The daily scandals and controversies which have enveloped the coalition government, have distracted public attention away from the crime wave that continues to wreak havoc on the law abiding citizens of this land. Over the past three weeks alone, if we are merely to go by reports in the press, the nation would have witnessed a robbery under arms committed on a Corentyne couple; five men attacking and robbing persons at a supermarket in Good Hope (ECD); armed bandits robbing GPL’s branch at Mon Repos twice and another branch at Parika; the murder and robbery of a Chinese businessman at Tuschen; three armed bandits attacking a father of five in front of his home at Better Hope; the murder of a man in Berbice; the robbery of popular café in Georgetown; the battered and unconscious body of a woman being found alongside the Ogle Public Road; the armed robbery of E-Networks’ office at Vreed-en-Hoop; a nephew decapitating his uncle at Better Hope; a businessman shot and robbed in broad daylight at a Georgetown traffic light; a KFC staffer who was robbed on her way home in Queenstown; and the murder of a 16-year-old in Berbice ‒ quite list for a mere three-week period!
Although this list is by no means exhaustive, no one would dispute that it constitutes an abnormally high incidence of violent crimes for a population of our size. The Guyana Police Force (GPF) seems to have stopped issuing its traditional monthly bulletin of crimes committed throughout the country. My information is that the last of such bulletins was issued in April 2017. This is another example of crucial information being kept away from the public.
Public security and the reduction of crime were huge platform promises of the APNU+AFC during the 2015 elections campaign. The population drank deeply of this soporific. After all, their presidential candidate was supposed to be an experienced security expert and their list of candidates for those elections included ex-soldiers and even a former police commissioner. Most of them are now in the government, holding different portfolios. The nation was met with its first shock on the incompetence and ill-preparedness of this government on the issue of crime and security when just after a few months in office, the President instructed the Public Security Minister and the Commissioner of Police to craft a crime-fighting plan. Only then, the nation realized that the promises made during the elections campaign of the existence of such a plan was a manifest falsehood.
The crime wave has continued unabated over the past two years. To this devastating phenomenon, one must add the two worst disasters at the Georgetown Prisons ever witnessed in a prison system in the Caribbean; the President’s insistence on continuing to pardon criminals; the release by Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, of dozens of prisoners convicted of crimes before the end of their sentences after the last prison fire; a declining economy; no new jobs being created or any job-creating initiative being pursued by the government; no new investments in two-and-a-half years; widespread dismissal in the public sector on alleged discriminatory grounds coupled with widespread dismissals in the private sector because of contractions in the economy.
Against such a backdrop, there is every likelihood that the crime wave will continue to soar. The Public Security Minister continues to operate as though he is in a trance with no indication that now, or in the near future, can he competently tackle this cancer of criminality ripping away at the fabric of our society. At the level of the government, the position is no different, as there does not seem to be a comprehensive crime-fighting strategy being pursued.
In the face of such intransigence and inaction, the criminals are becoming bolder and more brazen. The Minister of Public Security has systematically dismantled a vibrant network of community policing with no substitute to fill that void. Residents in communities who communally rise up and capture and beat an occasional bandit, are themselves treated like bandits and charged by the police. This is as a result of the President’s condemnation of such reaction by the citizens. While the President may be correct in principle, the residents have been quick to complain that they do not see the same swift condemnation from the President when the criminals rob and plunder them.
In a society so infested with criminality, one would expect that the government of the day would be throwing all its weight and as much support and as many resources as possible, at its premiere crime-fighting institution, in this case the Guyana Police Force (GPF). Not so with the coalition government. There is, arguably, a strategy to demoralize the upper echelons of the GPF. This became visible several months ago when one sensed the unnecessary strife created between the Commissioner of Police and the next in line. The picture became clearer when a wholly unnecessary Commission of Inquiry (CoI) was established to inquire into whether an alleged plot to assassinate the President was properly investigated by the GPF. A close associate of the Government was appointed as the single Commissioner. From the inception of the inquiry, his bias became both apparent and formidable. The CoI was clearly intended to publicly embarrass a few identified top ranking officers of the Force.
Throughout the inquiry, they were pitted against each other for public consumption. In the end, the Force was eventually embarrassed, its professional image further tarnished and the targeted officers humiliated. This must have resulted in a haemorrhaging of public confidence in the Force and a loss of morale for its members.
The matter is compounded by the President issuing unconstitutional directives to the Police Service Commission (PSC) restraining them from proceeding to deal with promotions in the Force. The attempt by the Minister of State, a lawyer, to justify the President’s erosion of the independence with which the Constitution clothes the PSC, was simply clumsy. The matter is now engaging the High Court.
It does not appear that the government views the rate of criminality in this land as a serious priority. In my view, it accords a greater priority to subjecting its political rivals to criminal investigations. So the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), rather than using its resources, time and personnel to investigate genuine cases of money laundering and drugs trafficking, is unleashed on opposition members of parliament and supporters of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). In the same vein, the government has established the dubious State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) and rammed through the National Assembly, a controversial Bill, to govern its operations. Expectedly, this Bill is now the subject of a legal challenge in the High Court, on the grounds of unconstitutionality. Again, the government’s focus with SARA seems to be the investigation of the past government. $113 million was just released by the National Assembly for the operations of SARA. SARA appears to have no other mandate. The Director of SARA is being paid $1.3 million and the Legal Advisor $1.4 million. Both of these salaries are higher than that of the Commissioner of Police. The salary of the receptionist is $120,000. This is higher than the salary of a sergeant in the GPF. These realities graphically illustrate the priorities of this government.
At the end of the day, therefore, while the criminals continue to plunder the ordinary Guyanese, the government turns a Nelson’s eye but assiduously pursues an agenda of utilizing scarce crime-fighting resources to persecute its political rivals.
Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP