Of crime, justice and Cabinet appointees

Guyana Chronicle
June 17, 2001

NOT just in Guyana, but all around the Caribbean Community, there are controversies surrounding the killings by police of citizens in crime-related and other incidents. The scenarios are particularly current in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and, of course, here.

There are also growing cries from the police themselves of their colleagues being slain in the line of duty, of the risks they constantly face from armed criminals, and of political attempts to undermine their authority.

Such attempts at undermining of their authority, the region's Commissioners of Police feel, could embolden criminals now causing so much terror in communities -from Jamaica in the northern sub-region, to Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana in the south, as well as in once pastoral societies like Barbados and St. Lucia.

Just last Thursday, there was the coincidence of the burial of a Guyanese police Constable, shot dead in a police station by an armed man in custody, on the same day a Trinidadian mother was crying out for "justice" over what she felt was the "unnecessary killing" of her 16-year-old son by the police in Trinidad and Tobago.

In Jamaica, where a serious situation has developed over the past two weeks with a combination of criminal and political violence, and with the government and opposition blaming each other, the police are also pointing to the number of their dead and injured colleagues when confronted with new reports of killings committed by them.

The region's Commissioners of Police, who I know reviewed the general crime situation and the challenges they face when they met last month in St. Lucia, would also be conscious of the growing demands for probes into the deaths and injuries of people in their custody, or in claimed "shoot-outs" with alleged criminals.

Guyana's Police Commissioner, Laurie Lewis - currently under serious pressure, like his Jamaican counterpart - felt it necessary last week to fire salvos at his political critics by warning of the implications of "those who deified criminals and criminalise policemen".

Justified as he may be in such a rebuke, Lewis will, of course, also be aware of the strength of the arguments of others, including human rights advocates, who keep warning against the apparent extra-judicial killing practices by members of the police service. Such claims are also being expressed in other CARICOM states.

Complaints Authority

While both sides may have strong arguments in defence of their respective positions - the police and those speaking against their "killings and strong arm tactics" -the establishing of probe commissions into such recurring incidents, as being called for, cannot be a substitute for what seems more desirable:

Namely, the creation of an independent and empowered Police Complaints Authority - in every CARICOM state - to which the public can have confidence and easy access, and in which mechanism the police must also have confidence in its deliberations and judgement. Internal police procedures for processing complaints are proving unacceptable.

Further, in addition to such an independent complaints mechanism, there should be, according to some senior lawyers, including among them a former Attorney General, recourse, on a sustained basis, to the established practice of holding coroners' inquests into the circumstances of deaths - involving the police, or else.

It is recognised that for this to be done efficiently and expeditiously, there may have to be some serious overhauling of the operations of the courts system, including provision of improved facilities and manpower resources.

Code of Ethics Such improvements seem as necessary as establishing and enforcing relevant code of ethics for judges and magistrates.

Just last week, Guyana's newly appointed Chancellor and former Chief Justice, Desiree Bernard, who has been a regular participant in conferences/seminars outside of Guyana, relating to human rights observance and the criminal justice system, stressed the necessity for such code of ethics.

It was surprising to learn from the Chancellor that no such professional guidelines previously existed. This is as much an indictment against successive administrations as it must be for successive local bar associations, the latter, of course mindful of the various complaints/ allegations against their own members.

This situation is not peculiar to Guyana, and with the impending creation of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the faster such code of ethics for judges and magistrates could be formulated for implementation, the better it would be for the justice administration system generally.

I hope that the new Attorney General, the Guyana Bar Association and similar bodies elsewhere, can be forthcoming in helping the process for the introduction of code of ethics as advocated by Chancellor Bernard, wherever such guidelines are also non-existent.

Ministerial Appointments If the focus has shifted to the short-term 2001 budget in the local political scenario, it, nevertheless, remains relevant to note that President Bharrat Jagdeo, by his latest ministerial appointments, continue to demonstrate his stated commitment to "inclusiveness" and professional skills.

Having waited, perhaps much longer than he should, to get a positive response from either Fenton Ramsahoye or Kenneth King to serve as Attorney General and Economic Development Minister respectively, Jagdeo has finally gone ahead in naming Doodnauth Singh as the new Attorney General, and Manzoor Nadir as Minister of Trade and Tourism.

It would have been a most welcome development to have in his cabinet the skills and expertise of Ramsahoye and King who held those respective portfolio in previous PPP and PNC governments.

But it is also viewed as a welcome achievement to have Singh, a well-known legal luminary, in and out of Guyana, as Attorney General, and Nadir, long standing leader of The United Force, as the new Trade and Tourism Minister.

The fact that the PNC/Reform has chosen to make politics over the appointment of Singh as Attorney General does not detract from his qualifications for the post.

The PNC/Reform has been increasingly showing a tendency to want to run a government from the opposition benches - now even in cabinet appointments - and more than throw political tantrums when it cannot have its way. This attitude would not have escaped the attention of more than the President and his party.

Their appointments follow that of Rudy Insanally, who has a most distinguished reputation in the field of diplomacy, to serve as new Foreign Minister. His portfolio responsibility may very well have to be widened in the months ahead, as critical regional and international issues become more clarified

If the President is leaving the door open for a technocrat to be appointed later as Minister of Economic Development, then though currently still grieving over the sudden death of his dear wife, the economist and former diplomat, Havelock Brewster, remains eminently qualified for this portfolio.

Perhaps in the spirit of "inclusiveness" and the search for technocratic competence, President Jagdeo may also want to explore, in cooperation with his party, appropriate high-level appointments - of a non-cabinet nature - for such outstanding Guyanese technocrats like Clive Thomas and Haslyn Parris. Assuming, of course, they are disposed to serving the nation under a PPP/Civic administration, despite whatever may be the nature of their current political affiliation.