Vital information from residents in far flung communities in Region Nine about sightings of illegal aircraft and suspected illegal activities were sluggishly acted upon, according to the findings of Brigadier (ret’d) Edward Collins’ investigation of the discovery of a foreign aircraft near to Yupukari, Region Nine last year.
In the 230-page Commission of Inquiry (CoI) report, which was tabled in the National Assembly last Thursday, highlighted breakdowns in communication and negligence of law enforcement personnel in the region.
Collins had previously said that there was enough evidence to suggest that the aircraft was on its way here from Colombia when it developed engine problems.
Collins, who was tasked with investigating, examining, advising and reporting on all the circumstances under which the aircraft, which was discovered on September 13th, 2016, entered the country, recommended that measures such as the Village and District Intelligence Committees be reviewed and restructured, so that government can swiftly receive information on activities at its borders, especially in Region Nine.
The report said that while there was a Regional Intelligence Committee, it had been reduced to an administrative focus. Evidence of this, it said, was displayed when, instead of matters of intelligence gathering being discussed, the meetings dealt with unrelated matters, such as a solar water pump being installed at Annai Secondary School; the Mayor’s promise to assist with erecting road signs and allegations that a 14 year old female had been impregnated by her father.
Collins noted that while the passage of information at the level of security operatives in the region and at “a higher level” was very good, the same could not be said about villager to law enforcement relations. He pointed out also that so much was the breakdown in communication with the residents and law enforcement personnel that when the plane was spotted the villagers notified an activist, who in turn texted Minister of State Joseph Harmon directly.
“At another level, particularly from civilian to Security Forces, the Commission felt that it was not good at all,” the report stated.
The report recommended that government urgently looked at means of getting a better relationship between villagers and security forces.
Government has taken the advice of the onetime army brigadier and has already put measures in place to tackle this problem, Harmon said on Friday at a post-Cabinet Press conference.
“We have reinstituted that system. We have now a facility to pass information much quicker. Some of these things are a direct result of the CoI and which has been done. We have also re-established communication with some of the persons in the villages which can provide information to the administration in a timely manner,” he said.
Numerous reports of unusual activities
Collins in his report has pointed to the overall lack of manpower at the country’s border and called on the Guyana Police Force and Guyana Defence Force to maximise their limited resources so as to assist in protection of the country’s porous borders.
A main focus of the report was that the armed and police forces needed to forge allegiances and develop trust with the villagers of the region since they are on the ground and would be the first line of information gathering. At the time of the report, many persons gave evidence that for one year prior to the finding of the plane, there was information of illegal aircraft frequenting villages but none of this acted upon by the relevant authorities.
“The commission concluded that had the army and police Commanders been more proactive in their patrol planning, the aircraft would have been discovered much earlier. For one thing, the patrol programmes did not reflect an intent to pursue the numerous reports of unusual activities; nor did it aim at winning the hearts and minds of the residents in order to establish sources of information gathering,” the report states.
“The commission further concluded that had they planned patrol in their programmmes to follow up on those reports, the Security Forces might have been able to arrest the local perpetrators who evidently colluded with foreigners to commit what was clearly a trans-border crime on Guyana’s soil,” it added.
In addition to the ‘deaf ears’ to residents’ reports, village intelligence committees or the District Intelligence Committee (DIC), set up gather information, were not meeting readily and therefore could not channel vital information from villagers. The committee, he said, was plagued with tardiness, a disconnect in chains of command and rapport with residents in the community and this needed fixing.
Collins writes that it was found that information relating to illegal activities involving aircraft and airstrips in the Rupunnui was in the intelligence community but not shared. Both the Guyana Police Force (GPF), as well as the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) were in possession of information that related to unusual aircraft activities in the region, and it was only until the plane was downed that they both acted.
In addition to the illegal airstrip found near the Yupukari Village, two other illegal airstrips were subsequently discovered at Maunwar Savannahs, between Katoo-narib and Karaudarnau villages, and at Parabara Savannahs, also in Region Nine.
The commission also found that there was no existing structure in the joint services to disseminate information reviewed by either of the services deployed in the region to the end users.
It is to this end and to avoid a reoccurrence that Collins recommended that measures be put in place to bridge the communication gap between villagers, so that information can be easily shared between them and security forces in the region.
“Having heard over sixty oral evidence, conducted several interviews, examined a number of written submissions, held several public village meetings and a Leaders Seminar, that the commission wishes to make the following recommendations for the improvement of security in general and specifically for the sharing of information between the security forces and residents in Region 9… that the structure and functions of the Regional Intelligence Committee be reviewed to cater for the involvement of the Village Intelligence Committee,” the report states.
Finding soundness in the recommendations, Harmon said that government’s resuscitation of both committees was already providing results. According to him, following the presentation of the CoI report to government, they “had a closer look” at the way the police and military force in that community was structured, with special focus on the command levels and instituted the necessary changes.
“We have already made some changes based on those recommendations, changes were made at the senior management of the police force in the region and have actually looked at the way in which the police and army patrol those communities. What we recognised is that there was a failure to really regularly communicate with the citizens in these far flung
communities and we have reestablished two structures which actually lead up to information coming up to the centre. That is the regional and the district intelligence system in the communities,” Harmon said.
“Now these committees comprise citizens in the communities, the police and military officers at their post, and the administration representative in that region. The police and military officers, they meet sometimes on a fortnightly basis, sometimes on a monthly basis and they would have a collaboration of information. That information will be collated and sent up to the next level to what we call the Regional Intelligence Committee that is held by the Regional Chairman and officers at the centre, so that there is the passage of information. In the past there was a break because at the level of the district committee, they hardly met. If a patrol goes in once a month, or twice, that is the time you would get information, but of course, things are happening on a daily basis,” the Minister of State added.
Collins recommends that a Standard Operating Procedure for dealing with illegal airstrips be crafted and that the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) produce an aircraft recognition handbook which should be issued to the police, army and every Village Council in Region Nine.
To have residents assist troops at the borders, the CoI also recommended that the GDF develops an aerial surveillance for Region Nine, incorporating the residents “in one form or another,” so as to deter foreign aircraft from illegally Guyana’s air space.
The GCAA was called upon to also produce a register of authorised airstrips in Region Nine, and make it available to the Village Councils and GDF and Police Stations in the region.
And while the military and police were blamed for communication breakdowns, the report says that it found nothing to infer that the two state agencies with responsibility for security in Region Nine deliberately acted in a manner that was inconsistent with that responsibility.
What was found was that the deployment of staff, by both the military and police forces in the area, was not sufficient to man the Region Nine borders. Exacerbating the problem was that both agencies did not have the necessary transportation to take them to the locations of sightings. Recommendations for both manual and other resources, including computers to be increased, were made for both the army and police stations at Lethem, by the CoI report.
It recommended that the GDF review its deployment in the Region to cater to the emerging threat of cross-border crimes and to offset the inadequacy of ground transportation, which seemed to be a perennial issue” and review its current police deployment to cater to the threat of trans-border crimes given the porous nature of Guyana’s border.
It also recommended that the GDF and GPF locations in the Region be equipped with adequate ground transportation and wireless communication to enhance regular patrolling within that region and that the GDF and GPF plan and conduct regular joint confidence, patrols particularly to the remote villages.