Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee was yesterday spared a mass opposition walkout during his budget debate presentation in which he said that the country’s increased economic growth and massive turnout at celebrations such as Phagwah, Mash and Easter are proof that citizens feel safe and secure.
Despite being ignored by the opposition except for an occasional heckle following their motion of no-confidence against him, Rohee with the full support of his government colleagues defended the image of his ministry and gave a long list of accomplishments since he took over that office.
When it was Rohee’s turn to speak he rose to loud banging of the tables. One by one a few opposition members rose from their seats and went outside. During his entire presentation, the minister was ignored as the thirteen opposition members who remained seated were either on their laptops, chatting with each other and in one case, having a lengthy conversation on a cell phone.
Reading from his prepared presentation he said that if the situation is as bad as it is being made out by some that “there is a total breakdown in law and order and that the crime situation has spiraled out of control”, the question must therefore be asked, “How is there consistent growth in the economy?”
He said that there should not be economic growth in the sectors where this is evident if there is a total breakdown in law and order. He questioned how the government was able to provide “so much additional resources” to the security sector if the country was doing so badly in terms of security.
According to Rohee, for a country’s economy to preform it must mean that the workers and all those who make up the productive sector are producing”. The minister highlighting some of the success of the various sectors including manufacturing, sugar, rice and mining over the last year and later questioned how this could be achieved in a country where there is no law and order and an out of control crime rate.
“There is no way that the workers, the farmers, the fishermen, the miner, the pork knockers would have come out in such numbers to produce. It shows that they have a tremendous sense of safety and security…” he said amidst loud tabling banging from his fellow government MPs.
He said that he would argue that if the workers were living in fears of their lives, “we would never have had such significant increases in these productive sectors because for these sectors to grow it means that the people are coming out and producing in their numbers”.
The minister, who throughout his 45 minute presentation was supported by the government side while the few opposition members who remained in their seats showed hardly any interest in what was being said, contended that investment here is a sign of confidence in the economy. He said that one had to be careful and must strike the right balance between law enforcement and human rights. He said that critical balance must be first found in the constitutional arrangements, in the laws of Guyana and in the expression of governance by the executive on a daily basis as it regards the life of the people. Any radical shift in this balance, he said can result in the trampling on the rights of the people and abuses by law enforcement against the people. He said that is up to the people who hold “the reins of power” to ensure that this balance exists.
Rohee stated that the government had also sought to maintain this delicate balance. He said that fighting crime is just one component of a much larger holistic framework adding that when the crime fighting component is scrapped from the total picture for whatever reason, “we will obviously end up with a distorted picture of the true state of affairs in our country”. Crime fighting, Rohee said, cannot stand alone and cannot be the only factor to determine whether public safety and security is in good hands.
He said the government has to careful that it does not adopt measures that are reminiscent of the 1977 to 1982 period where certain measures were implemented such as the National Security Act and where persons were kept for three months without trial. He said that during this period persons were tried by a tribunal.
According to Rohee it is for this reason that he warned that we need to be careful when trying to do better than others in the area of public safety and security. Bringing crime under control, he stressed, is not an easy task.
He referred to records of the parliamentary debates for 1981 in which PPP Home Affairs spokesperson at the time, Clinton Collymore praised the police for their efforts in tackling robberies. Rohee noted that then Home Affairs Minister Stanley Moore said that crime cannot be eliminated even with the most efficient police force.
He said back then it was noted that police could not fight crime alone and the people were urged to form themselves into crime prevention committees to help the police. Rohee told the house there will be no time when the police will be able to do it alone.
He referred to a headline in the Kaieteur News which said “Another successful year for Mashramani in Guyana”; another from the Guyana Times which read “Thousands celebrate Guyana’s rich cultural diversity”, “Essequibians celebrate Mash in grand style”, “Thousands celebrate Phagwah…”. Turning his attention to the Easter celebrations, “Thousands at Number 63 beach on Easter Monday”, “Bartica Regatta 2013 rocks”, were some of the newspaper headlines.
Rohee said the point that he is trying to make is that “if this beloved country of ours had a situation that it constantly being described by the opposition and some sections of the media, that law and order had totally disintegrated and that crime had spiralled out of control, I respectful submit that we would not have seen thousands of people leaving the comforts of their homes….”.
Rohee said: “We have no difficulty in facing the wrath of the people. We have no difficulty in correcting errors that we make from time to time but the fact of the matter is that we consult”, he said. He said that constantly he heard complaints about the performance of the Ministry but a lot had been done between 2006 to present. He said that never in the history of the country has “the security sector undergone such transformation. Never!” There has been institutional modernization of the ministry, he said explaining that there is an increase in the number of staff; rising from 12 when he took over the minister to 127.
According to Rohee, the ministry has established the task force on narcotics and illegal firearms; task force on smuggling and contraband; a security arrangement for the Cheddi Jagan International Airport and the Ogle Airport; a crime observatory and a stray catchers programme which resulted in over 2817 animals have been impounded. The minister insisted that the ministry is moving to regularize the general register office and hope to very soon produce birth certificates electronically; much to the delight of the government side of the House.
Rohee stated too that the ministry has established a task force on trafficking in persons; adopted an anti-piracy strategy; training traffic wardens; expanded the ranks of neighbourhood police and community police; established a firearm license approval board; provided skills training for 1377 young people; established an electronic crime reporting system where persons uses their BBM, Facebook and the internet to report crimes; introduced hotlines; launched a noise nuisance campaign and the establishment of a website called “I paid a bribe”. He told the House the ministry had begun the formulation of another National Drug Strategy Master Plan, will soon complete the state of the art Forensic Laboratory and will soon establish ten Houses of Justice across the country. The National Computer Incident Response team at the ministry is also in the workings, the Minister said.
“Never in the history of the Ministry of Home Affairs (were all of these things done). Never in the history of the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Prison Service nor Guyana Fire Service”, he stressed. In his response to statements by APNU shadow Home Affairs Minister Winston Felix about the Fire Service, Rohee said that when the PPP/C came to office in 1992 there were four fire tenders, two pickup trucks, four fire stations and 184 men out of 368. “What do we have now Mr Felix? We have 15 fire stations, 34 fire tenders. We now have Fire stations at Mahdia, Lethem, Kwakwani and Port Kaituma and the fixed establishment of the Guyana Fire Service is now 411”, he shouted about the loud banging while nothing that these are significant achievements that cannot be ignored.
He added that in the last eight years of the PNC, (1985-1992), $2.2B was spent on the security sector. The first eight years of the PPP/C $14.8B on this sector. “Bluff or no bluff, this is real money”, he stressed.
Rohee accused Felix, the former police commissioner of attempting to create division between the Guyana Police Force and community police when he said that government was purchasing more and more vehicles for community policing. “This is a blatant untruth”, he said.
Rohee also mentioned the opposition’s attempts to silence him through the courts. He ended his speech with this quote. “If you want to be an honourable man you have to pay a price”. According to Rohee he is prepared to pay that price.