Guyana remains at the “tipping edge” in relation to security, says PNCR-1G Member of Parliament, Deborah Backer while issuing a call to Government to implement and undertake reforms mentioned in several reports.
In one of the livelier presentations during the Budget 2009 debate thus far, Backer on Tuesday evening outlined several recommendations while stating that many such recommendations contained in reports have yet to be implemented.
She noted that murders have increased from 116 in 2007 to 164 in 2008 and of the latter number, 25 to 30 were of a domestic nature. She stated that this form of murder is becoming more and more ingrained in the “criminal architecture” and noted that last June the government had launched a five-year National Policy on Domestic Violence, ‘Break the Silence- Take Control’. But she said it is strange that five months after, President Bharrat Jagdeo convened a broad-based consultative session to develop a strategic approach to address domestic violence and ironic that shortly after Jagdeo “became the subject matter of allegations of high tech domestic violence”.
Backer said that the first annual review of the state of violence, -due under the policy, in June, is being anticipated and expressed alarm at the frequency with which pleas of manslaughter when spouses are charged for the capital offence are accepted by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. She also cited the “fairly lenient” sentences passed by the judiciary. “We are somewhat concerned about that development”, she declared. She asserted that it is hoped that the five-year domestic violence policy, will not be “still born” as, she said, has been the case with the government’s National Drug Strategy Master Plan.
The Parliamentarian, who is also an attorney, said that a high murder rate is compounded by the fact that a significant number goes unsolved year after year. Referring to Crime Chief Seelall Persaud’s comments about the establishment of a cold case unit, she stated that the cold cases are so many, that such a unit would have to be large and managed by police with specialized training.
She stated that this unit would have to take on the massacres at Lusignan, Bartica and Lindo Creek, and while the Rondell ‘Fineman’ Rawlins gang has been blamed for the killings, she said that the stark reality is that, and quoting from a Stabroek News editorial, not a sliver of convincing evidence has been presented to the public, which ties anyone to any of the three massacres. She declared that other major crimes from the last eight years remain centre-stage, describing it as a cycle where the same major crimes keep recurring year after year.
Further, Backer added, there continues to be a public safety crisis in Guyana in relation to drugs and gun smuggling. She recalled her party’s position that to meaningfully tackle this and other crimes, the root cause of crime must be addressed. She said that they are happy that the government is now publicly accepting that the root causes of crime must be dealt with.
Meantime, while the reduction in road fatalities was the high point of the Disciplined Forces last year, said Backer, the torture and subsequent investigation that followed two soldiers namely Alvin Wilson and Michael Dunn and the still to be investigated allegations of torture by the Guyana Defence Force of soldier Sharth Robertson and civilians Patrick Sumner and Victor Jones, opened yet another chapter of violations by the disciplined forces. She called on the GDF to release the unedited results of the investigations and also for an independent inquiry into the Robertson, Sumner and Jones’ cases.
On the issue of Community Policing Groups (CPG), Backer said that legislation needs to be brought to the National Assembly to regulate the functioning of the groups and under such a law, the Commissioner of Police and not the Minister of Home Affairs must be fully responsible for CPG’s, which must support and not supplement, professional law enforcement. Quoting figures provided by Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee, she said that the membership of such groups has surpassed the strength of the professional law enforcement arm.
She declared that the government has had 16 years to develop plans, strategies and policies for the security of the nation. “Had they done so from the beginning of their watch our security situation, we submit, would not remain at the tipping edge, we would have been at some safe point of retreat”, Backer declared. She said that there is a plethora of reports but there is unwillingness by the government to implement the proposed reforms on a timely basis, having expended millions to produce them. She recalled several recommendations, among them, one which advocated giving parliament broad oversight of the security sector.
Further, in relation to other branches of the disciplined forces Backer said, with regard to prisons, that they are overcrowded with the attendant spin-offs such as health issues and lax security. The attorney asserted that the criminal justice system needs fundamental changes in relation to custodial sentences and alternatives to such sentences. The Fire Service, she declared, is undermanned and “under-watered”. One of the main issues is non-functioning hydrants and referring to the recent New Amsterdam fire in which four persons died, she said that it is unacceptable that responsibility for the hydrants has not been resolved. If necessary, the government must legislate, to bring closure to this issue.
Backer outlined several recommendations including increasing the emphasis on a serious crime prevention plan that deals not only with enforcement, corrective institutions and the criminal justice system but also with deficiencies in the educational system, the absence of job opportunities, poverty, marginalization and discrimination, the breakdown in family structures and the re-introduction of national service, among others.
With regard to border security, Backer said that there continues to be “non-understanding” of the scale and scope of the interior and said that the Police E and F Divisions should be split and their headquarters relocated within their respective divisions. She declared that there have been too many committees, not enough commitment, too little implementation of reports and this has to change.