Who's in charge?
June 2, 2002
Articles on stuff
Make no mistake, the events of Thursday evening have alerted us to the fact that we are now in a new dimension. There can be no doubt any longer that we have a group in the society harbouring sinister intentions in relation to the state. The method is the immobilization of the police force by driving fear into its members, and the instrument is a group of hard-core criminals backed by a network supplying succour, shelter, information and, it seems, a political rationale. We have moved from a straightforward problem of crime, therefore, to one where the fragile compact underpinning our society could be threatened with dissolution.
In case anyone has any doubts about what is going on, there is a new leaflet in circulation, this time addressed to "All Senior NCOs and Ranks of the GDF." It enjoins them to refuse to be 'used' by the PPP against "Black People," and exhorts them to rise up against the Government as well as their senior officers.
The author of this latest handbill appears to be the same as that of the previous ones which purported to originate from the five escapees. The conclusions to be drawn from all of this are hardly in need of elaboration.
What recent events have demonstrated is that we have no effective civil authority any longer. Bandits can strike with impunity, even in the heart of the city, and even at a police station. It is as if the administration has surrendered authority to the underworld by default, and that as the weeks pass, Guyana is becoming more like Colombia than we might ever have thought possible a mere three months ago. Yet at this time of great danger the members of the Government are nowhere to be found in the captial - the epicentre of all the action. To all appearances, the President considers that there is no matter of sufficiently pressing concern which would warrant him remaining in the crisis zone, and that as such, therefore, he is justified in whisking his entire Cabinet (bar the Minister of Home Affairs) off to Berbice for an "outreach programme."
Even before this latest unnerving development in Alberttown, the Government could hardly have been commended for the decisiveness or relevance of its responses. What on earth, for example, was the governing party doing organizing a rally against crime, when the responsible agency for dealing with the crime situation was itself?
We have listened as well to all kinds of vague allegations from the PPP/C about the involvement of the leadership of the PNC/R with the bandits, but no evidence has as yet been presented. If there is indeed clear evidence of the association of any executive member of the leading opposition party or anyone else with the escapees and their network, then that should be put in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions; these dark mutterings in press conferences are counterproductive, and are no substitute for real action.
The seeming inability of the administration to take meaningful measures in response to the present crisis, suggests a vacuum at the centre of power. Just who is in control? What is their plan for making the security situation manageable again? Do they have any idea at all about how to break the new criminal network and bring the bandits and those who assist them to justice? If there is a grand plan (and there is no evidence of one), just who, exactly, is co-ordinating it? Has a crisis centre with the necessary resources been set up? Even before the Alberttown attack it was evident that the police were being targeted, so what measures were put in place to guarantee the safety of police stations and those who man them? Was it that there were measures, but that they failed, or was it that there were none at all? If the police cannot protect themselves, how can we expect that they will protect the rest of us?
The Government needs to forget all the other myriad things exercising its attention for the time being. It should forget about traipsing around the countryside to Berbice and wherever else; it should forget the anti-crime rallies; it should forget about organizing media briefings to issue feel-good statments about its achievements; and it should even forget - for the time being only - the PNC/R's vulgarity outside Parliament a week last Friday. There is one thing and one thing alone on which it should be concentrating, and that is the immediate security problem and its ramifications. If they cannot cope with that problem (and it seems that they can't) then they should seek some help from outside the charmed circle of the party to devise approaches for dealing with it.
At this stage nothing matters more than the safety of citizens - whether African, Indian, Amerindian, or whatever - and the integrity of the state.
Given the nature of this somewhat novel crisis the Government should cease the political rhetoric, and have President Jagdeo invite the Leader of the Opposition for a meeting on crime - Parliamentary issues can wait - with a view to issuing a joint statement, among other things. The governing party appears to have entirely overlooked the fact that it needs Mr Hoyte's assistance in the current circumstances; the parties must be seen to give a common response to a crime wave which has taken on dangerous political undertones.
The Government needs to co-operate with those who can help it; the Government needs to focus; the Government needs to devise an anti-bandit strategy; the Government needs to act on that strategy, and above all else, the Government needs to behave like a government. The vast mass of the citizens of this country, however they voted, do not want the criminals in charge.