Former PPP insider Ralph Ramkarran says there has been no known evidence that the ruling party intends to break with the past and relinquish its emphasis on control of the police force but he said the time for action on the continuing violence and corruption in its ranks has arrived.
In his column in the last Sunday Stabroek, Ramkarran, a former two-term Speaker of the National Assembly addressed the surge in allegations against the police of corruption and violence against members of the public.
“Violence and corruption in the police force can no longer be classified as allegations. They are real and are now an integral part of the culture of the police force and policing in Guyana. The sooner the authorities accept that these are chronic and systemic problems in the police force, the quicker there will be a serious attempt at a solution”, Ramkarran asserted.
He charged that only modest efforts at ‘reforms’ have been made by the government but that these have been attempted only reluctantly, after much public pressure and as an attempt to calm public opinion.
“When public rage overflows, such as after the shootings in Middle Street, the public is offered the creation of a SWAT team. But the danger now exists that the police force will become so enmeshed and so entrenched in violence and corruption, that systems to protect these will take on a life of their own within progressively higher reaches of the police force”, he warned.
Contending that the vast majority of officers, and many of those lower down, are honest and dedicated policemen, Ramkarran said that the police force still attracts cadets of quality but right alongside this quality is an entrenched mindset, which sullies the fundamental principles of policing and morality.
This culture, he argued, began taking root in the early 1970s. At that time Ramkarran said that resources to the police force began to be progressively cut and crime solving declined which saw a corresponding increase in police violence and corruption.
“That is why the argument of some African rights activists that policemen kill Black youth on behalf of an ‘Indian’ government is so much bull. The systematic killing of Black youth started and grew into an established pattern when what some would describe as an ‘African’ government was in office for 25 years”, he declared.
Ramkarran, a senior counsel, said that when he was on the Guyana Bar Association’s Bar Council in the 1980s, one of the dominant issues was police violence against suspects, including shootings. He said that the Bar campaigned hard against these atrocities and met more than one Commissioner of Police on the matter.
“The PPP leadership fully supported the Guyana Bar Association’s activities on police violence and frequently issued statements condemning it. However, as soon as the government changed in 1992 the PPP fell silent on the matter of police violence. It became impossible for an understanding of the rights of suspects to be injected into or to take root in the culture of violence and corruption. I know that efforts have been made but not consistently and purposively enough to be make a difference”, Ramkarran posited.
Ramkarran, who spent nearly 50 years in the PPP before quitting in a feud over his stance on corruption, said that the publicly known corruption and episodes of violence in the police force indicate that no measurable success has been achieved in eliminating these sicknesses.
“This is not surprising in the absence of root and branch reform of a structural nature devised by serious professionals and the elimination of political interference in the running of the police force. Just as much as there is a police culture, there is a political culture. Political interference did not start with the PPP. It was devised and implemented by the PNC, which is responsible for the commencement and evolution of what transpires in the police force today”, he said.
The PPP he said has continued this stance as evidenced by its frustration of a UK-funded programme for police reforms in 2009.
“This and other measures were rejected by the Government of Guyana as it would have undermined political influence in the police force. Reforms to the police force and political influence in its business are like water and oil. They cannot mix. It is either one or the other”, he chided.
“Much of the police force continues to serve the Guyanese people with courage and success, as in the recent recovery of the stolen baby. Officers daily confront dangerous criminals and lay their lives on the line, which they sometimes lose. But the time for action on the continuing violence and corruption in its ranks has arrived. The time for excuses is over”, he added.