Removing the Commissioner of the Civil Defence Commission in the wake of serious flooding on the East Coast of Demerara is a serious matter. Removing the Commissioner of the Customs and Trade Administration in the midst of a massive revenue fraud in order to replace him is even more so. That the removal of those two former senior military officers resulted in the appointment of a National Security Coordinator should be an indication of both the importance of national security and the intention to craft a strategy.
Last week’s announcements by President Bharrat Jagdeo and Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon of Major General Michael Atherly’s appointment as coordinator for Security Sector Reform were welcome. Working under the purview of the Guyana Defence Board, he will head a security sector secretariat with a mandate to formulate and implement a national security strategy in 12 months.
The President said that General Atherly’s appointment will help to strengthen this country’s national security efforts and better coordinate scarce resources in the implementation of Guyana’s national security plan. This is not new. Nearly nine years ago in April 2000, the President had declared open a conference sponsored by the United States Southern Command and the United States National Defense University’s Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies under the theme ‘Guyana: Developing a Sustainable National Security Strategy.’
The President disclosed then that the forum for the development of a sustainable national security strategy had its origins in a ‘think tank’ in the little known ‘Defence Secretariat’ and declared that his administration was “trying to capitalise on the methodological approach” that was used in the National Development Strategy. His ideas included the need for a small professional army with a larger reserve and for the military supporting law enforcement agencies within the context of the Defence Act. Addressing the commissioning parade of the Standard Officers’ Course in November 2003, the President reiterated that the otherwise unknown ‘national security think tank’ was actually working to prepare “a comprehensive national security strategy that will be made public some time.” So, the administration has been there before.
Back in 2000, also, then Minister of Home Affairs Mr Ronald Gajraj had informed the same US-sponsored conference that “the intention is for the evolution and eventual development of… a national security strategy.” He hoped that the seminar would provide a forum and stimulus for meaningful and animated dialogue from which a Guyanese national security policy and strategy could be developed. In fact, as a member of the Guyana Defence Board, it was he who was appointed the chairman of the National Security Strategy Organising Committee and assigned responsibility for drafting the country’s national security strategy. That is the way things were at the start of the new millennium.
Mr Gajraj never seemed to have completed that assignment. The administration contrived instead to sideline every formal plan proposed to address national security. It shelved the recommendations of its own Steering Committee of the National Consultation on Crime and the National Commission on Law and Order’s consultations; it ignored the report of the Border and National Security Committee; and it dawdled on the report of the Disciplined Forces Commission. It still seems to find it difficult to implement fully its own Citizens Security Programme, the National Drug Strategy Master Plan and the recommendation of various UK DFID-funded reports.
There has been no shortage of promises and programmes over the past decade. This time, again, the announcement that a national security strategy will be drafted is another promising move.