When former Assistant Commissioner Paul Slowe spoke out in June last year saying, “sometimes I am ashamed, because when I joined the force you had incidents, yes, but not this blatant corruption of some of the ranks… I believe it has gone out of control,“ he got, of course, a blast of hot air from the Ministry of Home Affairs in response. After accusing him in a press release of sowing “seeds of disaffection” and indulging in “wild antics,” the ministry went on to condemn his behaviour in the “strongest possible terms.”
Mr Rohee’s ministry has been a good deal more timid about the allegations made by Assistant Commissioner Steve Merai concerning the drug connections of certain senior officers. Certainly there have been no accusations in this instance of him indulging in “wild antics” or “sowing seeds of disaffection.” Surely the Ministry of Home Affairs does not believe that the narcotics connection at the heart of the Guyana Police Force has only become manifest since Mr Slowe retired? Despite all the ministry’s failings even it cannot be so credulous. Other than that, one must assume that either the ministry knows nothing at all about the force for which it holds political responsibility, or that some officers can say what they want and be heard, while others cannot. If the latter, then the public will want to know the reason.
A police statement which we reported on Thursday said Mr Merai’s allegations had been handed over to Assistant Commissioner of Law Enforcement Seelall Persaud, and that the former had been asked to provide any evidence he had against the officers, other ranks and their associates, “but [he] has not yet done so.“ First it must be said that this investigation emerged out of a report in the Kaieteur News on Wednesday, that concerned what had been discussed at a senior management meeting of the force. It was KN in fact which first named Assistant Commissioner Merai as having made the allegations at the meeting, and without any dissembling the GPF has confirmed this.
While the police have had their customary say about KN’s behaviour, it is untypical of them to move to an investigation so swiftly on the basis of leaked information in a privately owned newspaper. The KN did not reveal who its source was, and given that the information was probably supplied on the basis that it would be unattributed if published, it is very unlikely they ever will.
As is well known, the man whose charges at the meeting triggered the investigation, is himself no stranger to accusations of being connected to the narcotics trade. In 2007 his voice was heard on a recording appearing to try and extort money from a ‘businessman.’ He did not deny that it was his voice on the tape, but said that the recording represented a compilation of several conversations. His main defence, however, was that he had been attempting to induce the man to divulge more details about the drug deal he was involved in so he could build a case against him. Furthermore, he claimed that the recording had been made by a group of drug dealers who were angry about his tough stand on trafficking in narcotics.
There was an investigation on that occasion, but as far as the public is aware, it appears to have just faded away, and nothing more was heard about it. Mr Merai was, it is true, removed from his post as co-ordinator of the Impact patrols, but retained his position in charge of ministerial security. When Mr Greene was questioned about this at the time, he responded that it was not good to leave Mr Merai at the Impact base in the light of the allegations, since he had to interface with the public there. In addition, he went on, the officer in question had been removed from Impact a few weeks before the tape surfaced because he had been charged with making a wrongful arrest. Well, wrongful arrest and allegations about narcotics money or not, Mr Merai in due course found himself promoted to Assistant Commissioner, and was made Commander of Berbice Division. It might be added that Mr Merai had at an earlier stage in his career been head of the former ‘Black Clothes’ police, one or two of whose members gave testimony in the United States about their involvement in illegal activities. That too was never followed up locally.
It might be observed in passing that the man who chaired the now famous meeting, Commissioner Henry Greene, is also no stranger to controversy. At one time he was accused by the Americans of having benefited from the drug trade, an allegation he has consistently denied. However, the US did withdraw his two visas – an ordinary one and a diplomatic one. This notwithstanding, the President stood by him, maintaining that no evidence had been supplied of wrongdoing on his part. With banditry in full swing all around the country, Commissioner Greene has come under enormous criticism about what appears to the public – not excluding the PPP constituency – to be an ineffectual response on the part of the Police Force in cases of murder and armed robbery.
Mr Greene has, however, been very ill in recent times, and it is always conceivable that either he has decided he will retire in the not too distant future, possibly for health reasons, or that the administration has decided it would now be appropriate for him to do so. In any event, it seems unlikely that he will continue in his post indefinitely. If this is indeed so, with a new government coming into office some time this year, the present administration would wish to be comfortable with whoever sits in the Commissioner’s chair, and also anyone who is promoted to Deputy Commissioner.
Whatever the case, we are in a position where last year in the eyes of the government and the senior echelons of the GPF, the reputation of the police was pristine, and now it isn’t. So an investigation is under way, and has already come to some conclusions and taken action. It is unusual for the police to act with such celerity in matters of this kind, and if what has been discovered so far was so obvious – the junior officer in the Office of the Commissioner being one case in point – why has it taken a denunciation from Mr Merai before anything was done? After all, everyone at Eve Leary must have seen the Fortuna the junior officer was driving parked in the compound as well as the cars of the others who have been accused. What can be said is that this is an election year, and given the pervasive public suspicions about corruption in the Police Force (and the electorate didn’t need Mr Slowe to convince them that this was so, let alone Mr Merai), there might be a greater disposition to display some energy about pursuing bent officers who have associations with the drug world.
All of this does not mean to say that the GPF does not need to be investigated in the light of the latest allegations; of course it does. But it can’t be the police undertaking the investigations; they are compromised. What is needed is a commission of inquiry composed at least in part of foreign personnel, invested with wide-ranging powers to look into the question of corruption in the force, and in particular drug connections. That is not going to happen before an election of course, but any new government coming into office must bite this particular bullet. A corrupt Police Force cannot keep us safe; it is that simple.