UK security plan blessed by House -opposition skeptical

With continuing crime and an alarming rise in road deaths the National Assembly last evening passed a motion for the appointment of a special select committee to oversee the implementation of a British-funded security plan which promises sweeping reforms including the setting up of a special firearms support team.

But opposition Members of Parliament in a lively debate of the motion during which time they taunted the government over the torturing of two Buxton men and the killing of Donna Herod, said while the plan was an excellent one they were wary of the several schemes, reports and studies that have already been done on the reform of the security sector with little to show for them.

“The history of security management by the PPP government is a disappointing failure and I hope that this is not just another plan,” Alliance For Change MP, Raphael Trotman declared.

People’s National Congress Reform-One Guyana MP, Deborah Backer said that Britain should be commended for its assistance, but the PPP Government should

step up and put more money into the security sector. The plan which was unveiled back in August will be implemented over four years. One of the first steps towards implementation was for the government to table in parliament a summary of the action plan and motions to set up special select committees on the Disciplined Forces Commission report and to review the implementation of the action plan.

The plan seeks to build the operational capacity of the police force in terms of a uniformed response to serious crime, as well as augment forensics, crime intelligence and traffic policing capabilities. The plan will also strengthen policy-making across the security sector to make it more transparent, effective and better coordinated. Bringing financial management in the security sector under the umbrella of public sector financial management reform; creating substantial parliamentary and other oversight of the security sector and building greater public participation and inclusiveness on security sector issues are the other components of the plan. The committee is expected to receive and examine official annual reports from the administration on the status of the implementation of the activities in the eleven priority areas on an annual basis and also to provide a final report to the National Assembly of their examination of the reports on the implementation of the entire action plan.

Consensus

Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee in moving the motion to set up the committee said the administration has achieved consensus among law enforcement entities on the implementation of the action plan. He noted that the administration is aware of the importance of garnering public support for the law enforcement agencies in their implementation of the activities in the action plan and that the administration has committed itself to reporting regularly to the National Assembly on the progress of the implementation of the plan. The tabling of the motion to set up the special select committee was one of the many requirements government had to meet with Britain.

Rohee told the National Assembly that aspects of the security sector have been the subject of heightened attention of the administration, civil society and other partners over the years. He said that the administration’s focus on the security sector led to the provision of significant annual increases in the budgetary allocation for entities in the security sector.

Rohee announced that after extensive discussions and consultations with stakeholders including the leadership of the law enforcement agencies, the public and the donor community eleven priority areas for intervention were identified. In addition, Rohee said that specific objectives have been developed in each of the eleven priority areas for which discrete activities have been structured to allow those objectives in each of the priority areas to be realized between the period 2007-2011.

Peanuts

Backer told the house that while the administration has been boasting about how many resources it is putting into the security forces, the results are disappointing. “Not how much you spend is what you get out of it,” Backer said in rebuttal to Rohee’s arguments that government had increased its budgetary allocation to the police over the years. The opposition MP added that while more money is being spent the homicide and road fatality rates have climbed. “The PNCR appreciate what the British government is doing, but the question must be asked what the PPP is putting into it?’

Backer said while the plan seeks to build operational capacity of the police force, the servicemen are still being paid poor wages and their other benefits are minuscule. “If you pay peanuts you will get peanuts results,” Backer declared adding that incentives and salaries in the police force are very poor. She said bright men and women continue to shun the force, because of the poor wages. While, he said, there is a case for better wages for policemen Rohee asked whether government was getting value for its money, noting that fighting crime is quite costly. He said that the implementation of the action plan is an investment in the long term. “The history of the police force is replete with acts of heroism and sacrifice from officers who did not attend Queen’s College and Bishops’,” Rohee declared.

Backer noted that the history of the PPP government is one where they are reluctant to spend money, but relish hand-outs and donations.

But government MP, Gail Teixeira said that crime has changed in nature and sophistication over the years and as such it requires governments around the world to spend more on security. Teixeira, a former Home Affairs Minister said that Guyana was still a very poor country and many of the previous studies such as the Symonds Report were very costly to implement. Teixeira who is now Presidential Adviser on Governance said that at the time when Britain committed to helping Guyana implement such a plan, the country had experienced the gruesome assassination of Agriculture Minister, Satyadeow Sawh his two siblings and a security guard as well the slaying of the five Kaieteur News press men, the killing of eight people at Agricola and the theft of the 30 Ak-47 rifles from the army headquarters. She said as a result of these occurrences, donor partners and friends of Guyana took steps to bring the two major parties together to formulate a comprehensive security action plan. British High Commissioner to Guyana, Fraser Wheeler who was in parliament yesterday to listen to the debate had told this newspaper in an interview this year that the plan originated from a letter from President Bharrat Jagdeo to his predecessor former British High Commissioner, Steven Hiscock over a year ago. In his letter Jagdeo had asked for comprehensive assistance in the security sector, with solutions to arrest the deteriorating crime and security situation. Subsequent to the letter there was a meeting between former UK Minister Valerie Amos and Jagdeo and from their engagement Britain agreed to assist. The two countries had next agreed on the principles by which the process would be taken forward. These principles had been agreed between Jagdeo and Leader of the Opposition Robert Corbin before last year’s general elections. Following those agreements, in October last year the UK brought down a team of security reform experts from Ghana, South Africa, India and Sierra Leone who came with the express purpose of drawing up ideas for security-sector reform in Guyana.

Relishes

Referring to Backer’s statement that government relishes hand-outs and donations, Teixeira said that they had to collaborate with other countries, noting that Guyana needed both their expertise and their dollars. “But we are not going to sell our souls and agree on everything that they want,” Teixeira said. Trotman told the house that Guyana had many security sector strategies, noting that many of them including the drug master plan which was lau
nched with much fanfare two years ago have been stalled. He said while the administration has been slothful in implementing the strategies, the US State Department continues to lambaste the country’s fight against drugs and other crimes in its annual reports. “The plan is an excellent plan and it is hoped that it is fully implemented,” Trotman said.

Meanwhile, under priority one, which deals with the establishment of a special firearms support team, the plan seeks to support the creation of a specialized capability to execute high risk operations with regard to terrorism, hijacking, hostage release and negotiations and specialized tactical deployment. In the area of anti-crime unit, the plan seeks to develop an operational protocol, provide training on technical aspects of anti-crime operations and the acquisition of operational equipment and resources among other things. On the crime intelligence front, the action plan will support the capability of the police force with regard to the gathering, analysis, interpretation, dissemination and management of strategic and operational crime-related information.

Under developing forensic capacity, the plan seeks to provide support to the effective delivery of forensic laboratory services. At present the police force’s laboratory is woefully lacking some of the basic forensic equipment although government earlier this year expended some $32M on purchasing some modern tools. In the area of strengthening leadership and training in the security forces, the plan will develop a leadership training programme for senior management of the police force and also implement and sustain the leadership training. With traffic accidents and road fatalities skyrocketing, the UK-funded plan seeks to provide support that will have an immediate impact on road and traffic safety. In the area of building operational capacity the plan seeks to provide specialized advice and technical assistance in support of identified policing priorities.

In addition, under the priority which deals with national security policy management, the plan will set up programmes to enhance the security policy process and management framework to make them more transparent, effective and better coordinated to achieve integrated security sector operations. It will also seek to revise and modernize legislation and other regulations in the sector. The plan also caters for parliamentary oversight to enhance internal as well as external oversight and accountability of the security sector.

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