Citizens’ security

Last month’s battery and robbery of Avasa Jagan, President Cheddi Jagan’s granddaughter, was an outrage.  Like the shooting of Maria van Beek, President Cheddi Jagan’s niece, almost exactly a year ago in April 2009, this was another high-profile reminder that such crimes against the person are commonplace occurrences.

Dr Cheddi ‘Joey’ Jagan, the father of the latter victim and cousin of the former, issued a call for citizens “to realise that crime is devastating our communities and a stand against criminality, whatever form it may take, is the first step in a process where all of us can come together in urgency to tackle a national disaster affecting everyone, especially our children who must inherit a country free from the terror of criminals.”

The next week, as if to deflect criticism of the government for its failure to safeguard citizens’ security, the Government Information Agency issued a statement explaining that the Ministry of Home Affairs was “moving ahead to implement the Citizen’s Security Programme.”

That programme has already accumulated four years worth of bulging files of documents. The Inter-American Development Bank had approved a US$19.8M loan to the Guyana Government to support the programme as long ago as June 2006. Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee was present when Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh and then IDB resident representative Sergio Varas-Olea signed the contract for the programme in January 2007. But, as crimes against the person soared, implementation of the programme faltered.

Mr Rohee publicly groaned in August 2008 that there were “difficulties” in the implementation of the Community Action Component of the programme which he himself had approved. He pointedly accused the IDB of attempting to “define the realties” in Guyana. Mr Khemraj Rai, the programme’s new Coordinator, acknowledged that the CAC, launched in 2007, was suspended for a year in 2008-2009 “to review its structure.”

Thus, the Community Action Component of the programme was “re-launched” only in February 2010. It is now aimed at young persons and school dropouts between the ages of 14-25 from ten communities.  Each community is expected to “become sustainable as a neighbourhood in which all persons are included in the creation of a safe environment and young people are provided with opportunities that will prevent them from participating in criminal and violent activities.”

The programme’s intention is clear but its implementation promises to be a bureaucratic nightmare. The Ministry of Home Affairs is meant to assist the selected communities to form councils. Each community will identify three ‘quick wind’ projects and nominate young persons to participate in the programme. Each community will then be given US$5,000 to expend on each project which, with guidance and resources from the ministry, could include tasks such as the rehabilitation of recreational centres and the procurement of equipment and books. An executive committee will then be elected and, in turn, it will nominate a Community Action Officer who will be tasked with monitoring the activities of the council. That person, Rai said, will be the liaison between the community-based council and the ministry-based programme coordinator.

A pretty piece of paperwork! But, do Mr Rohee and Mr Rai seriously believe that these meagre measures could provide “sustainable” long-term livelihoods for thousands of unmotivated, unskilled and unemployed school dropouts with poor literacy and numeracy skills? Do they think that the programme could uproot drug-trafficking and gun-running which are the real causes of crime?

Much more needs to be done to reform the Guyana Police Force to enable it to take the baddies off the streets and to make the lives of average citizens more secure.

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