UK security expert, Lt Col (rtd) Russell Combe will be submitting an interim security reform action plan for Guyana by June month end and he says that while he may make recommendations of his own, he is seeking to ensure than there is no duplication or overlap of work already done in this area.
Combe is currently working closely with the Guyana government to resuscitate the Security Sector Reform Action Plan (SSRAP), which collapsed in 2009 following differences between the then PPP/C government and London.
During a recent interview with the Sunday Stabroek, Combe, who commenced work in January, said that he has made some headway and intends to have an interim action plan ready by next month end.
He noted that while his contract concludes at the end of this year, the entire process involved in what he hopes to achieve will be “a lot longer than one year.”
British High Commissioner Greg Quinn said that he would not rule out the extension of the contract but he expressed the view that this will have to be looked at closer to the end of the period.
“I wouldn’t want to rule it out. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility but at the same time, at this stage, we are not in a position to say yes,” he said.
According to Combe, his first few weeks in Guyana were spent vigorously gathering and absorbing information on the work done in the area of security reform as far back as 2000.
Noting that much of that information is still valid today and therefore should be considered, he said that he has been speaking to the top brass of the disciplined services – the Guyana Police Force (GPF), the Guyana Defense Force (GDF), the Fire Service and the Prison Service.
Aside from President David Granger and Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan, Combe has engaged the Commissioner of Police and the divisional commanders, the Chief Fire Officer and the Director of Prisons.
He told this newspaper that he has also visited each of the police divisions and the Mazaruni Prison.
While the security sector involves many stakeholders, he said that the principal focus now is the police and this will continue for the next few weeks.
Combe informed that he has identified some priority areas that ought to be considered, including resources and the logistical support given to the police, which determines their ability to operate and to respond. He stressed that the police’s response is a very important aspect of public confidence.
He also identified the living standards of the ranks as a priority area. “Often, it is forgotten that one of the greatest commodities or aspects of any organization is its people and they need to be correctly treated and properly resourced to do the job,” he said.
Combe added that his interim report will illustrate the fact that security reform is a dynamic process. “It could be added to as things are achieved, as other areas are considered and thought about and I think also sequencing is important. There are some areas that can be tackled quickly. Some will take longer, either for culture reasons… or because resources need to be prioritized,” he said, while noting that there are areas that will be identified that might be considered achievable in the short-term, medium-term or long-term.
“I think an important aspect of what I am doing here is also to identify a number of projects…, an important one being the CSP [Citizen Security Programme] but also where there is bilateral work being done by other individual nations and to ensure that we have a bit of coordination,” he said, before adding that he is not here to say who should do what but to make sure there is no overlap or duplication in the process. Combe said that it is important to understand that it is not just about what his report recommends but also highlighting and coordinating work that has already started. “Security sector reform is already happening in Guyana and I think people need to understand that the work that is going on through the Citizen Security Program is a good example. Things are happening… bilaterally, [the] Canadian government on justice reform… There are other areas of bilateral work… so reform is happening, it’s not like if it’s a race, it’s about to start in January when somebody pulls the trigger on a starting gun,” he said.
He said that he will also be looking at all the other areas of the security services, which have all identified areas of need.
Combe told Sunday Stabroek that at the end of his contract he is looking to present an “embracing document” for all the other individual documents, which will then be considered the security plan.
Asked to highlight aspects of his engagements with the disciplined forces, he said that the he concluded that the Fire Service has good arrangements, particularly as it relates to emergency response training and capabilities. He has visited the Leonora Fire Station.
On the prisons, he said that he spoke with the Director and among the issues he identified was overcrowding. He said that given the static nature of prisons, there are other areas of security that ought to be explored, such as the joint search operations.
Combe told this newspaper that he also visited the Civil Defence Commission and it must be understood that it is not just about security in terms of the occurrence of a terrorist threat but also security in terms of disaster relief. In this regard, he said the GDF has a role to play.
Meanwhile, Quinn, told this newspaper that he is satisfied with Combe’s work thus far. He reiterated that the key thing for the UK government is that “it (the new plan) doesn’t go and sit on a shelf… this is why Russ is looking at an interim report so that activities can start to be implemented this year.”
He noted that a lot of reports have been done previously but implementation was an issue. “We are very keen to ensuring that implementation is not a problem,” he said, before later explaining that when Combe presents his interim report, there is a possibility that funding will be released for activities along with money from potential supporters, such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Quinn said that there is an existing law enforcement relationship between Georgetown and London and he assured that this will continue after Combe leaves. He said too that the bilateral cooperation is not confined to law enforcement. He said that the UK has provided other strands of assistance in many areas, including infrastructure and constitutional reform.
Soon after entering office in 2015, Granger had revealed that government had approached the British to have the rejected SSRAP back on the cards in the wake of the country’s ongoing battle with crime.
In June last year, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office James Duddridge had told reporters that he would have presented a document on security reform to government for its consideration. He had explained that it entailed “a piece of analysis around the current state of the security sector and what could the potential action plan be taking forward different elements of security sector reform and specifically how the UK government could assist in that action plan.”