Gov’t seeking to correct 20 years of security sector mismanagement

-Granger says as UK expert submits reform plan

Russell Combe (left) handing over the report to President David Granger (Ministry of the Presidency photo)

Contending that the previous administration failed to find sustainable ways to restructure the security sector and identify the root causes of crime, President David Granger yesterday said that government’s determination to resuscitate the UK Security Sector Reform Action Plan (SSRP) is part of its efforts to take corrective action.

“We passed through nearly 20 years of ‘woulda, coulda and shoulda,’ without any attempt to seriously deal with the security problem in this country and like a disease you can’t pretend to treat it, you can’t promise to treat it, you can’t talk about treating it, without actually getting down to the root cause…We are now trying to correct the errors of over two decades,” Granger said moments after receiving the final action plan, which was developed by visiting British expert Lt Col (rtd) Russell Combe.

Combe worked closely with the Guyana government on a one-year contract on the reform plan, after Granger reengaged the British for help.

A previous attempt at the SSRAP was initiated under the former PPP/C administration but was aborted in 2009 following differences between the then government and London.

“This is a very brief event but an extremely significant one, because it is part of a process that started nearly 20 years ago when the government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana found it necessary to embark on security sector reform. This came about because of the escalation in narcotics trafficking, which brought with it a horrific spate of violence that we had never seen before… there was a surge in violence, there was a surge in execution killings, there was a surge in the corruption of the security forces,” Granger told a small group of top Joint Services officials, including army Chief of Staff Brigadier Patrick West and acting Commissioner of Police Paul Williams at State House.

Granger said the failure to deal with the narcotics trafficking and security threats 20 years ago meant that the administration at the time was attempting to deal with the symptoms rather than the disease.

“They wanted to deal with murders but they didn’t want to deal with the cause of the murders,” he said before highlighting some of what he called the insincere attempts made by the PPP/C to reform the sector.

He reminded that the first effort was made in 1999 when Paul Mathias, the United Kingdom Regional Advisor came to Guyana in response to request from the then government to initiate the process of security assistance. Afterward, he said the Symonds Group of Consultants arrived and produced what is perhaps up to now the single most comprehensive Guyana Police reform programme, the Symonds Report.

“But at the same time, nothing was being done to deal with the root cause of crime, which had started to corrupt the security forces,” Granger said before adding that the then government became worried about the success of the National Security Organising Committee. “It didn’t succeed because it wasn’t meant to succeed,” he said, while noting that another attempt was made in 2002 after the notorious jailbreak of that year. He said then President Bharrat Jagdeo launched a $100 million package of “menus” and travelled to London to meet the Police Commissioner. He mentioned the establishment of a security committee and the passage of a number of bills in the National Assembly but noted that none of these dealt with the causes of crime.

He said that by 2003, the British were back and a UK advisory team conducted a study on the security sector. The Disciplined Forces Commission was later convened and again a large number of recommendations were produced. Between 2004 and 2005, he added, the Scottish Security College executed several projects here to assess the police force’s training requirement, the impact of previous training programmes and the efficiency of the force. The Scotts, he said, also drafted a security plan.

Granger also noted the arrival of a Peruvian official in 2006 but pointed out that it is unclear what he did under his contract with the then government. “He was just like a shadow passing across the security landscape,” he said.

He also mentioned Bernard Kerik, the former New York City Police Commissioner who was selected at one point to assist with reforming Guyana’s police force, and said that the US penal system saved Guyana from his clutches. Subsequently, other foreign expects and security teams came but still there was no reform of the security sector, Granger said, while reiterating that there can be no reform of the sector unless the root cause of crime is looked at.

The president recalled that after taking office in May, 2015, he engaged the British High Commissioner on the issue of security reform and he subsequently met with Baroness Joyce Anelay, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations (UN) at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and former UK Prime Minister David Cameron. In response to queries about ways in which the UK could assist Guyana, Granger said that he immediately suggested security sector reform. “That’s all I asked for,” he stressed.

‘Not a new process’

Meanwhile, Combe, who could be returning to Guyana to continue his work for another year, noted that his action plan is a compilation of his previous reports. “It is a dynamic document, one that will be built upon throughout my period of return and also a reference document for the various security sector players and actors,” he said.

The security expert noted that though his focus on the security sector reform includes the criminal justice system, his work did not involve issues such as the root causes of crime, which are driven by economics. He said that it is up to the president to look at this side of the issue, taking into account the existing government strategies. He added that there is hope that there may be resources available to address this area with the oil and gas exploration taking place in Guyana’s waters.

In quoting the previous utterances of British High Commissioner Greg Quinn, the security expert also said, “We don’t want to see it [the plan] sitting on the shelf gathering dust.” He explained that the report was written in such a way that it can be broken up and the various components can be dealt with separately. “It is not the start. It’s not a new process. It is not the end because we have already started. It is really just …a snapshot of where we are at the end of my first engagement here,” he pointed out.

“All I am here [to do] is maybe to… be another set of eyes, bringing the experience I have had in dealing with security sector reform in the Middle East, the Falklands and Afghanistan in order to make sure the support the UK is providing is best utilised,” he said.

Aside from an upcoming leadership training course for prison officials, Combe said that a review will be done by an aviation expert to offer solutions to security challenges, inclusive of the use of drones, which has a great impact on improving surveillance.

Combe did not want to divulge much on the contents of the report but revealed that he did give some consideration to the recent revelations of a fractured hierarchy within the police force based on the evidence led during the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the alleged assassination plot against the president.

“Yes, I do make reference to that,” he said, when asked.

This may be significant as observers have said that the exclusion of this and other recent developments within the force would weaken Combe’s reform plan.

The CoI concluded that Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud’s ability to continue to hold the post has become “untenable” and recommended that he should be made to resign under terms considered appropriate by President Granger, or if he fails to do so, be removed for misbehaviour.

The recommendation was made on the grounds that Persaud had interfered in the probe of the alleged assassination plot while he was on vacation leave and influenced the conduct of the investigations; acted improperly by instructing that the brother of the suspect be sent on bail, thereby bypassing the chain of command; failed to recuse himself from the matter although there was a conflict of interest; and failed to review the file on the matter.

It was also recommended that Persaud be investigated for perjury.

The CoI, conducted by retired Assistant Commissioner Paul Slowe, was set up to investigate the allegation made by complainant Andriff Gillard, who claimed that he was offered $7 million by businessman Nizam Khan to kill President Granger and the force’s handling of the probe.

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