Corruption in law enforcement

Recently, British High Commissioner to Guyana, Mr Gregory Quinn had some harsh words to say against corruption in law enforcement, making a strong suggestion that corrupt officers must be jailed once found guilty. According to the High Commissioner, corrupt persons in the security agencies “should be drummed out, prosecuted and imprisoned as necessary.”

The occasion was the launch of a financial investigation and anti-corruption programme for law enforcement agencies at the Eve Leary Police Training Centre. More than half of the 30 participants were drawn mainly from the relatively new Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) which fielded 14 persons and the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) with 4 persons – a total of 18. The Criminal Investigation Department of the Guyana Police Force had the second largest batch with 9 fraud ranks, while the Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU) and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) fielded two and one person, respectively.

This UK funded training programme is said to be under the auspices of British security expert, Lt Col. (Rtd) Russell Combe who is currently embedded as a security advisor to the President and is the person responsible for compiling a Security Sector Reform Action Plan (SSRAP). The reform of the security sector in Guyana is something the UK government has signalled a commitment to for some time now, even after the original G$4.7 billion Security Sector Reform Programme (SSRP) was scrapped by a previous PPP/C administration citing sovereignty issues over the UK’s request for “oversight” of the SSRP.

Without doubt, this training programme is a much-needed addition to the knowledge base of the law enforcement agencies in Guyana which have a dearth of capacity for investigating financial crimes in particular. The ability of the Guyana Police Force to investigate white collar crimes does require some beefing up but while courses such as this one will provide the knowledge; the successful investigation and prosecution of offenders require all arms of the justice system to be functioning fully.

The High Commissioner’s comments towards the security sector are very relevant. When those tasked with detecting, investigating and prosecuting corruption in high and low places themselves become corrupt, then the system is tottering on the verge of complete failure. Once corruption becomes the order of the day, the law of the jungle kicks in and it becomes a case of the survival of the fittest – not the most proper arrangement for the poor and vulnerable in our midst.

Indeed, some might argue that corruption in law enforcement in Guyana is already at near crisis proportions and it might be expecting too much for potentially corrupt officers to be asked to police corrupt officers, and for long it has been said that the GPF cannot police itself. Can the GPF and other law enforcement bodies be expected to “drum out, prosecute and imprison” its own without fear or favour?

This means that for the High Commissioner’s exhortation to be effective, reform in the security sector has to be much more advanced and proceed beyond mere training programmes. One of the biggest bugbears affecting the GPF particularly, is the issue of wages and salaries which are considered to be very low and have remained this way despite changes in government.

In management, the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, proposed since 1943, is often used to determine what factors affect motivation in the workplace, and the question, “Is money a motivator?” is still a hotly debated topic in many workplace situations even today – nearly three quarters of a century afterwards.

Maslow believed that each individual strives towards self-actualisation which is the fulfilment of one’s potential, and he built his hierarchy of needs based on this model. If a regular policeman’s salary is unable to fulfil his basic physiological needs or survival needs then it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what follows. Once anti-social and corrupt practices become the norm in filling gaps in income needs, the practice becomes ingrained and multiplies. Seniors are unable to arrest the situation having their own concerns to grapple with and corruption becomes a way of life.

Sadly, the scenario painted above is not confined to law enforcement personnel, and it is quickly exacerbated by greed and those with clean hands soon become an unwelcome exception. Attorney General, Basil Williams speaking at the launch of the anti-corruption training programme said, “For the fight against corruption to be successful there needs to be effective detection, investigation, analysis of evidence and prosecution of crime, ultimately leading to convictions. It is for these reasons that this course is important.” However, Williams also criticised the United States State Department’s latest annual report on narcotics and money-laundering which he decried as, “impaling us for our efforts in the fight against money laundering and corruption.”

This sort of double-think that besets politicians who agree with negative reports on Guyana when in opposition, but deny them as soon as they take the helm of government is neither logical nor useful for the resolution of the problem. Government must set the stage for the turnaround in the law enforcement agencies in Guyana by first addressing basic welfare issues, specifically remuneration, and recommence continuous basic training for all officers. Discipline and systems set law enforcement apart from the general public and these must be enhanced before any real change can be expected.

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