There was a ludicrous statement made by the Minister of State, Joseph Harmon which appeared in the Guyana Times on April 6, in a report captioned ‘Joint Services adequately resourced to protect Guyana’s border –Harmon’. If the article is correct, Minister Harmon was quoted as saying, “I would say that the disciplined forces there – the Police and the Army – they have the resources to respond quickly to these reports.” Of course, he was referring to the “growing concerns about the safety and security of citizens living and working along the border communities who complain of increasing attacks, particularly from the Venezuela-based Sindicato gang members.”
As I’ve written earlier, the Parliamentary Oversight Committee for the Security Services headed by Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, just returned from a fact-finding mission to Region 1, where we inspected police stations at Moruca, Matthews Ridge, Port Kaituma and Mabaruma. The overall report card reflects the concerns of senior police ranks on these very issues, and the willingness to get the job done. But without clear policy guidelines, adequate manpower, proper weapons, vehicles, boats and more secure holding cells, it would be impossible for them to contain and deter criminal activities in the area. Sending more police and soldiers to the Region would further complicate matters as accommodation is limited and inadequate even for those now living there. Where would Minister Harmon put these additional police and troops? Did he not consult with his colleague, Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan before making such a statement? Playing politics with our security will not protect our borders, but will condemn our disciplined forces to a failed mission if proper planning is neglected.
This government has failed the nation in the only area that most people thought they specialized, and that is security. The state of the economy and the increase in crime are intrinsically linked. Since taking office in 2015, there has been a steady increase in the crime rate. Under this APNU+AFC government, there are more taxes, an ever-rising cost of living, fewer jobs, and a rapid decline in the standard of living. So much so, some desperate individuals believe they have little or no choice but to turn to drugs or crime in order to survive and support their families.
Despite some commendable efforts by the police, we have seen an escalation in the drug trade, murders, assaults, armed robbery and burglary. And now the threat from the ‘Sindicato’ gang exposes the weakness in our border security.
The final Report of the Security Sector Reform Project (SSRP) which was prepared by British security expert, Lt Col (ret’d) Russell Combe is still to be discussed by Cabinet although it was handed over to President Granger since January 18. How serious can this government be on security matters?
According to my friend and parliamentary colleague, Bishop Juan Edghill, “The Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU), which is a department of the Guyana Police Force that was established to support and strengthen the investigative capacity of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) has now been politicized and used as a tool to target political opponents. It is lacking in operational independence… SARA is another political outfit masquerading under the guise of the recovery of state assets. There have been no investigations by SARA into the notorious Sussex Street Bond scandal, the $632 million drugs procurement scandal, and the $1.3 billion from the Treasury for the construction without any procurement process of the now infamous D’Urban Jubilee Park at Homestretch Avenue.” In fact, the limited human resources of the Guyana Police Force continue to be wasted, trying to find what Junior Finance Minister, Jaipaul Sharma was forced to admit publicly was the failure to unearth any evidence of fraud and corruption by the former PPP/C administration after 50 forensic audits and the spending of more than $150 million.
There is no doubt that the security threat to our miners and citizens in areas close to the Venezuelan border is real and must be confronted. The government can start by defining clear policy guidelines to deal with foreign nationals, especially those involved in criminal activities and prostitution. Our security forces in Regions 1, 2, 8 and 10 must be given an adequate fleet of 4×4 vehicles; high-speed boats; radios, weapons; ammunition and body-armour. Then, as more accommodation is built to house additional members of the disciplined forces, more can be sent in as needed. It is also imperative to introduce a course in basic Spanish for all police and military personnel to alleviate the language barrier, and to have them fully trained as First Responders.
Our disciplined forces in the hinterland region are severely handicapped and are mainly restricted to locations in close proximity to their base stations. I extend an invitation to Minister Harmon to accompany us on our next visit to police stations in the hinterland regions where he can obtain first-hand information, rather than relying on information given to him by someone sitting in a cosy office at Eve Leary or Camp Ayanganna.
Harry Gill, MP