President Bharrat Jagdeo told the Guyana Defence Force annual officers conference last week: “We have excellent security plans; the thing that we have suffered from in the past is, maybe, lack of coordination or lack of a clear establishment of the linkages between the different components.”
That’s a pity. After exercising responsibility for national defence for nearly ten years as Minister of Defence and Chairman of the Guyana Defence Board, this is an astonishing admission. Who is to blame for this shocking lack of coordination?
It is well known that the administration’s National Drug Strategy Master Plan is on the point of expiring after nearly four years without having been implemented. The Report of the Disciplined Forces Commission is also heading for its fifth year of dilatory deliberation without its recommendations having been brought into force. Yet, the president announced that work is ongoing within his office − with the Chief of Staff, Commissioner of Police and Minister of Home Affairs − on crafting a comprehensive national defence strategy. Given the fate of the old plans, what are the prospects for yet another plan?
Asserting that defence is entirely the responsibility of the executive branch, the president said that he wants to have inputs from the legislative branch, expecting that the National Assembly will be involved in the process at some time. Describing the proposed new plan as an “exciting venture” with many components already in place, the president feels that it will not conflict with the old one. Nobody, however, seems to know much about either the old plan or the new one.
These assertions do not surprise anyone, least of all the military officers who have heard them all before during Mr Jagdeo’s nearly 10-year tenure of the chairmanship of the Guyana Defence Board. In an article carried in this newspaper titled “Jagdeo signals new roles for army: internal security on agenda” in March 2005, the President disclosed that the Defence Board was considering various roles for the force. He had revealed earlier that there was actually a “paper” before the Defence Board proposing new ways for the force to participate in internal security. He vowed that, if the Defence Act would not allow the force’s participation, it will be “changed.”
At that time, the President added that the Defence Force needed the reforms proposed in the Disciplined Forces Commission report and promised that “there will be a serious discussion to ensure compliance with the recommendations.” Everyone knows what happened to that report and its recommendations.
Serious border defence issues such as the seizure of a Guyanese vessel in the Corentyne River four months ago and the drowning of Guyanese soldiers in the Cuyuni River two months ago were hardly mentioned. Instead, the military officers were exhorted to support other agencies in stamping out smuggling, tax-evasion, money-laundering and narco-trafficking and to go after criminals who are accused of stealing from the Treasury.
GDF Chief of Staff Commodore Gary Best tried to refocus the conference on the force’s core mission by disclosing that a strategic defence review had been completed. He pointed out, however, that in order for it to be effective, the force would have to be re-capitalised and re-equipped. Some work had started in this regard in the aviation and maritime arms but much more had to be done if the GDF is to offer any credible security and defence of this country’s porous borders.
Will there be two plans − the president’s plan for crime fighting and the Chief of Staff’s plan for border defence?