State of emergency Editorial
Stabroek News
October 22, 2002

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Few who have had to endure the ordeal of daily life in Demerara over the past eight months would deny that the country is in a state of crisis more dangerous than at any other time since Independence.

Measured by any yardstick - armed robberies; arson; car-jackings; drive-by shootings; kidnappings; murders; and other gun-related crimes - this is the worst of times. Apart from the daily toll of death and destruction, the commercial community's successful shutdown of Georgetown's central business district, the frantic appeals and pleas of civic groups, social partners, corporate associations such as AOAG, CAGI, GHRA and THAG, and religious organisations for peace, express the state of fear in the wider society.

In this grim scenario, the announcement by the Cabinet Secretary that the proclamation of a state of emergency would not enhance the work of the Police and Defence Forces seemed quite startling. "You would not believe that a miracle would occur because a state of emergency had been declared. A state of emergency, at the bottom line, calls for enforcement," Dr Luncheon is reported to have said.

Getting deeper into the subject, the Cabinet Secretary went on to suggest that, at a time like this when laws against larceny, murder, shooting and killing could be disobeyed with impunity, "no one should believe that a state of emergency would be obeyed".

Yet, a few weeks earlier, the Administration seemed to place much faith in the efficacy of a legislative package prescribing tougher conditions under the Racial Hostility Act, the Criminal Law Offences (Amendment) Act, the Prevention of Crimes (Amendment) Act and the Evidence Act, which was rushed through the National Assembly without the provision of any new law-enforcement resources to ensure compliance.

Why is it felt that tougher penalties would ensure that these laws would be obeyed but emergency regulations would not?

The Constitution provides for a state of emergency to be proclaimed under certain conditions, such as when Guyana is at war or when democratic institutions are threatened by subversion. At such times, extraordinary powers are needed, for limited periods, to deal with any situation which threatens the security of the State.

The powers most likely to be strenghtened by emergency regulations are the arrest and detection of suspects; censorship and control of the media; control of harbours, ports, transportation and trade; authorising searches of persons and premises; and the appropriation or taking control of property.

These are extreme examples of actions which the State may need to take to restore a condition of normalcy in a part or the whole of the country. The advantage of these special regulations is that they strengthen the hands of soldiers and policemen and weaken the normal safeguards of suspects, shady characters and criminals, thereby making it easier to detect, and more difficult to commit, crimes.

Clearly, the current crisis warrants some sort of extraordinary action by the State to curtail the criminal mayhem. The normal operations of the police and defence forces have not been able to guarantee the safety of its citizens and the security of the country.

If a state of emergency is not the answer to the question of internal security, what is ?

Citizens are desperate for 'a miracle to occur' to provide peace and safety as, it seems, the security forces have already done their utmost, to little effect.

The Cabinet's decision not to move forward to declare a state of emergency seems to be an admission that the criminals hold the upper hand and that the security forces cannot bring the situation under control.

The people, it appears, have no choice but to await patiently the outcome of the contest between the criminals and the security forces in what has become an increasingly lawless and dangerous country.