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Twenty-one Policemen, a Prison Officer and now, a soldier, have been murdered: many Policemen deliberately targeted while unarmed and off- duty, killed in cold blood.
An ever-increasing number of innocent, decent people going about their everyday business have lost their lives, innocent victims of armed violence. None of us is secure from being kidnapped. Many, in desperate fear of being killed or kidnapped, have shutdown their businesses, closed their homes and fled the country, their life’s work destroyed, forced to begin again, aliens in a strange country, often there illegally.
We now live in a country overwhelmed, if not overtaken, by brutal, bestial, ruthless, cold-blooded gangs of organised and sponsored killers. We have seemed helpless to confront them, or is that now about to change?
These are no ordinary criminals. They are directed, financed and protected by identifiable and important people in our society, masters of the illicit narcotics trade, visibly rich without any apparent means at their disposal to make them so.
There are others of these organised criminals who serve political masters dedicated to destabilising the country and embarrassing the government, while, in fact, they prey on the rich and poor alike and kill Guyanese of every ethnic origin with equal ferocity.
Members of the Police Force untrained, underpaid and ill-equipped have found themselves the target of this onslaught against society and have too often responded wrongly, but not surprisingly, by shooting first and asking afterwards.
The political opposition, not unhappy to see the Government in trouble, instead of focusing their anger on the criminals, are all too quick to condemn the Police and make excuses for the criminals.
Powerful influential voices are raised against the police rather than the criminals in the name of human rights and justice. Prominent among them, however, are leading lawyers with questionable motives who make their fortunes defending the few criminals whom the Police manage to put before the Courts.
All of us, regardless of our politics or our ethnicity, are threatened. Yet, we seem to have lost our sense of perspective, our sense of direction, even our sense of preservation.
It is the criminals and those who sponsor and offer them protection and who have visited this madness on our nation, who should be the focus of our outrage?
The buck, as the late American President Harry Truman once said, stops with the President and who knows that better than the political opposition. The President, however, is not all-powerful. He must depend on the Police and, if and when necessary, the Defence Force, to do the job of cleaning out the criminals and restoring law and order.
The President had promised, and is giving, the Police and army the tools to do the job. This, however, takes time. More important than the tools is the commitment, attitude and professionalism of the Police and army in performing their duty.
The President, quite correctly, made it public that he was not satisfied with the performance of the security forces. He was specific. He has, he said, told them to “clean out the situation in Buxton”.
Chief-of-Staff of the Defence Force, Brigadier General, Michael Atherly, has, in my view, however indirectly, improperly responded to the President. On May 12, addressing newly recruited Officer Cadets, the Chief of Staff expressed his “serious concern” about what he described as “the temptation of the Army to become too politicised an institution at the centre of domestic strife”. He questioned “the notion of the GDF as the guardian of internal order and social stability”.
But, when the stability of a nation is threatened, whether the threat is internal or external, that is precisely the task of the military when called upon by the government.
The US government, through its Ambassador, has declared “Guyanese authorities lack the capability and resources to effectively deter or investigate these crimes” and described Buxton “as a base for criminal activity”.
The PNC have embraced Buxton as their own special village. On Nation Watch last week Lance Carbury, with Hamley Case, Vincent Alexander, Clarissa Riehl and Charles Corbin, in close support, declared Buxton to be “part of the country, part of this society”. Yes, but when the Police and army carried out a search at a chicken farm sponsored by the PNC, they called it “deliberate mischief”. Buxton, according to the PNC, is off limits to our security forces.
Buxton is much more than a haven for organised crime; it is the centre and headquarters of it. On any given day, gunmen with AK47s on public display patrol the streets of central Buxton. Narcotics are sold and consumed openly on the streets. The Police and army, unless in significant numbers and displaying maximum force capability, cannot enter Buxton and when they do they come under criticism from the PNC Executives. The events of the past few days triggered by the kidnapping of Mr. Viticharan Singh, may have changed their minds.
Has it occurred to the PNC that the public ambivalence they displayed towards dealing with the criminals who are in command in Buxton, makes their condemnation of the criminal assault on our country less than believable?
Welcome though it is, one determined, successful joint operation of the security forces against the bandits embedded in Buxton will not, of course, cure the problem.
The attack on the country by organised crime is a national problem. It transcends partisan politics. While it is the government’s first responsibility to protect the security of the State and maintain law and order and to use all the forces at its disposal to do so, every law-abiding citizen is the target and the potential victim of the criminals. The war on crime demands a collective political response.
We are now on official public international notice that Guyana is not a safe place to be in, not a safe place to invest in, to do business in or to live in, the consequence of which we hardly need spell out.
I would like to see our President and Robert Corbin joined by every other parliamentary leader together on television declaring a “war on organised crime”.
I would like to see a “Bipartisan Council on Crime” chaired by the President and with every parliamentary leader a member and, including the Social Partners, meeting regularly with a full and unqualified mandate of the Cabinet to direct the war on crime.