Crime in Guyana has been a scourge on the people for many years now. To many of our citizens it is as if crime, particularly violent crime, is spiralling out of control. Almost each day, it seems, the print and television media bring to the public the graphic details of some murder or other killing, many motivated by robbery, and some the result of violent responses in domestic and other inter-personal altercations. To make matters worse, the Guyana Police Force, tasked with the responsibility of protecting the general public from crime in all its forms, has long become a part of the problem, with rogue elements facilitating and participating in crime, even murder. And all this is occurring in a country of less than one million people.
With any situation involving the loss of lives of its citizens, particularly as a result of violence, it was not unexpected that the issue of crime would come up for discussion in the National Assembly. It came by way of Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira moving a motion calling on the government to take urgent measures to effectively manage public security.
If there was any matter on which the house should be united in bipartisanship, then the issue of crime should see parliamentarians on both sides of the house putting their heads together for the benefit of the populace. However, this did not happen. It was not very long before the discussion disintegrated into which side did a worse job managing crime while in government. Indeed, the PPP/C administration’s cry of “28 years” as an effective rebuttal to the then Opposition, now seems to have been replaced by the APNU+AFC administration’s own plaintive “23 years,” each referencing the other’s accumulated term in office.
The Minister of Public Security sought to rebut the contention that the government needed to take urgent and effective measures to curb rampant criminal activity and claimed that the Opposition did not want to listen to the truth, while being heckled by the Opposition benches. In his rebuttal the Minister proffered statistics compiled by the Guyana Police Force to show that crime, including murder, has been on the decline since 2014, adding that the figures were “not being made up.” Ms Teixeira proffered that “The government more and more is showing total incompetence to deal with the public security sector.” The tone and content of the exchanges together with the heckling of Mr Ramjattan by the Opposition shows clearly that bipartisanship is not on the agenda of our parliamentarians.
But what of the statistics quoted by the Minister of Public Security? Can the public take comfort in the numbers which shown a noticeable decline in all forms of crime? Mere days after the parliamentary contretemps on the serious matter of crime and security, two policemen who “abandoned” the Kurupung Police Station, were placed under arrest in the investigation into the alleged murder of a Brazilian miner by one of the men. This puts the focus once more on the issue of trust that the Guyana Police Force has been grappling with for too long. There has been a spate of crimes involving policemen coming to light in recent years, and this latest incident requires swift and transparent action if the public confidence in the GPF is not to be further eroded. The confidence and trust does not rest only in questioning the GPF’s ability to serve and protect, criminal activity involving policemen also casts a dark shadow on the information that the GPF presents to the public. If the GPF is to enjoy the trust of the public with respect to its statistics on crime, which the Minister assures is “not made up”, then it might be useful for detailed statistics to be placed online and updated on a weekly basis. This would allow for public verification of the data and information and would go a long way to improve the trust that the public has in the information coming out of the GPF.
British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli famously stated that, “There are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies, and statistics.” With the level of violent crime particularly in Guyana, there can be little comfort in numbers, even declining percentages, when the stark reminder as to the situation with rampant criminality and violence, including family-based violence is right there in the morning newspaper or on the evening news. The GPF has also assured us that the traffic statistics are improving, but when we read immediately afterward of the three young men who died in a single car accident, or the Tain farmer who died of a suspected vehicular accident, possibly of the hit-and-run variety, then there can be no solace in these stoic statistics. Benjamin Disraeli’s quote also hints that statistics can be presented in a manner to mislead, and equally importantly, statistics do not always tell the whole story.
So what is missing from the parliamentary exchange by our most learned lawmakers is the story beyond the statistics. What specific plans, strategies and programmes have been implemented with a view to curbing crime, and how successful have they been? Beyond a mudslinging match and a basic presentation of numbers, the parliamentary discourse has, as is customary, produced nothing useful for the general public.
Meanwhile, six months after it was formally handed over by British security expert Lt Col (rtd) Russell Combe, the “very detailed” Security Sector Reform Plan is still being studied by this administration.