Pardoning prisoners with no rehabilitative programme or jobs in place will invite recividism

Dear Editor,

Of late, we have been getting conflicting reports from this administration on the status of crime in Guyana. On July 9, Crime Chief Wendell Blanhum announced a record 20 per cent reduction in serious crime. Then statistics released on August 8 by the Guyana Police Force showed a 9 per cent decrease in gun-related robberies; a 12 per cent decrease in armed robberies; a 22 per cent decrease in robberies with violence; a 17 per cent decrease in rape; and a 21 per cent decrease in break & enter and larceny. Burglary was also reportedly down by 15 per cent, and larceny by 35 per cent. But despite these figures, the public remains very sceptical, and questions the accuracy of these reports. In fact, the perception is that crime is very much on the increase, and it would appear that President Granger shares this concern.

On Thursday, November 10, the day after the home of former Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee was robbed by bandits, President Granger in his weekly TV interview, ‘The Public Interest’, had this to say, “I am suspicious that there are some persons who are committing crimes to show that the Police Force and government are weak. We don’t know for sure what is taking place, but many of these crimes have their origin in the weakening of the Police Force in the early days, and so we have a very serious problem on our hands.”

Unfortunately, Editor, the President is part of the serious problem he alluded to. In May 2015, just after APNU+AFC ascended to power, a compassionate President Granger announced that his government will grant presidential pardons every year to prisoners sentenced for “minor misdemeanours”. He then released 60 convicts back into society, an unknown number of whom have since committed crimes for which they have been convicted and sent back to jail. To date, despite several appeals from the PPP/C and members of the private sector, the government has refused to release the names of the pardoned convicts and the nature of crimes they committed. Again last December, Granger pardoned 11 female prison inmates so that they can “spend Christmas with their families.” We still don’t know the names of these convicts and the nature of the crimes they committed.

With Christmas approaching, Granger is expected to pardon and release more prisoners. But without programmes to adequately rehabilitate these inmates back into society and jobs to provide employment for them after they have been released, some may be tempted to return to their previous lifestyle. Criminals are now hopeful of being freed by a presidential pardon after being incarcerated.

“I don’t believe that somebody should be damned forever for stealing a cell phone. There’s a trail that would stay with that person whenever he or she applies for a job. I do believe in forgiveness,” said President Granger. While a cell phone may be viewed by Mr Granger as a misdemeanour undeserving of jail-time, it is an invasion of privacy to the victim. When my iPhone and gold chain were stolen during Christmas of 2013 in the vicinity of Stabroek Market by two young bandits, one of whom was shot and killed five months later in front of New Thriving Restaurant by an employee of a private security firm, I felt violated. A criminal had access to my personal information, passwords to my various accounts, photographs and confidential phone numbers that were stored in the stolen iPhone. Sadly from all reports, the teenage bandit who stole my iPhone had graduated to stealing half-a-million dollars when he met his demise, something I predicted would happen.

Now whenever there is a need for me to walk in Georgetown, I live in fear of being mugged. The theft of a cell phone may be a misdemeanour, but it leaves a lasting scar on the victim who is always suspicious and fearful of anyone who gets too close to them.

Earlier this month, the President said he would like to see fewer weapons in the hands of private citizens, “It is my personal view that weapons should be used by law enforcement agencies ‒ the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force… The Minister of Public Security and I are reducing the frequency or the ease or controlling the ease with which some people can get weapons.”

This policy was confirmed by Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan who said that steps are being taken to re-assess licenced firearm holders to ensure they are still eligible for gun permits. I am appalled that the President is of the opinion or was so advised that some licensed firearm holders loaned their guns to bandits in exchange for some of the proceeds of crime. This is as ludicrous as Mr Granger insinuating that “there are some persons who are committing crimes to show that the Police Force and government are weak”. Where’s the proof Mr  President? Speculating on things without evidence can be both dangerous and irresponsible, and may cause him to look in the wrong direction for the answers he needs.

In February of 2006, thirty AK-47s along with five pistols vanished from the GDF’s armoury at the base camp. As of October 2010, twenty of these stolen weapons were found in the possession of criminals. Ten are still missing. These are the guns that the President and Minister Ramjattan should be more concerned with, and more determined to recover before taking away firearms from businessmen, farmers and other law-abiding citizens. Crime is on the increase but this administration feels they have it under control.

The Guyana Parliament plays a crucial role in ensuring that security policies and security practices are transparent and accountable to the wider population. I am a member of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee for the Security Sector. This committee includes Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan as Chairman, and Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams; and former Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee, among others. For the entire life of the Eleventh Parliament under the APNU+AFC, this vitally important committee has met just once. A second meeting that should have been held a week ago, was rescheduled for January next year. Guyanese live in fear of gun-toting bandits who brazenly rob their victims day and night without mercy, and this is the lack of importance the Minister of Public Security places on scheduling regular meetings of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee for the Security Sector to enable us to find solutions to reduce crime.

The Granger administration has no economic plan to create jobs, stabilize the economy, and reduce inflation. The APNU+AFC mantra of ‘a good life’ is not reaching the masses. This rhetoric falls pretty short of reality and the government seems clueless to find workable solutions. Without jobs, people become desperate and desperate people sometimes do desperate things.

Yours faithfully,

Harry Gill, MP

PPP/C

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