The NIS robbery

Stabroek News
January 17, 2000

This morning marks a week since three men pulled off an audacious and clinically executed robbery at the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) head office on Brickdam.

Aside from the loss of $13M and the severe trauma suffered by the pensioners - who had congregated from early in the morning for their pensions - and staffers of the NIS, the robbery palpably paraded the vulnerability of all of Georgetown's citizens, and by extension the rest of the country, to well-schemed plots of this type.

And for its part, the Guyana Police Force has acted out its role with Oscar-winning attention to the supporting details in the drama. Predictably, the three men and an unusually-coloured vehicle have vanished into thin air and the cops have fumbled through the week with few explanations as to what had transpired. This is nothing new.

This column concedes that each and every failing of the force and continuing outrages like the NIS robbery have attracted harsh and repetitive criticisms from it. It is the only means at our disposal to hammer home to the police and the authorities that a dangerous current continues to lap ever so hungrily to householders and businessmen and now and then it floods, ravages and retreats mostly unchecked until the next wave.

The NIS robbery also threatens to add to the folkloric status conferred in some quarters on Linden `Blackie' London who apparently masterminded the shocking America Street robbery several months ago and who eluded a police dragnet in the canefields of East Bank Demerara. Even before there was any basis for implicating him in the NIS crime, his name was already on the lips of ordinary people. It is by no means clear that he was involved in this one, but his befuddling of the police in the America Street fiasco has lent strongly to a growing anti-hero status which can only pose more problems for the police.

There are several areas for continuing comment. Despite persistent pleas from within and outside of the force, the GPF remains poorly endowed, remunerated and staffed. The government takes the sole blame for this. You get what you pay for.

Intelligence-led policing - in the decades of breakdown - has fallen by the wayside. It needs to be rediscovered and incorporated into mainstream policing. Crimes like America Street and the NIS involve dozens of contacts, planners and actors. The unhindered work of these people glaringly exposes that the police do not have their ears to the ground, have not infiltrated underground cells and their rapid reaction capabilities are non-existent. This is the fault of the police and the Ministry of Home Affairs. We recently had to be reminded of the need for intelligence-led policing as opposed to reactiveness by an advisor from the UK police force. But we had all known this already.

The police force must also not be afraid to say when they have been comprehensively beaten and to seek help to repair the damage. We have strongly advocated in the past that the government seek expert help for its police force to crack insoluble conundrums like the Monica Reece murder and a host of others which have been most unsatisfactorily handled. Scotland Yard and the FBI have been engaged in other places in the Caribbean to tackle crime. Not that these interventions are magic bullets, but they lend new perspectives and sometimes overcome the internal shortcomings in local police forces. If the government is singleminded on reducing crime as it claims, international help would be sought for the police force in complex criminal investigations and also to assess the force's operational defects.

There is also a grave need for a non-government group such as the defunct Guyanese Against Crime to mobilise aid for the police force and to provide the staging ground for the coordination of security efforts between the police and the private sector.

The brazenness of the America Street and NIS robberies demands serious attention by the government, the police and civil society.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples