IDB citizen security loan

There is no doubt that this country’s security sector is in need of a lot of help. However, Friday’s announcement by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) of a further US$15M loan to the Guyana Government should fill the populace with a sense of despair. The IDB over the last few decades has been the single most important financier of the country’s development programmes. For this it should be applauded and recognized. However, there have been two sectors where its interventions have not yielded the types of return sought for the monies borrowed. One of these is the power sector and the other is citizen security.

When the bank-funded US$22M Citizen Security Programme (CSP) was launched in February 2008, it came with a series of objectives which included the rehabilitation of 12 police stations, the full functioning of a crime observatory to allow for data analysis and policy decisions, the construction and operationalising of a forensic laboratory, computer training for members of the police force in a newly-remodelled and rehabilitated computer classroom and a pool of international experts assisting the Police Commissioner in the modernisation of the Guyana Police Force.

Rehabilitation of police stations is neither here nor there and should surely be met from state finances. What exhaustive testimony from citizens over the years has made clear is that the major problem with the stations is not how they look but rather what goes on within. Calls are improperly or unhelpfully answered, response teams are usually unavailable as stations are poorly manned and there is oftentimes no transportation for the police. There is no sign that these problems have been remedied by the IDB programme or the multitude of other schemes that the government has embarked upon with taxpayers’ and donor funds.

The crime observatory and its much vaunted data collection and policy analysis remain ironically out of sight. Is it really there and how come the Ministry of Home Affairs has not introduced it to the public and given regular updates about crime hotspots and other phenomena? Similarly, the public is left guessing about the functioning of yet another weapon in the anti-crime arsenal: Closed Circuit Television cameras. Are the dozens of installations in the city working?

The construction and operationalising of the forensic lab was meant to be another major outcome of the IDB project. After inordinate delays, it was only in July this year that the lab was unveiled. Operationalising it is still to be assured and added to that is the exasperating anachronism that crucial DNA testing jobs will still have to be exported to Caribbean labs. It is unclear whether a pool of experts has advised the Police Commissioner on the modernisation of the force as entailed by the project but there is no public evidence of this.

Since 2000, homicide rates, which had been a target of the earlier project, have almost doubled, said the project profile for the new US$15M loan. Under these circumstances it is puzzling that the government would seek to take on further debt from the IDB for a second go at this project and just as befuddling that the bank itself would consider that there was further need for a similar type of intervention.

The risk of debt distress aside, it is clear that all of these IDB and other-donor financed projects will not produce the optimal results as the foundation on which they are being grafted is as decrepit as they come. Reforms will only find a salubrious environment if they address the fundamental weaknesses of the police force. This would have necessarily required the wholesale shaking up of the police force and the introduction of experienced crime fighters in its upper echelons. It would also have required a real zero tolerance attitude towards corruption and a significant upgrading of salaries. None of this has yet been accomplished.

One of the plans that might have helped to achieve these reforms, the UK’s Security Sector Reform Action Plan (SSRAP) was withdrawn by London in 2009 after the Jagdeo administration set about frustrating it in a bid to retain control over the police hierarchy. For PPP/C governments, control of the police hierarchy was seen as indispensable to protecting it from any damaging investigations and prosecutions. Ironically when it launched its first citizen security programme in 2008, the IDB had mentioned the SSRAP as an important aspect of the shared responsibilities to remould the security sector.

It is reckless for the government to be taking on more debt to combat crime when it blatantly refuses to implement the sweeping measures necessary. Many of the key indicators in recent years: the murder rate, the rate of solution of cases, traffic deaths, the number of gun crimes, the outflow of drugs via CJIA and corruption in the police force show no sign of abatement. So on top of squandering money, the PPP/C government is putting the security of the citizens of the country at further risk.

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