The authorities do not have much of a record in terms of catching major drug barons or having an impact on local narco-trafficking activities, but my goodness, their ability to draft National Drug Strategy Master Plans is nothing short of sensational. And so, in this government’s very best tradition of making plans, Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee announced last week that yet another one was in the process of being crafted. If the sighs of relief on the reception of this news did not reverberate around the nation in quite the way that he had hoped, he should not have been surprised.
This would be number three in the sequence for this government, following on the heels of one from 1997 to 2000, and the second from 2005 to 2009. The real issue with both was that they were never really implemented, despite a commitment from former President Jagdeo to do so in the case of the second. It had some innovative bureaucratic infrastructure, parts of which were either not made operational, did not function as was envisaged or were not set up at all, and as things stand, therefore, the much lauded master plans have been relegated to the pile of drafts, plans, reports and reviews which gather dust on the shelves of every ministry in this country.
Every year without fail official United States reports would comment on the ineffectualness of the Guyanese government response to drug-trafficking, and the fact that key elements of the drug strategy plans had not been implemented. In 2007, for example, the State Department International Narcotics Control Strategy Report criticized the administration here for failing to implement the 2005-09 plan, stating that there was still no co-ordinator or secretariat, among other things. It cited (inter alia) the low level of co-operation among law enforcement agencies, as well as the government’s inability to control borders, the lack of a law enforcement presence, and the lack of aircraft and patrol boats which allowed traffickers to move drug shipments via sea, river and air with little resistance. It also observed that “Investigating and prosecuting money laundering cases is not a priority for law enforcement.”
The following year in 2008, the State Department report was still complaining that two years after launching the plan it had not been implemented. It also remarked that all projections of quantifying the amount of illegal drugs flowing through this country were pure speculation based on the few seizures made. It inevitably also launched into the now familiar recitation of “weak border controls and limited resources for law enforcement…” In 2009, the story was the same, only this time with the report indicating that the law enforcement agencies had seized more than 100kg less cocaine in the year 2008 than in the previous one. Hardly surprisingly there were the statements about minimal co-operation among law enforcement agencies, weak border controls and limited resources, etc, etc.
In the year 2010, after the master plan had run its course, the Office of the US Trade Representative on the Operation of the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act in its 8th Report to Congress, listed all the standard complaints of previous years.
So why didn’t the government implement its own plans, the second of which the US reports described as “ambitious”? There has never been a fully coherent response to this question addressing specific defaults in relation to the second plan, in particular, although there has been no shortage of generalised reactions to the various reports. In 2007, for example, then President Jagdeo told GDF officers that he was fed up with “hypocritical lectures“ from the United States. Warming to his topic, he went on to say that that country’s assistance to Guyana in the fight against drug trafficking amounted to US$20,000 per year – less than a permanent secretary’s salary. Two years later we quoted him as saying, “I think we are doing the best we could in terms of combating the trade…“
Dr Luncheon echoed the complaint about the failure of the US to provide the resources needed to confront the problem when he told the media in 2010: “Guyanese cannot continue to bear the brunt of a one-sided burden in the fight against narco-trafficking” and went on to grouse about the lack of co-operation from Washington in relation to information. For his part Minister Rohee described the 2009 State Department report as “downright deceptive and misleading,” although precisely which portions he was referring to and in what way they were deceptive was never clarified. At an earlier stage in Parliament in 2008 under pressure from the opposition, he just insisted that Guyana was seeing results from its crime fight and that the evidence for the implementation of the master plan was there for all to see.
None of this answers, of course, why the bureaucratic structures required by the 2005-09 plan were either not put in place in their entirety or not made operational, because without them it could not be implemented in the way that was intended. Setting up those was not dependent on material resources from a foreign nation or information from anywhere else.
As far as the US providing information and resources were concerned, there were other impediments which would have given Washington more than enough pause for thought before entertaining any kind of collaboration or assistance. Apart from the fact that the US could not have failed to notice that this country had never prosecuted a major drug baron and that our big-time offenders had appeared in courts in other jurisdictions, including the doyen of the local narco-aristocracy, Mr Roger Khan, there was the curious story of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office. The government for some years would not come to agreement with the US about where it should be located, and one would have thought, therefore, that the administration could hardly have expected to have resources funnelled to it in the absence of that. Dr Luncheon’s oral peregrinations did nothing to throw any light on why the government would not accede to an arrangement which was in place in various other countries in the region.
Then there was the little matter of the late Mr Henry Greene, whom the United States accused of having benefited from the proceeds of the drug trade. Wikileaks cables have since revealed the exchanges between the US mission here and former President Jagdeo and Dr Luncheon about the appointment of Mr Greene as Commissioner of Police, but despite Washington’s concerns, Mr Jagdeo went ahead and appointed him anyway. Given what the United States had said about Mr Greene’s activities, the government here surely did not expect any kind of resources to come from that direction, least of all the sharing of information.
So, no new bureaucratic infrastructure for the second master plan especially, no DEA office, the appointment of a police chief whom the Americans regarded as compromised and no vigorous attempts even with the resources available to go after the big fish – and citizens were expected to believe that the government had every intention of making the plan operational? In the State Department report published in 2007 it was observed that drug trafficking and money laundering were pumping billions into the local construction sector. Certainly government failures in relation to the drug strategy plans raised suspicions in some quarters that the past administration may have got seduced into thinking that drug money was benefiting the economy. In addition, of course, there was the underlying assumption that it was primarily an American problem, and therefore the Americans should contribute the bulk of the resources to deal with it.
So now, it seems, we’re about to embark on strategy number three. Will its fate be any different from that of its predecessors? No one can tell as yet, but what can be said is that fences appear to have been mended with the DEA, and the agency has been running a training course for local investigators to strengthen the investigation and prosecution of narcotics cases. US Ambassador Brent Hardt at the opening of the course was quoted in our Tuesday edition as saying, “The United States Embassy and the DEA are determined to ensure that our Guyanese partners have the necessary to do their jobs effectively,” and he went on to add that the total value of the equipment being offered in this fiscal year was US$44,560 ($9M) – clearly rather more than a PS’s salary.
In this new atmosphere of co-operation with the DEA, it cannot be forgotten too that there is a new Commissioner of Police (ag). Mr Rohee himself at the opening of the course, referred to a container control programme launched here by the UN and World Customs Organization with financial assistance from the US, and said that its success would “depend to some extent on the reinforcement of the concept of inter-agency co-operation…“ Does this mean that the Minister and the government he serves have now come around to the thinking of the State Department and other US agencies which reported on our control strategy in earlier years? If that turns out to be the case, perhaps the new master plan, when it makes its appearance, may have some hope of actually being implemented.