Crimes, killings Bass and Police

By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
August 26, 2001

THERE ARE some very tragic, alarming consequences from the efforts by the police and anti-crime agencies to combat the escalating, mind-boggling crimes and illegal acts plaguing this country.

Resisting the danger of becoming numb to killings and criminal violence, with some incidents involving political activists, Guyanese were to be shocked by recent horrifying examples of the tragic consequences in curbing illegal acts and the general crime wave.

First, there were the killings by the police last month on Mandela Avenue in Georgetown of three men wanted for various crimes. Then followed the separate 'shoot-outs' that resulted in the killings of five individuals, among them two teenagers, on the Corentyne involving the Berbice Anti-Smuggling Squad (BASS).

They all occurred under highly controversial circumstances and with a plethora of conflicting police/BASS and eyewitness reports. There is, of course, the factor of claimed "eye witnesses" for the three deaths by the police on Mandela Avenue remaining invisible when it came to presenting themselves for official reports, in contrast to the reports of specific information and identifications given in relation to the BASS killings.

Following the reports surrounding the killings by the police and BASS, one thing seems clear, from my perspective: There is the urgent necessity for independent probes into these killings.

This can only be properly done either by the old mechanism of a Coroner's Inquest. Or, by securing a mix of local and foreign personnel of recognised competence and integrity to investigate and pronounce on the deaths.

Current official double-speak is as irrelevant and absurd as some of the claimed `eye witnesses accounts’.

The government of the day must move speedily to reintroduce the culture of coroner’s inquest that was misused (the case of the death of Walter Rodney), and destroyed by successive administrations of the party that desperately wants to be back in power, but which must first win elections by fair means.

Agencies or mechanisms such as BASS, a segment of the Customs and Trade Authority, and CANU, the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit, that have both been quite successful in effecting a number of arrests, are not part of the Guyana Police Force (GPF).

Critical Assessment
Critical, professional assessment must be made to ensure their compliance with rules and guidelines in fulfilling their functions.

A government that has invested so much over the years to foster transparency, democratic rights and inspire respect for the rule of law cannot afford to undermine itself by seemingly contradictory positions, or in equivocating when a situation demands prompt and decisive action.

The GPF itself appears stressed out in coping with the mixture of politically motivated and organised disturbances and the terrifying criminal acts of murder, robberies, brutalities and rape.

But neither the GPF nor BASS must be simply left to rationalise killings of individuals. Every such act should be honestly and thoroughly investigated to avoid loss of public confidence and its negative consequence for the rule of law.

The modalities of operations of these agencies, helpful as they have proven to be, and their working relationship with the police need to be revisited with a view to removing grey areas and flaws in their handling of weapons in confrontational situations.

Calls coming from various quarters for dismantling BAS, in particular, are to be expected against the backdrop of the killings on the Corentyne. But for the authorities to resort in a hasty, unilateral manner, in dismantling either BASS or CANU, would be as irresponsible as failing to take appropriate measures to ensure that the elements involved are not held accountable for acting wrongfully.

President Bharrat Jagdeo has developed an admirable reputation for quickly showing up to empathise with the relatives of victims of killings. His Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj, whose own effectiveness appears debatable, has also been showing a more visible profile at times to tragedies and distress experienced by communities.

What is now very desirable, is for a more pro-active, rather than re-active approach by the authorities to signal to the criminals and the society at large that the security forces and the powers that be are indeed on top of the situation in the search for solutions.

I have said before that unless outgoing Commissioner of Police, Laurie Lewis, has not already done so, he has an obligation to submit to the President or the Minister of Home Affairs, specific anti-crime proposals, identify weaknesses and strengths of the police force, and to these should now be added the kind of relationship that should exist between the GPF and agencies like BASS and CANU.

As Commissioner Lewis prepares to go into retirement, let me join in wishing him the very best for the future or in any new role that he may be invited to assume, based on his long years of experience.

Let me also say what I know to be the sentiment of many that what is greatly needed now is for the police to demonstrate much more efficiency and integrity within their ranks, and strive to gain that level of public confidence and support that will be critical in the very challenging battle against the rampaging criminals holding this nation-- as in Jamaica - to ransom.

Finally, a reminder to the Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Judicial Service Commission that the public should be treated with a little more respect in the matter involving the sudden resignation of former Chief Magistrate Paul Fung-A-Fat, and the acceptance of resignation by way of a terse statement. Will there be another statement, or will the public be left to speculate about the real reason or reasons?