Crime paralysing country - business group
Stabroek News
June 6, 2002

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Crime is paralysing Guyana, a local business group charged yesterday as it urged the government to take all necessary steps to halt the scourge including bringing in outside expertise.

The National Association of Regional Chambers of Commerce of Guyana (ARCC) was the latest business group to register its concern on spiralling crime.

On Monday, President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Eddie Boyer deplored the "methodical slaughter" of businessmen. He said the frequency and impunity with which these crimes are committed are mind-boggling.

Generally members of the business community are disturbed over the security aspects of criminal activities and the time it is taking to bring some normality to the situation.

"The combination of this state of instability cannot be good for the country in economic terms. It is reducing the possibility of continuing investment, hence job creation or job preservation becomes a matter of premium. Socially, there is quite serious tension within the population, within Georgetown and nearby environs which is reflected generally in the desire and, perhaps, actual action to remove from the scene of activity, thus reducing our skill base - our professionals and technicians who will most likely find opportunity for alternative employment," Director of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), David Yankana, remarked during an interview on Tuesday.

According to him, private sector heads have met Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj, on several occasions, but assurances obtained from the minister that steps are being taken to bring the matter under control are not buttressed by positive action.

Yankana said joint army/police intervention has been raised on all occasions during meetings with government officials. This position, Yankana said, is supported by members of PSC who have had some experience in operating within this framework.

"The question is, `Why this was not done before?' At a meeting last Friday with private sector heads, at which there were advisory groups from the security agencies, this question was also brought up for discussion. As a result of that meeting, a proposal was sent to the president to meet the group so that they could enlarge that presentation," Yankana disclosed.

He, like Ramdial Bhookmohan, who issued the statement on behalf of the ARCC, is contending that the crime situation is impairing the government's credibility as an agent for attracting competitive and job transferring investment.

"Capital flight will increase. Rising risk factors will drive up interest rates, further raising the cost of doing business. Psychologically, spreading fear among all segments of society will slow consumption, which, if prolonged, will lead to still greater unemployment and instability. Our brain drain will gain even further momentum. Impacts on children of increasing exposure to violence will probably not surface for years. Racial fissures may widen. Sectors like tourism, with tremendous potential, will take a long time to recover. Communities, seen as sympathetic to instability, will be avoided by business and investors, the only agents who can provide long-term solutions to economic difficulties that often are big contributors to the very problems our country now confronts," the ARCC stated.

The body, which represents nine chambers of commerce across Guyana, said even as these problems are tackled, the government has to also work with all parties, "as never before, towards creating societal unity so that we can all get on with the already extremely difficult tasks of nation-building and development that transforms Guyana into a competitive state [within which] to live, work, visit and in which to invest."

Testing the resolve of the government

Touching on the May 30 attack on the Alberttown Police 9Station in which Constable Andy Atwell was gunned down, the hijacking of motor vehicles, the attack on the cambio last Saturday, Yankana said these all introduced a new round of operations which gave the impression that the police have not been trained to handle them, in terms of anticipation and quick response.

"There have been some suggestions to reinforce the security personnel with technical assistance," Yankana said, adding that should a meeting with the PSC be convened soon, the matter would be discussed.

A national response

The ARCC is strongly encouraging the government to take "whatever steps it can within a democratic society," to apprehend the rampaging bandits. Thereafter, the body said, the government must forge effective new alliances to begin an aggressive and systematic attack on the root causes of crime, such as poverty, joblessness, hopelessness, family stability, drugs and the weakening education systems, among other things.

Another method of crime control, according to ARCC, should be meaningful engagement with all opposition parties, a tough crackdown on official corruption at all levels, a fair and fast judicial system, competent and effective law enforcement, as well as a government that is recognised for true transparency and progressiveness.

"ARCC and its 400-member firms fully support government efforts to end the crime spree, including bringing in outside expertise, if that is necessary, to bring the band(s) of criminals to justice," the release stated.

Meanwhile, Boyer is maintaining that the time for "mud-slinging" as to who is to blame must come to an end.

"Frankly, the Guyanese people are tired and frustrated with politicking. We want results. This is a national crisis and requires a national response," Boyer stated.

Yankana says the private sector feels that the current crime wave is a serious national situation, which calls for "a strong desire and willingness on the part of all the political parties, trades unions, the private sector, other organs of civil society, including the churches and religious organisations to be able to work together and find solutions to crime prevention and restoring the confidence of the population in the security forces and the ability of all the parliamentary groups to push for a national solution."

Boyer offered the following recommendations:

** Have a visible and consistent police presence in commercial zones.

** Increase vehicle searches at main points of ingress to and egress out of the city.

** Create special zones in high risk commercial areas and have police and military personnel assigned to predetermined strategic positions if these zones are attacked. Subsequently, seal off the zone and flush out the criminals.

** Have police and private security liaison on suspicious movement.

** Increase air support for the police, especially in backland areas.

** Have police video tape operations on spot to minimise charges of police brutality

** Strengthen community policing groups

** Enhance the scientific crime fighting capabilities of the Guyana Police Force

** Call on the opposition, the private sector, NGOs and the ordinary citizen to form synergies to combat this scourge.

Equip the police force with superior firepower to that which the bandits have.

Boyer is urging businesses not to keep large amounts of money on the premises. He said businessmen should have a contingency plan if faced with an attack. He said the chamber was consulting with security experts and will put forward more definite and detailed suggestions to the relevant authorities. The chamber is also urging the government to act decisively in addressing issues such as improved conditions for the police and a more effective judicial system, among other things.

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