Backer urges broad-based commission on police force
Gajraj says govt committed to reformation

By Andrew Richards
Stabroek News
June 27, 2001

PNC REFORM (PNC/R) parliamentarian Deborah Backer has reiterated a call for the quick establishment of a broad-based commission to examine all aspects of the police force using the National Development Strategy and a recent UK study as guidelines.

"The PNC/R stands ready, willing and able to be part of the commission and we call on government to join with us and set up a disciplined forces commission to examine in the broadest possible way, the Guyana Police Force (GPF) " Backer stated in her contribution to the budget debate yesterday in parliament.

Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj, who spoke immediately after Backer, said government was committed to the reformation of the GPF and the study done was testimony to this.

He noted that sister CARICOM countries like Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago had already embarked on a similar reform programme.

Backer said the PNC/R recognised there is a direct link between national security and development.

There is also a link between little or no economic development and the increase in crime, she stated, and posited that only when there is equitable distribution in social services, opportunities and wealth will there be lasting peace in Guyana.

Backer noted that the GPF is the entity charged with the maintenance of law and order. She questioned whether the GPF was faithful in its objectives such as preserving the peace, safeguarding property, and controlling traffic. She described the crime and traffic situations as frightening and expressed concern over the "rapidly escalating" number of extra-judicial killings.

There was also a high number of unsolved crimes, she stated, and criticised the continued occupancy of the office of the Police Commissioner by Laurie Lewis who has passed retirement age.

Backer said there were some members of society who see nothing wrong when the police take on the role of judge, jury and executioner and even encourage the police to continue in this vein.

She declared that nowhere in the world had extra-judicial killings resulted in the reduction of crime. On the contrary, it is the high rate of apprehending and convicting criminals which has the greatest impact.

Referring to the strategic review of the GPF commissioned by the UK Department for International Development, Backer said in the review the consultants recognised it as a brave decision by the government. The review found the traffic situation to be critical with no new policies of recent.

There was corruption in the issuing of licences, particularly mini-bus drivers and conductors licences.

Backer stressed that the GPF must be citizen friendly; emoluments must be at a level where the culture of accepting bribes will be reduced; there must be increased capacity to solve difficult crimes; and increased capability to lead the re-education of road users.

Touching on the Guyana Prison Service (GPS), Backer described it as a crisis situation where overcrowding continued to be a nightmare. She pointed out that retraining of prisoners remains a priority in modern prison systems. The prisoners must be able to reintegrate themselves into society upon their release, If this did not happen, they will be forced back into the criminal cycle which will have a negative impact on the peace and security of Guyana, she stated.

She contended that the parole system is also not being utilised by the government.

Backer commended the Guyana Fire Service for performing satisfactorily despite its limited resources but she expressed concern over its incapacity to investigate the origins of fires.

The time is long past for the injection of funds into the service, she stated.

Gajraj stated that government has made a clear acknowledgement of the need for resources to be made available for bolstering national security. The inadequacies of the police are known and steps are being made to correct them, he said. A training school on the Essequibo Coast is near completion and training is expected to begin in September.

New police stations were established at Cane Grove, Mora Point in the Mahaicony and Karasabai along with an outpost at Enmore.

The minister disclosed that some 45 ranks of the police force were charged and placed before the courts last year on allegations of misconduct.

The government does not condone police brutality, Gajraj stated, but the government is also concerned about the number of policemen killed in the line of duty.

There are also situations where people are being killed in the sanctuary of their homes. He charged that some criminals were being sheltered by some political institutions. There is a changing face in crime, he said, where there is more involvement of firearms but the government will implement measures to deal with this, he assured. Gajraj said $130 million has been allocated for the acquisition of two additional fire tenders for the GFS.

A fire station will be built at Anna Regina to establish the service on the Essequibo Coast.

Gajraj said his ministry is negotiating with the government of Trinidad and Tobago to execute a memorandum of understanding where training could be done in the twin-island republic. He added that more attention is being paid to the reformation of prisoners by the GPS.

He said they are being taught masonry, printing, brickmaking and other skills which would put them in good stead when they are reintegrated with society.

He asserted that the parole system was functioning and there was a methodology being used where first offenders, petty offenders, and those caught in possession of small amounts of narcotics are released early.

Gajraj revealed that the GPS produced $14 million in crops and livestock for last year and $7 million was generated for contract work done by prisoners.