A time for action

Stabroek News
September 27, 1999

As he does so often, Hawley Harris' cartoon in yesterday's Sunday Stabroek aptly captures the security dilemma in this country. In it, Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis aims the proverbial slingshot at the Goliath-like barrels of a menacing gun toted by a towering, masked bandit. The outcome of this confrontation and so many others is not one of David's victory against all odds. It is one of a continuing domination of the police by outlaws who are armed to the enamel of their teeth and who think and know that they have the upperhand.

The ardour with which outgunned and poorly protected policemen and soldiers threw themselves into this engagement on Wednesday is highly commendable and the public is grateful. No more must the government allow the lives of these joint services personnel to be risked in these uneven matches.

In the presence of Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj, Police Commissioner Lewis on Thursday enumerated the list of deficiencies that must be addressed before the Guyana Police Force can evenly engage the criminals and it was rather startling.

He said the police force needs more automatic weapons, body armour, vehicles, speed boats, personnel and, of course more pay among other requirements.

These needs have been the same for many years and have not been seen as priorities by successive PPP/Civic governments. It means that Mr Lewis' appeals have fallen on deaf ears as this one may well do.

When the police admit to these deficiencies publicly and acknowledge they are worried at the increasing violence, it further vitiates the public's confidence in them and reduces the feeling of security to near zero.

The ball is then squarely in the court of the government and moreso President Jagdeo. Despite protestations to the contrary, the police force has been woefully unable to deal with vicious high-profile crimes over the past five or six years. Technology and brutal new weaponry have zoomed the criminals past them and made a mockery of their efforts. The time to level the playing field is now as it has been for many years.

When those three fugitives in the canefield slipped through the police/army cordon on Thursday, it drove home graphically how far back the police have fallen in investigative, intelligence, tactical, evidence-gathering and operational abilities. The police had no inkling of this elaborately orchestrated operation in which upwards of a dozen people may have been enmeshed. So much for intelligence capabilities.

With the sterner demands on the national purse that the public service pay arbitration tribunal has placed, the government will be hard-pressed to make urgent improvements to the state of policing. But there must be. At least in terms of automatic weaponry and body armour the government should make immediate allocations or seek to redirect whatever donor funding is available to the police force towards these needs. Recently we commented on the Paul Matthias report which called for more intelligence-led policing rather than reactivity. It is clear that in their planning, the criminals are outmanoeuvring the police and more resources must be urgently plugged into this area.

At his inaugural press conference, President Jagdeo had declined to delve into the question of crime pointing out that it was an area being tackled by his Home Affairs Minister. With the continued failings (not forgetting the recent breakout from the Georgetown Prisons) Mr Jagdeo can ill afford not to enter the fray. Crime and its runaway nature must become one of his priorities and the nation must be privy to a plan to restrain it.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples