We face system failures in this society that cause severe social crisis. Given the broken state of our Criminal Justice system, we must face the critical system failure at the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Colwyn Harding’s allegations that a police officer tortured him in the lock-ups follow similar, recent allegations. In fact, Leader of the opposition political party, the Alliance For Change, Khemraj Ramjattan, took on a pro bono case as a lawyer to fight for justice for a teenage boy whom police tortured in 2010.
The magistrate found the boy was brutally and inhumanely tortured in police custody, and awarded damages of $6.5 million, an award the Government appealed in court but later withdrew and made good on the payment.
Our criminal justice system suffers from this rotting of its soul going back decades, and today its core lies corrupted and gnawed to shreds, with bribery, corruption, allegations of nepotism, police incompetence, and unprofessional conduct of all sorts now a cliche among citizens.
In the 1980’s our society faced allegations that Army personnel brutalized citizens in kick-down-the-door banditry. In the 1990’s after Desmond Hoyte became President and installed community policing groups as a crime fighting strategy, we saw a big push-back against these raids, with citizens, now armed as community policing constables, able to fight back.
But that fuelled additional problems, with the Black Clothes squad co-opted into the new crime fighting strategy. This band of police officers became a notorious outfit, and before long allegations of gross police brutality started surfacing, with the Guyana Human Rights Association documenting hundreds of cases of such abuses. The case of Rawle Lewis, an alleged gang member and criminal who once served in the Army, caused a huge controversy in 1990, and highlighted the seriousness of the decline of criminal justice in this country. Lewis was brutalized and killed, with hundreds of eyewitnesses claiming the Black Clothes cops, along with a few members of a community policing group, perpetuated open torture on their victim.
These allegations fell on deaf State ears, with the Guyana Police Force and Government criticizing the Guyana Human Rights Association and the independent media for highlighting these cases.
Citizens from a wide swathe of the population ignored these allegations of gross abuse of policing powers, because the streets of Georgetown had become increasingly unsafe, with petty street criminals, pickpockets, and armed bicycled thieves attacking citizens in the markets, on the seawall and along isolated streets.
Some areas of Georgetown became dangerous for the average citizen to venture, spanning a broad area, including Tiger Bay, the notorious Albouystown, Werk-en-Rust, Lodge and other pockets of narcotic and crime-ridden sections, like Lombard Street, High Street, Leopold Street and most of Charlestown.
Citizens became frustrated, and iron-grilled homes now paint a normal sight across the country, as residents retreated from the unsafe society behind steel bars.
This social malaise fuelled the feeling in many citizens that the Police Force was not effective in its fight against crime, and in keeping the streets safe. Walking the city became an exercise in fear, as anyone could lose their money or jewellery in a flash at the hand of a wayward bicycle thief armed with a sharp knife or cutlass. In homes at night, families lock up in fear, and businesses hire security staff, fuelling a mushrooming of private security firms.
This social collapse, stemming from how we govern our Criminal Justice system, happened because the Ministry of Home Affairs, the State agency under which policing and national security falls, itself suffered a system failure, due to political interference, petty party partisanship, and shockingly poor leadership.
In the early days of Government under this ruling party, the Ministry of Home Affairs became the centre for normalizing relations between the security forces and the newly-elected Government. There had to be a transition period, and a building of mutual trust across the State machinery.
But from the inception we saw timid leadership at the Home Affairs Ministry, with former Minister, Feroze Mohamed, coming under national criticism.
The Ministry fell under its worst and most severe erosion of trust and goodwill under the myopic, ill-advised leadership of another former Minister, Mr Ronald Gajraj, around whom swirled all sorts of sordid allegations, including aligning with criminal phantom gangs set up to fight against criminals. He was later cleared of these allegations by a limited inquiry. Under intense criticism and an international outcry, Government removed Gajraj from office and posted him to India.
The Ministry never fully recovered from the decades of political battering it took at the hands of Governments that looked more to their political greed than building a safe and secure society.
Today, Minister Clement Rohee faces the same unpopularity and criticism of his predecessors.
Now, as General Secretary of the ruling party, the perception of the Ministry eyeing a partisan political agenda rather than a national action strategy to clean up the Criminal Justice system persists with intense suspicion.
Minister Rohee has faced severe criticism in Parliament, and the Opposition carried on a sustained campaign last year to have him removed from office.
Opposition Leader, Brigadier David Granger worked closely with Government when he headed up the Army, and is an expert on national security.
One would think that it would be in Minister Rohee’s best interest in service to his country to work closely with Granger to bring a national, Parliamentary perspective to the national security dilemma.
Yet, such an idea in the corridors of the Ministry of Home Affairs may be alien. The Ministry seems more concerned with the partisan political agenda of the ruling party than with the national security and Justice crisis.
The Ministry suffers from a severe breakdown of its role, functionality and purpose. It suffers from an intensely critical system failure, and unless the Minister sees that the system itself is broken, we will continue to demoralize our national soul with brutality and torture in the name of justice.
We must prevent cases like the Colwyn Harding allegations from defining our nation. We must fix the broken system at the Ministry of Home Affairs, to build a safe and secure society, where the citizen feels the State governs effectively, not only to prevent anarchy, but to provide a safe social environment.