Public safety to get $19.5B this year – Singh
Public safety is being allocated $19.5B this year and Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh says that there will continue to be substantial emphasis on strategic planning and evidence-based interventions.
Delivering his $220B 2014 budget, Singh said that training will be conducted for the Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) Unit and a sum of $382.6 million has been allotted to train the joint services. Critics have charged that the SWAT expenditure is not a priority area for Guyana.
A further $413 million has been budgeted to train and equip community policing groups countrywide “in an effort to restore safe neighbourhoods to our citizens”, he said. Training will also be done with staff at the forensic laboratory on chemical analysis, drugs analysis, toxicology and court room procedures. Further, a sum of $1.2 billion has been channelled for the completion of the forensic laboratory, the fire training school and continuous upgrading of infrastructure at joint service locations across the country.
Singh told the National Assembly that a figure of $1.1 billion has been set aside to support land, air and sea operations of the joint services while a further $1.1 billion has been earmarked to “effectively equip our forces to serve and protect our citizens.”
He stated that the National Drug Strategy Master Plan (NDSMP) 2014-2018 will also be finalised to bolster Guyana’s ability to combat drugs. Critics have argued that there have been several renderings of these plans since 1992 but they have produced few results.
Singh also said that a new National Action Plan 2014-2015 for trafficking in persons is currently being crafted and will aid ongoing efforts by seeking to reduce the vulnerability of persons to the lure of traffickers, widening the involvement of civil society and boosting the law enforcement response. Advocates against human trafficking have slammed the government for poor investigating and prosecution of offences in this area and for poor support to the victims.
Recapping expenditure for 2013, Singh said that in supporting strategic planning and evidence-based intervention, technological advancement was critical. In accord with this, $99 million was spent on the installation of Information Technology equipment and software for remote surveillance and the expansion of the Integrated Crime Information System (ICIS) to support four additional modules in traffic, digitising firearm licences and executive management interface.
“Citizen confidence in law enforcement is one indicator used to measure the effectiveness of security systems. Several initiatives were undertaken directly targeting the restoration of public confidence including the administration of safe neighbourhood surveys, the institutionalisation of online crime reporting including reports from persons who have paid bribes across government agencies and the establishment of 10 Houses of Justice with 5 each in Regions 2 and 3”, Singh asserted. He did not address the results from mechanisms such as the I Paid a Bribe website which critics say has not resulted in significant investigations.
The Finance Minister said that last year, $17.3 billion was spent on public safety and training was a priority. Over $230 million was spent on 81 police officers who, he said, benefited from overseas training in areas such as police procedures and operational issues, community-type policing and leadership and computer skills. In addition, 12 coxswains were trained in command of territorial sea patrol boats and 60 firefighters participated in a training of trainers exercise in specialised rescue and municipal fire-fighting. The first batch of eight recently graduated traffic wardens are now working in Georgetown, Linden, West Demerara, East Coast Demerara and Berbice, Singh reported.
Over $1 billion was spent in 2013 for the erection and repair of joint services buildings countrywide including the forensic laboratory. A further $338.1 million was expended on police stations and related facilities, $261.1 million to provide a more secure environment for prison officers and inmates and $67 million on the fire service training school at Leonora. A further $1.2 billion went to the acquisition and maintenance of equipment to support the operations of the security sector. The land and water transport fleet also benefitted from investments totalling $913.1 million. He told the National Assembly that $232 million was spent to fortify marine operations in order to combat piracy and other crimes committed in the territorial sea and internal waterways.
In terms of the justice sector, Singh said that last year $275.5 million was funnelled into infrastructure in the justice sector for the building and upgrade of several edifices including the Mediation Centre in New Amsterdam and various Magistrates’ Courts, along with repair of the High Court. The Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Georgetown and New Amsterdam were also completely renovated “thus expanding the residential presence and by extension effectiveness of the public prosecutorial function beyond Georgetown.”
He told the National Assembly that one Civil and three Criminal Justice Committees were set up to review the functioning of the justice system, monitor and evaluate the performance of the courts, and to tender recommendations to improve their effectiveness. A database to monitor court performance has been established as part of this exercise. Further, he said that a Prosecutors Management Information System, which is expected to speed up the processing of criminal depositions, was installed and is functioning at the DPP’s Chambers.
In addition, the Guyana’s Law Reports for the period 1930 to 2007, and the revision of the Laws of Guyana up to 2010 were done and the latter is now available in print for the first time in 34 years. Reduction of backlogged cases continued apace, he said, with an additional 1,000 cases being cleared from the court system.
For this year a total of $1.8 billion has been budgeted to consolidate the gains made, he said. In accordance with the Law Revision Act Cap. 2:02, the requisite order was gazetted in February, bringing into force the newly amended and consolidated version of the Laws of Guyana. A number of practice directions are being crafted to support the new Rules of the High Court Civil Procedure. Singh said that these new rules will “simplify the commencement of proceedings in court, allow citizens easier access to the court, and provide the mechanism for recourse to mediation, to which the Government has already appropriately demonstrated its support by the enactment of alternative dispute resolution legislation.”
Singh asserted that the Civil and Criminal Justice Committees will intensify steps toward monitoring and evaluating the performance of Magistrates’ and High Courts countrywide. A baseline report on the use of court resources is expected to aid the monitoring and evaluation of the performance of the courts thereby enabling more timely access to justice, he said.
This year, voice recording will be introduced for the first time in the Chief Justice’s Court, the Commercial Court and the Court of Appeal, Singh pointed out. This is expected to further reduce the time taken to record and process cases. He noted that government has also cleared the way for the increase of the number of Puisne Judges from 12 to 20. .
Investment in infrastructure will continue with an amount of $238.5 million earmarked for the construction of a Land Court, a new Magistrates’ Court at Sparendaam, the completion of the No. 51 Village Court, the repair of court rooms at the High Court, and maintenance of facilities across the country.