Business community ‘obsessed’ with crime challenge, Gouveia says

- UN study cause for concern

A senior Private Sector Commission (PSC) official has told Stabroek Business that the Guyanese business community is currently afflicted with a low level of confidence in the state of the local security environment, particularly the ineffectiveness of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) to curb the proliferation of crime.

According to the private sector official, “we need to come to terms with the fact that where there is a sense of uncertainty about the safety of the environment in which we do business, investment will inevitable suffer. While we have made some measure of progress over the past five years,

A meeting of the Security and Governance Committee of the Private Sector Commission

the past year has not been good.

“A point has long been reached where the issue of crime in Guyana has to be dealt with from the standpoint of a business perspective. It is not simply an issue of the losses of both life and money that result.”

This comment, by Head of the PSC’s Governance and Security Committee Cap-tain Gerry Gouveia was made in response to a request for a private sector response to a recently completed United Nations Carib-bean Human Development Report on Citizen Security, the first of its kind for the region which is scheduled to be launched in Port of Spain later this year.

The report, which is based on a survey conducted in seven Caricom countries – Antigua, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago between November last year and February this year – reveals that large numbers of Caribbean people not only feel unsafe but have a low level of confidence in what is being done in the region to combat crime.

“The findings of the study are both enlightening and eye-opening. They suggest that there are other countries in the Caribbean where people have concerns that are similar to ours. We in the private sector are obsessed with the issue of crime and security; we believe that more needs to be done and that more can be done to address the problem,” Gouveia said.

UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Trinidad and Tobago Dr Marcia De Castro said there is a need to find solutions to the problems of crime and the attendant insecurity in the region since these threaten to undermine the gains which the region has made “in terms of economic growth, stability, being a desirable destination for investment and business.”

According to Gouveia, the observation by the UN diplomat “pretty much mirrors what we in the private sector here in Guyana have been saying for a long time. There is a linkage between crime and the viability of the local business environment.”

The PSC official told Stabroek Business that in recent months the commission had grown increasingly concerned about what appears to be the targeting of the mining sector by criminals. “It tells us a number of things about the pattern of crime in the country. Firstly, there is the fact that high gold prices make the mining sector a lucrative target for bandits. Secondly, and equally important is the fact that crime in the mining regions of the country reflects the criminals’ understanding of the serious limitations of the Guyana Police Force. The police cannot provide an effective deterrent to crime in the gold-mining regions and the criminals are aware of that.”

The former Guyana Defence Force Officer told Stabroek Business that he believes the army should be pressed into service in the local crime fight, “specifically in the areas of air and ground patrol of our borders to try to stem the flow of guns and other illegal goods entering Guyana. I am inclined to believe that there could be linkages between the attacks in the mining sector and the movement of weapons across our borders. This where the army can come in; there are two helicopters that are ideal for border surveillance purposes and these can help to monitor activities in border areas. I want to be specific here. I am not advocating that we turn our soldiers into policemen. What I am suggesting is that given the fact that our soldiers are best suited to those types of hinterland operations, that we use them in those areas. This is not a matter of protecting our territorial integrity; it is a matter of fighting internal crime.”

Gouveia, who also chairs the Public Confidence and Support sub-committee of the Law and Order Commission, said any review of the work being done by the security services to bring the local crime situation under control has to take account of, among other things, the integrity of police officers. “In the midst of a serious crime situation there are numerous allegations of bribery, shakedowns and other forms of corruption among policemen. We hear of cases where members of the anti-crime unit turn themselves into traffic policemen and harass motorists.

He said that while efficient work by the police resulted in the apprehending of the bandits who perpetrated the recent Bel-Air-Park robbery and was “fully deserving of commendation” it was “the failure of the police to secure the kind of intelligence that would allow them to record more such successes” that contributed to “that lack of confidence” in the local law and order machinery. “While we should not lose sight of the good work that was done in the case of the Bel-Air-Park robbery, the fact is that private sector confidence will only be restored if we begin to get consistent evidence that the police are on top of the crime situation.”

Meanwhile, Gouveia told Stabroek Business that the PSC continued to be concerned over the fact that notwithstanding the various non-cash, electronic banking transaction services being offered by commercial banks, there continued to be numerous instances of robberies that involved people carrying large amounts of cash. “We can understand cases where businesses have to make bank deposits. Those are usually attended by special security arrangements. On the other hand we have far too many instances of people being robbed of large amounts of cash and jewellery in situations where no security arrangements are in place.” Additionally, Gouveia said that far too many businesses continue to leave themselves vulnerable by not embracing contemporary security technology.

A release issued by the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) says that the report seeks to better understand why citizen security is so badly needed in the Caribbean and why violence and insecurity are so prevalent in the region. “It intends to be an instrument to deal with such issues from a regional perspective, while at the same time taking into account the national level issues and specificities,” the release said.

Meanwhile, a survey on the “Confidence in the Criminal Justice System in the Americas” undertaken by the Vanderbilt University found that within Caricom, the level of confidence in Suriname was 54.9 per cent followed by Jamaica with 54.8 per cent. Guyana recorded a 53.4 per cent confidence level while the level of confidence in the criminal justice system in Trinidad and Tobago was 36.8 per cent. According to the authors of the survey no country in the Americas evinced “exceptionally high” faith in the criminal justice system.

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