The Guyana Defence Force (GDF) has said that there has never been nor is there now a “culture” within its administration and operations that allows any of its members to be in unlawful possession of its weapons.
In a press release issued on Thursday, the army refuted a statement attributed to attorney Patrice Henry, who in defence of his client, a soldier charged with unlawful possession of an army-issued handgun, told the court that “it is the culture of the arms store to allow him to carry guns.”
The GDF said the statement attributed to Henry, and published in various sections of the media, is “entirely without merit.”
Devon Harris, 34, a serving member of the GDF for at least 12, was remanded to prison when he on Tuesday appeared in the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court charged with stealing an FN pistol, valued at $35,000 and property of the GDF. Harris pleaded not guilty to the charges when they were read to him by Chief Magistrate Priya Sewnarine-Beharry.
The theft occurred between December 27 and January 4. It was also alleged that between December 27 and January 3, at Harris’s Friendship home, he had the pistol in his possession without being the owner of a gun licence.
Prosecutor Bharat Mangru had told the court that a physical check was conducted on the said date at the armoury at Base Camp Stephenson and the firearm was discovered missing. During investigations, Harris was found with the weapon while he was not on duty. According to Mangru, off-duty officers are not authorised to remove firearms. Further, he noted that the accused is not a licensed firearm holder.
In response, Henry had told the court that his client has been working at the arms store at Base Camp Stephenson and would normally have possession of the firearm. He also said that this was known and had never before been a problem as it is the culture of the arms store to allow officers to carry guns. Harris was ordered to appear in the Providence Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
The Guyana Defence Force Security Standing Orders set out very clearly the procedures to be followed by its arms stores personnel regarding the issuance of the force’s weapons, the army, however, said. “These Orders expressly permit GDF Officers and Ranks to be in possession of its weapons only in the execution of their military duty,” it added . Further, it noted that as an arms store personnel, Harris could not have issued to himself any weapon from the GDF’s arm stores as this would be in direct contravention of the Security Standing Orders; nor was he permitted to have a weapon in his possession when not on military duty.
“It is instructive to note that an authority to issue document has to be signed by the Commanding Officer, for a weapon to be issued to any rank,” the GDF said. The force categorically denies that that there has ever been nor is there currently a “culture” within its administration and operations that facilitates, encourages or allows for any of its members to be in an unlawful possession of the force’s weapons or ammunition.