Home Affairs Minister Mr Clement Rohee’s disquisition last Monday on security before a diverse audience was a dramatic departure from the usual approach of PPP/C ministers but both its form and content leave key concerns unanswered.
Anticipating that there would be skepticism over the timing of the presentation, Minister Rohee had this to say those gathered: “The announcements just made should certainly not be a matter of `Too late! Too late! Is the cry!’ Rather the cry should be `better late than never’”. Minister Rohee then went on to extraordinarily defend why the sweeping reforms were only now being presented. He contended that during the period 2006-11 he “spent most of my time and efforts acquainting myself with the sometimes complex institutional and organizational arrangements as well as other critical aspects of the functioning of those agencies that fall under the purview of the Ministry of Home Affairs”. No minister in any administration anywhere can plead the luxury of taking five years to familiarize himself with a portfolio prior to fundamental reforms. Indeed, the normal cycle of reshuffles in Cabinets and loss of office would make it virtually impossible for any minister to function.
Yet, the reforms announced are muscular and accord with longstanding recommendations to PPP/C governments beginning in the 1990s. If adequately implemented in an enabling environment they can significantly improve the security situation.
Key among these reforms is a strategic plan drawn up for the Guyana Police Force by a UK-based consultancy which will see the hiring of 10 “high level civilian professionals in non-line positions” for the force to ensure a “high degree of professional, technical and efficient inputs to guarantee implementation of the plan”.
Parallel to the plan, the UK-based consultancy Capita-Symonds, will apply itself to four critical tasks as follows:
1. Administration: Aimed at strengthening the Administration of the Guyana Police Force with particular reference to standards for recruitment and retention of staff;
2. Succession Planning: Develop a sustainable approach to succession planning with particular reference to career planning and retention of Cadet Officers.
3. Integrity/Probity (Professionalization): Aimed at improving the Professionalism of the Force through strengthening its accountability and instigating a more rigorous approach to development of integrity;
4. Public Relations/Communications: Aimed at developing a sustainable approach to public relations/communications with particular reference to a modern and responsive approach to dealing with the media and other internal and external stakeholders.
These are all sensible undertakings and are to be bolstered by other initiatives such as freeing police ranks from clerical duties, the hiring of a policy analyst, a substantially higher outlay for training and the splitting of the vast E&F Division among other things. These reforms will play out in the backdrop of significant administrative changes in the Home Affairs Ministry under a separate plan drawn up by a local consultant under the Citizen Security Programme and with ambitious goals.
i. Realign and modernize the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Organizational Structure for greater responsiveness;
ii. Establish the Ministry of Home Affairs as a Centre of Excellence in the Public Service;
ii. Enhance the physical infrastructure at the Ministry of Home Affairs;
iv. Deepen inter-organizational linkages for greater Security Sector cohesiveness and impact;
v. Increase border surveillance and management for greater citizen security;
vi. Enhance citizen security through greater effectiveness of the performance of the subvention agencies;
vii.Reduce road fatalities through enhanced Traffic Management Surveillance.
Houses of Justice, a sort of a community clearing house to address a wide range of needs is also on the cards for parts of Region 2 and 3.
Increased numbers of traffic wardens and watchers for domestic violence are part of Minister Rohee’s plans as are an aeronautical branch for the force and regularizing of the crossing between Guyana and Nickerie, Suriname.
So broad were the announcements that Minister Rohee could confidently state in his address “Never in the history of our country and the Security Sector have such initiatives been undertaken”.
While that may be something to boast of, in the same measure it poses dilemmas. Why exactly at this juncture have all of these measures been launched when it has been clear to all those in the security sector that these initiatives had been needed much earlier and in a phased manner? Is it all being pushed into play now as a means of circumventing the parliamentary censure of the minister and going directly to the people? This is how it will appear to sections of the public notwithstanding Minister Rohee’s explanations.
In a country seriously hamstrung by the brain-drain, the considered sequencing of the announced measures is crucial. It is hardly likely that many of these measures can proceed simultaneously given the paucity of human resources. Moreover there is every likelihood that the reforms and their lead officials will get into a veritable tangle that diminishes the process. It needs very careful managing.
The success of the initiatives will also depend heavily on public support. No matter how well organized and resourced they are the initiatives will not hit their mark unless there is public input and intelligence is available from the grass roots. This is the most formidable challenge Minister Rohee and the government will face. Overcoming this will not be easy and requires the public gaining confidence by seeing real law enforcement results and discerning evenhandedness and transparency in the application of the new measures.
It is no secret that large sections of the public have little confidence in law enforcement going all the way back to the earliest days of the PPP’s 1992 administration. The cynicism and despair at that lack of results have hardened during many difficult periods and particularly in the aftermath of the 2002 prison break and the three massacres that occurred in 2008. The public needs to see results. Fresh in their recollection is the reign of the phantom squads and the dozens of men who died particularly in the 2002-8 period. Fresh in their memories are fiascoes like the hit-and-run murder of Sheama Mangar and dozens of others where unless there is a smoking gun the police are unable to make an arrest and secure a conviction. Fresh in their minds are the brazen execution-style killings of Ricardo Rodrigues and his bodyguard Marlon Osbourne in separate, broad-daylight attacks in the city last October without a single charge. Fresh in their consciousness is the snaring of many drug mules at the airport and the arresting of persons for ganja cigarettes while the drug lords like Roger Khan roamed untouched by the police, tamed only by American justice. Even fresher in the collective recall is the mind-boggling gold heist aboard a Guyanese boat in Curacao in November and the apparent paralysis of local law enforcement in this matter.
There is also a credible view that the government protects its own while going after its opponents and the hapless. This again goes right back to the 1992 administration with the infamous powder milk scam and surfaces throughout the ensuing 20-year period and in one recent case, ironically in the police force. The Ministry of Home Affairs in a statement in July last year admitted that senior policemen were involved in collecting kickbacks over the purchase of a police boat but had been allowed to pay back the money without prosecution. It is an egregious example of the letting off of senior police, who because of their law and order oath should be held to even higher standards and certainly prosecuted to the fullest.
It is also worth noting that the late, former Commissioner of Police, Mr Henry Greene avoided a charge of rape while in office by a most unusual recourse to the courts.
Another example of double standards resides at state TV where monies from GT&T for a contract were placed in the private account of one of the government’s favoured news anchors and he and another senior manager have so far avoided prosecution despite clear evidence of a cover-up of wrongdoings.
This is part of the monumental burden that the government, Minister Rohee and the police force have to overcome; twenty years of poor results on law enforcement. It was this unsatisfactory return that convinced many here and abroad that radical, new solutions were needed for law and order such as the hiring of well-experienced overseas police officers for line positions in the police force. This plan does not cater for that and doesn’t defend its omission. Grafting radical reforms onto a force that is in dire need of the rooting out of corruption, revamping and structural reforms is liable to failure.
While there is provision for civilian participation in the reforms it is left to be seen how exactly this will work, who will decide who these people are and on what criteria. The government has a habit of handpicking people it is comfortable with, completely oblivious to suitability. If the public discerns this defect early on in the process these new initiatives could be severely undermined. Every single security reform implemented by the government must inspire public confidence not cement distrust and disenchantment.
The environment in which the reforms are sown is also important. As the Private Sector Commission has appropriately pointed out these reforms have to be buttressed by improved pay across the key law enforcement services. Minister Rohee’s presentation did not address this at all. Much of the corruption problem within the force is directly linked to pay that is unlivable.
The reforms are clearly necessary but they will only have a real chance to succeed if the government is transparent in its dealings, real results are produced and that all persons, no matter how important or unimportant, are treated equally before the law.