Private sector seeks meeting with President on crime business takes severe beating By Neil Marks
Guyana Chronicle
June 4, 2002

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`The private sector is suffering (and) all we're hearing is the tedious `it's under investigation' - Mr. Brian James, PSC Chairman

PRIVATE sector officials yesterday said they were wary of seemingly passive statements by the authorities that the recent spate of criminal activities is being "investigated" and are seeking to meet President Bharrat Jagdeo to determine specifically how the sector can help.

The Georgetown business community has seen a "massive" downturn in business and President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), Mr. Eddie Boyer said the Government should seek external "interventions" to deal with the crime wave.

He said this is if it cannot provide some sort of solid assurance to the Guyanese people that the law enforcement agencies can handle and are handling the situation.

Security companies are also on high alert and "deeply concerned", given the bold attacks by bandits on law enforcement ranks, according to Mr. Dougal Kirkpatrick of Professional Guard Service (PGS).

Hospitality and entertainment businesses in Georgetown have also not had the usual numbers partying on their dance floors and eating off their tables with the state of unease, forcing some to consider closing their doors.

Private Sector Commission (PSC) Chairman, Mr. Brian James yesterday said "the private sector is suffering" as a result of the rise in crime since the five notorious bandits escaped the Georgetown Prison on February 23 last and lamented, "all we're hearing is the tedious 'it's under investigation'".

He said the PSC met in an emergency session last Friday to assess the situation and has written President Jagdeo seeking an audience with him to know exactly how the private sector can help.

"We need a resolution (to this problem)", he said, insisting that the recent crime wave has reached crisis proportions with Policemen and Police stations being attacked.

"People are thinking of closing off and packing up", he said, adding that the rise in crime has severely hit the private sector.

Referring to the PSC's sessions with Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Ronald Gajraj of late, James said all the PSC has had are mere assurances that "a solution is imminent".

He said one can understand the law enforcement agencies not wanting to divulge information to the public, but to simply say that investigations are ongoing serves as no additional comfort to the population at large.

James said the PSC has offered to help the law enforcement agencies and the meeting it seeks with the President will hopefully outline some concrete ways of how it can do so.

PGS, which specialises in guard and cash transport services and operates a central station alarm reporting system, has been on high alert as of recent, but that does not mean it is not accepting more business.

Kirkpatrick said that many of PGS' clients have requested "expanded security complements" and many more are doing so.

PGS, which runs a 24-hour monitoring operation and relay station, has also been accepting recent offers for armed escorts to the airport.

Boyer is convinced that the crime situation in Guyana is serious enough to be called a national crisis, and said as such, the Government and the Opposition should work on the problem together.

An awardee of the national Golden Arrow of Achievement this year, he said the business community has faced a "massive downturn in business."

"We depend on people from the outlying communities to come to the city (Georgetown) to shop, but they simply aren't coming and the implications are obvious," Boyer told the Chronicle.

In a statement late yesterday afternoon, he said the chamber deplored the "wanton disregard for human life by bandits".

"Criminal activity in Guyana has reached crisis proportions as ordinary citizens, especially businessmen, fall prey to what appears to be methodical slaughter. The frequency and impunity with which crimes are committed are mind boggling", he said.

He suggested that the Government should consider:

** having a visible and consistent Police presence in commercial zones;
** increasing vehicle searches at Georgetown's main points of ingress and egress;
** creating special zones in high risk commercial areas and having Police and military personnel assigned to predetermined strategic positions if these zones are attacked and sealing off the zone to flush out the criminals;
** having Police and private security liaison on suspicious movement;
** increasing air support for the Police, especially in backland areas;
** Police video taping operations on the spot to minimise charges of Police brutality;
** strengthening community policing groups;
** enhancing the scientific crime fighting capabilities of the Police Force;
** calling on the Opposition, the private sector, non-governmental organisations and ordinary citizens to "form synergies to combat this scourge";
** equipping the Police Force with superior firepower to that which the bandits have.

Boyer urged business people to refrain from keeping large amounts of money on their premises and said they should have a contingency plan should they be faced with an attack.

He also said that if President Jagdeo and Opposition Leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte "can agree on nothing, then at least let them come together on the crime issue."

Meantime, in the hospitality and entertainment sectors, business has dropped considerably, an official of the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG) told the Chronicle, based on feedback from its membership that includes hotels, restaurants and nightclubs.

At the hotels, there have been local and international cancellations with the obvious domino effect, the official said.

In food and beverage, THAG's members have lamented that especially in the evening, the usual numbers are not there any more, and at lunchtime, the situation is much the same.