The cost of security

After eight days of debates and detailed line-by-line scrutiny of the budget, the National Assembly approved the Appropriation Bill last week. This represents the financial allocations to government departments and ministries outlined in this year’s $128.9B national budget.

Much has been made of the increased allocation – $13.7B – to the Ministry of Home Affairs. President Jagdeo described the expenditure as a demonstration of his administration’s commitment to boosting the security sector’s capacity, emphasising that “the greatest way of knowing what the executive is committed to, is to look at its budget.”

No one needs to be reminded that Guyana is a poor country and spending nearly 10 per cent of its budget on public safety takes valuable dollars away from public health, public works, education, environmental infrastructure and other areas of social and economic development. That is why the Ministry of Home Affairs must start to think strategically and take security budgeting and spending much more seriously than it does now. That is also why the dramatic performance of the Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee in the National Assembly seemed so unfunny, unparliamentary and so out of place.

Shouting at Opposition members to “Stop griping and complaining, and throw your weight behind the national effort of rebuilding the nation” and deriding their contribution to the debate as containing only one “half-baked eureka-type idea” probably play well on state television. Deliberating on the expenditure of billions of the people’s money, however, requires a more studious mindset.

The anniversary of the Mashramani Georgetown Prison escape of 2002 and the shooting down of a few more suspected bandits at Arimu last week – two events that coincided with the budget debate in the National Assembly – signalled that the country is still to recover from its seven-year security crisis.

Back in 2002, for example, then Minister of Home Affairs Mr Ronald Gajraj made lots of commitments to the police. He pledged to establish a specialised training centre at which law-enforcement officers would be trained in modern anti-crime tactics. The next year, he undertook to establish an air wing, claiming that a committee was actually meeting to identify a hangar and determine the specifications for the aircraft. Many persons thought he was serious. Mr Rohee added to the promises by announcing that he was seeking resources to improve the capacity of the force’s marine wing to combat piracy.

This is a big country and the ministers know that in order to stop gun-running, narco-trafficking, hinterland banditry and riverine piracy, they must be clever enough to promise the police force the right resources. Had they kept their word, the country would not be in this mess today. The facts are that the fundamentals of reform are still not in place and the budget will not provide the essential assets needed by the police.

However much the minister has tried to conceal the absence of planning with wordy attacks on the opposition, it is evident that expenditure in this year’s budget, like last year’s, will be devoted largely to what the capital estimates refer to variously as repairs, renovation, rehabilitation and remodelling. This expenditure is necessary to keep the force on life support. It is not sufficient and will leave the force short of vital equipment to curb serious crime.

That is how it is every year. The politicians must start to think strategically, which means beyond the limited horizon of the next annual budget. The police force must insist on a serious policy review and a realistic long-term budget to finance its development. The cost of security might seem high, but the cost of crime is much higher.

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