Protecting economic resources

Stabroek News
January 22, 2000

In our edition of January 11, we reported that the Guyana and United States governments had signed a memorandum of agreement which would enable members of the local Coast Guard to enhance their maritime skills. It is intended that local officers and ratings would be attached to the US Coast Guard vessel, the CGC Gentian, where they would undergo training. A normal tour of duty, the report said, would last for two years, but that could be extended to three by mutual agreement. The cost of the programme is being borne by the US Government.

Well this is good news, except for one thing. The local Coast Guard doesn't have a vessel of its own. So here we are arranging for officers and ratings to acquire the kind of skills which would help protect our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and they don't even have a patrol boat which would allow them to put those skills to proper use. One of the more egregious examples of the impotence of our Coast Guard in recent times occurred on October 7 last, when eyewitnesses reported that their members were among the crowd of onlookers who watched helplessly from dry land as the Suriname Coast Guard seized four speedboats only 200 yards from the Guyana bank of the Corentyne river.

The precise extent of economic loss to this nation as a consequence of illegal fishing is not currently known, but there is every reason to believe it is very substantial. In addition, we are beginning to experience a piracy problem, which, if left unchecked, could reach similar proportions to that in Suriname. It has also to be said that contrary to what Minister Sawh appears to believe, the current spate of fishing agreements with countries like Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago will make the policing of the EEZ more complicated, rather than less so. As has already been pointed out by Captain McAllister of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) in our edition of December 20, a foreign vessel will now have to be boarded and its papers inspected in order to determine whether or not it is fishing illegally.

In the same issue the Captain was reported as saying that at the minimum the Coast Guard should have at least one vessel assigned to each of the five maritime districts, and that the radar and response capability of the GDF should be re-established, which would involve ensuring that the Air Corps was better equipped.

It is not just the monitoring of the EEZ, however, which requires a better equipped Air Corps, so too does the patrolling of the land border. On Monday, January 17, we reported on the problem of illegal mining, especially by Brazilians who were using surrogates in order to operate concessions here. On that occasion Captain McAllister said that the lack of aircraft prevented the army from monitoring the frontier as effectively as it would like.

When the present Government first came into office, its statements suggested some uncertainty in its approach as to what the role of the GDF really was. After over seven years administering the country, however, one might have thought that it would now be clearer on the matter. Yet the evidence suggests that it is not. While the nation loses millions through poaching in Guyana's waters and illegal mining in Guyana's land space, the Government still clings to a penny wise, pound foolish mentality. It needs to act on the recommendations contained in a report submitted by the committee set up by Minister Sawh to look at ways of curbing piracy and illegal fishing. That committee proposed, among other things, that the Coast Guard be provided with boats and equipment. If the administration does not give the GDF the resources to do its job effectively, then the nation might as well resign itself to the plundering of its patrimony with impunity by outsiders.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples