Decisive action needed on crime
Stabroek News
May 12, 2003

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With the wave of vicious - if spasmodic crime - continuing to unnerve the country, many had hoped that by now decisive action would have been taken by the government and its security forces to bring the situation under control. True to form, however, the government talks and the criminals pursue their murderous ways without much fear of apprehension or of being brought to justice.

And there had been grounds for optimism recently. Four events fuelled this optimism. The first ironically was the kidnapping of the US diplomat Stephen Lesniak and his release on the payment of ransom. While his abduction was no more damning than those of many hapless Guyanese there was a general feeling that the government would feel pressed and be under significant pressure from Washington to act in bringing the perpetrators of his Buxton kidnapping to justice. After all, the unanswered and unpunished kidnapping of an American diplomat - particularly one responsible for security of embassy personnel - would lead to a frenzied tolling of alarm bells and would further burnish the ego, credentials and legend of the perpetrators. There was also the view that American investigators who flew here would bring superior skills and resources to bear which would produce results.

The second event was the President’s surprising and exasperated public outburst that he had passed instructions to the security forces for Buxton to be `cleaned out’ and this had not been done. If there had ever been any doubt about the Commander-in-Chief’s intent to bring crime to heel that event sealed it. It was therefore the time for the Commander-in-Chief - the President himself - and his commanders to unfurl a plan and operationalise it. It was also the time to conclusively eliminate hindrances such as the vagueness and ineffectiveness of orders passed to the army in the fight against crime and poor co-ordination in this effort between the police and the army.

Third, the PNCR publicly recognised at a very high level for the first time that Buxton had become a safe haven for criminals.

The fourth event - as the President had publicly announced that he sought - was the political space to take on crime. This space was carved out through the subsequent dialogue between the President and the PNCR Leader and the mature and significant communiqué that the two signed.

These auspicious events have come and gone, yet, the citizenry remain besieged in a fort that grows increasingly fragile and is crumbling bit by bit to various enemies. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has come and gone and the only issue that has arisen is whether or not it submitted a report on its findings into the Lesniak kidnapping. Even high government officials flail in a sea of confusion over this. Meanwhile, the Guyanese intermediary in the ransom payoff for Lesniak has quietly left the country when she should have been speaking to the local authorities and adequate protection provided to her. Unfortunately, the police had performed appallingly in the investigation of the pre-Lesniak kidnappings and no perpetrator has been brought to account. The family of Heeraman Sahadeo is still waiting to find out what has become of the carpenter ever since he was abducted many months ago.

Amid all of the expectation of action and the fear that persists, the killings continue. The slaughter and carnage in Albouystown last week has become frighteningly familiar as has the feeble response of the authorities. And Buxton continues to be a no-go zone for decent law abiding citizens even if the criminals have kept a lower profile recently, obviously biding their time.

It’s all now up to President Jagdeo’s government and his security forces. The public is tired of waiting.

His government must return control of Buxton to law abiding citizens and restore the authority of the police force. Friday’s pre-dawn raid in Buxton which netted nothing was either a result of faulty intelligence or leaks in the system, both quite dangerous to the success of continuing police/army operations. The police must be able to resume professional and adept policing of the village supported by the army. There must be a sweep of the village for illegal weapons and wanted men. Following their recent annual conference, have the police applied their minds to this task?

Not a day goes by now without the wanton and unnecessary use of firearms - most of them illegal. A policy must be fashioned urgently by the government to liquidate this dangerous cache of arms and to identify the current smuggling routes for small arms and the suppliers. Unless this supply chain is broken, bigger problems loom.

There is also an urgent need for the specially trained, professional SWAT team which the President promised almost a year ago. Sure there are problems in sourcing weapons and doing other things but these problems are not insurmountable. They simply need attention and determined action by the government.

A jail-break by five men more than 14 months ago has burgeoned into a crisis of governance that President Jagdeo and his administration must show the public they are capable of overcoming right now.

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