Jagdeo seeks 'political space' to fight crime
Says Buxton `safe haven' status no longer disputed
By Patrick Denny
April 25, 2003
President Bharrat Jagdeo has called for his government to be given the political space to address the country's crime situation.
Addressing the opening session of the Annual Police Officers' Conference yesterday at the Police Officers' Mess, Eve Leary, President Jagdeo said the situation in Buxton was one that had to be dealt with. He also stressed that his criticism of some tactical measures being employed by the army and police, which he said were not yielding the desired results, must not be mistaken by them and the public at large as an indication of a lack of confidence by him in the security forces. He reiterated his right to let the public know when he disagreed with the tactical measures the forces employed.
And in explaining his recent criticism of the police's and army's tactical approach to dealing with Buxton, he said it was not beyond their capability to plan an operation to return the East Coast village to law and order. In his criticism, he had said that he had made it known to the security services that he wanted Buxton "cleaned out".
Jagdeo stressed that attempts to create divisions between the army and the police would not work and urged the leadership of the two organisations to settle whatever differences, if any, that they may have. The President acknowledged that there were issues of co-ordination which were affecting their work on the ground that had to be addressed as only then could they deal with the challenges being presented by Buxton.
The President told his audience, among whom was PNCR leader, Robert Corbin, that he welcomed the PNCR's statement of support for the police and said crime should never be a political issue as the criminals had no real loyalty save to their own interest.
But he criticised the media for being schizophrenic in its call for tough action and then debating the implications of the use of such action.
He observed that the description of Buxton as a safe haven for criminals was no longer disputed but stressed that it should not be taken as an indictment of the Buxtonians since the majority of law-abiding villagers were hostages in their own village.
President Jagdeo also cautioned against the demonisation of the police, which he said was derived from one statement alleging that the political directorate had given instructions to the police to kill young Afro-Guyanese. He stressed that no such instructions were ever contemplated much less given and the officers could attest to the fact. He stressed that anyone who had given such orders would no longer have been a member of the PPP or part of his administration. However, he noted that it was a statement that still had currency, cautioning that there were people who believed that "pulling down the police" would hamper its ability to do their work. He urged the force to work on its image. "When the irresponsible sections of the media portray a negative impression, it takes considerable effort to erase that impression. This is just as important as fighting the bandits, going out there and patrolling the streets. So I hope that you spend some time on that matter too".
Meanwhile, he promised the force more equipment to ensure that they were not outgunned by better armed bandits and offered improvements in their working conditions and pay, which he admitted was still low despite recent improvements. He is considering making permanent a facility which gives them one month's pay tax-free to reflect the peculiar risk the ranks now face.
The President pointed out that $7.2B has been allocated for security in the country this year and a significant portion is for the police.
Jagdeo also said that the government had to make sure that every police station across the country is safe and secure from criminal attack. Several police stations and outposts have come under attack since the crime spree erupted last year. "We have to upgrade the police stations to create an environment where people would want to work. This requires a lot of resources, but is necessary", he also contended.
Jagdeo urged the officers to devote some time during their deliberations to look at their operations in the context of their contribution to the development of the society. He noted that the police do not operate in a vacuum and were not isolated from the problems of the wider society. Nor too, he said, was Guyana an oasis isolated from the rest of the region where there had also been an escalation of criminal activity. He urged them to pay heed to the Guyana Declaration issued by the CARICOM Heads of Government as well as the other statement issued after their meeting in Trinidad and Tobago. He said those statements recommended an increase in community policing activity, which he noted was down for discussion at the conference.
President Jagdeo also noted criticism about his administration's failure to seek assistance from friendly governments. He denied that this was so, noting that eight months before US diplomat Stephen Lesniak was kidnapped assistance was requested from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In earlier statements President Jagdeo said that the FBI had referred him to a number of private agencies.
He said too that the training of the proposed SWAT unit was being hampered by the refusal of the British government to use the equipment, which the force has - namely the AK-47 rifles.
He cautioned that the challenges facing Guyana as a result of the escalation in criminal activity had to be addressed by Guyanese as no country would send their forces to do the job.
President Jagdeo also stressed the need to update the status of the force stressing that it must be an organisation where people could pursue a career and he promised to increase the opportunities for training as enjoyed by the army.
He said training would address the new challenges facing the force such as situations involving hostages and terrorism with every policeman exposed to the training which went beyond routine police work.
He also disclosed that the government was seeking a US$10M facility from the Inter-American Development Bank to deal with several issues in the force, including solving ranks' material concerns. He stressed that the government had advised the bank that it would be unwilling to access the facility if it were only to be used for advice and more studies.
President Jagdeo asked the officers to rigorously test all recommendations from the donor countries on training, against their experience in the field. He also promised that once the Service Commissions were in place the issue of promotions would be addressed as he was aware that these have been delayed for a number of years and have had an effect on morale. Commissioner (ag) Floyd McDonald in his address said that the inability to fill the vacancies for 36 officers and 34 inspectors was causing severe difficulties as the shortages had placed a severe burden on the management of the organisation.