chief Seelall Persaud he could not comment on the article until he had read it.
Contacted yesterday Ramjattan commended the step that Ramkarran took, stating that it was long overdue.
He said that after reading the article which was republished in the Monday edition of the Stabroek News he was instantly reminded of a similar situation in 1994 when he made critical statements about then minister of home affairs Feroze Mohammed and police commissioner Laurie Lewis.
Ramjattan, who in 1994 was a member of the PPP, recalled that he had spoken about the misconduct of the police, particularly those holding high office within the force. This, he said, later triggered disciplinary action which was dropped after then president Cheddi Jagan intervened.
He told Stabroek News that the attempts to discipline him were made by Reepu Daman Persaud, Roger Luncheon and Harripersaud Nokta, and the trio summoned him to a meeting at the Office of the President (OP). Ramjattan, who is also a parliamentarian, said that the trio indicated that he was being disciplined for being critical of the force, especially the commissioner.
He said that all he was asking for was that there be more civilian oversight of the force. “I felt that Mohamed and Lewis were not doing a good job. I told them if they wanted me to resign I would. I had even walked with it [the resignation] in my back pocket.”
In defending his thinking at the time, Ramjattan said that it was not the democracy that he wanted and “I had the right to criticize the government even if I was a part of it.”
He said that following the meeting at OP he spoke to Jagan the next day, and said “he was shocked that they were doing that to me.” He said that the threat of disciplinary proceedings later “fizzled away.” Ramjattan told Stabroek News that during the meeting he “behaved very aggressive with them.”
According to Ramjattan, when he read what Ramkarran had said he immediately began to wonder when he would be disciplined for making statements similar to the ones that he had made.
“This shows that times have changed. This might be a good thing to constructively be critical and not fear disciplinary proceedings,” he said, adding now that Ramkarran has gone public he would like to see him writing pieces on how he feels about NICIL, corruption and so many other issues that currently affect the public.
“I am happy that he has started the process. This is something that he should have done a long time ago. It is good that he could stand up. Good leadership is always about the courage to state the facts and not simply to write it long after,” he said, recalling that previously Ramkarran had told him that he privately disapproved of Stabroek News ad cuts. “He didn’t write about it until 2012,” he said.
Ramjattan told Stabroek News that when wrongs are being committed, “you have an obligation under the moral law, and if you are religious, under the religious law to state [this].
However shadow Home Affairs Minister of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Winston Felix had a different take on the matter, as according to him, Ramkarran was using a personal matter to talk about the “deep seated nature of the police.”
Felix said that comments such as those made by Ramkarran, “would never assist in ensuring that police conduct themselves properly in the enforcement of the law.”
In the article, Ramkarran recounted an incident involving Wentworth Tanner, the Director of Social Services attached to the Ministry of Social Services, who was previously the Chief Licensing Officer having previously been attached to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Guyana Revenue Authority.
He said that the TSU ranks who were heavily armed had stopped Tanner in a busy section of North Road, surrounded his vehicle and made a demand to search it.
Ramkarran detailed how rude the officers, whose names he mentions, were during the episode.
Felix, a former police commissioner, said that he had served in the force for 36 years and knows that “better can be done if those who now manage the force have professional and moral strength to stand as guardians of the integrity of the force to ensure that justice is done to aggrieved members of the public and to ensure the policemen are dealt with fairly.”
He said that he cannot confirm the “deep seated” opinion of Ramkarran, noting that during his time as a divisional commander and a sub-division commander he had to deal with allegations against members of the force. According to Felix, he had also received many complimentary comments from the public who were pleased with the way junior ranks interacted with them.
He stressed that one must recognize that in the exercise of power policemen or any other person entrusted with power, “tend to overstep the boundaries, and in recognition of that possibility police rely on laws, legislation and [their] own internal system and procedures to take corrective action against errant members of the force.”
Felix noted that the Summary Jurisdiction Act deals with assaults, among other things, while in the Police (Discipline) Act 17:01 a rank may be charged with incivility towards members of the public and taking a bribe, among others.
He added that in the later ’90s and early 2000s the force’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) was established to address the kind of complaints related by Ramkarran.
He noted that because of all of the work that is being done within the force, “I can say the administration of the force is making efforts to control the behaviour of ranks.”
“The public knows good police work when they see criminals stopped and searched, or even arrested as a result thereof,” he said, adding that consequently the Force is more likely to earn the respect and confidence of the public they serve with the resultant benefit of securing their assistance in the fight against crime.
“Therefore it would seem to me to be in the interest of the police to perform their duties to the satisfaction of the public rather than to incur their wrath through misconduct in one form or another,” he said.