Ghostly groups Editorial
Stabroek News
November 9, 2003

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The Government does not appear to have noticed, but the public has: the crime wave is not over. Certainly, it is taking a form which at the moment has a less corrosive effect on our collective sense of security than was the one which ended a few months ago, although that does not mean that the average citizen now feels safe. It is not just the mysterious kidnappings and ‘executions’ which are destabilizing the community, however, it is also the fact that in some instances witnesses have stated that they thought victims were being arrested by the police, because the abductors included among their number one or another policeman whom they recognized.

The force has denied that it is involved, and in fairness, no rational citizen believes that the police force, qua police force, is behind any of the current unexplained disappearances and killings. Having said that, of course, it does not mean that individual policemen do not have illegal connections with a group or groups implicated in some of the ongoing violence. In fact, the evidence, such as it is, suggests that this indeed could be the case.

The phenomenon of policemen hiring themselves out to businessmen or whoever to provide them with security, or to investigate robberies perpetrated on their premises goes back to the PNC days, as does the general culture of the ‘raise.’ However, it is clear from the evidence which emerged from the Thomas Carroll hearing in the United States, that at least one segment of the force had crossed the line even further, acting as enforcers in a visa racket. It was members of this segment too who were particularly associated with extra-judicial killings, although it must be said that this problem as well has a history going back to PNC times.

And then we come to the fifteen months or so when the capital and lower East Coast were held hostage to a criminal gang(s) whose primary base was in Buxton. It has not escaped the notice of citizens that there was an armed group - which seems to have included policemen, but which did not appear to be under the control of the administration of the force - that seemed to be in confrontation with the Buxton criminals. Exactly who they were has never been acknowledged publicly, although Dr Luncheon at one briefing did make reference to “a body out there that is involved in criminal activities,” which was not linked to the escapees. In a moment of inspiration he dubbed this group the ‘Phantom Force.’ The name has stuck. However, when President Jagdeo was asked about them in June this year, he disingenuously shunted the question aside, claiming he was unaware of the existence of such a group.

The President can pretend all he will, but the public - both his party’s supporters and those who back the opposition - came to their own conclusions a long time ago. Out on the street ordinary people are convinced of the existence of this shadowy squad. There may be variation in the details from one person to the next, but there is consensus on the generalities. Are we to conclude, therefore, that the population is better informed than the President, or is it that the citizens of this land are delusional? On the other hand, is it, perhaps, that the powers-that-be are playing ostrich again?

While we are not yet in the position of Brazil and Colombia, for instance, the warning signs are there. Colombia’s paramilitaries in particular, are notorious, and while they were born out of a society’s sense of total insecurity and the ineffectualness of the official army and police in dealing with the situation, they eventually took on a life of their own. They now represent the same kind of threat to citizens in the areas under their sway as do the FARC and other guerrillas.

The authorities have made statements about the resuscitation of the Buxton gang, and about drug wars. They have to be equally concerned about rogue policemen who may be associated with gangs which first catapulted to public notice at a time of crisis, when the police had demonstrated a total inability to cope. Such groups in their own right represent a canker in the body politic, not an antidote for a morbid condition.

The only agency which should be engaged in day-to-day law enforcement, is the Guyana Police Force. The shortcomings of that body are only too well known, while some of its needs have been set forth by current Commissioner McDonald, and Commissioner-designate Felix to the Disciplined Forces Commission. Security in this era of narco-trafficking does not come cheap, but we will get the quality of security for which we are prepared to pay. What is downright dangerous is to try and achieve security - either by intent or default - through extra-constitutional means; if such means seem on the face of it to offer a temporary alleviation of one problem, we will nevertheless be creating another of no lesser dimension.

If the police force is to begin to function professionally and to root out corruption, it needs to be insulated from the vagaries of political influence on its operations. Police professionalism was undermined by political interference in the PNC days, and there is evidence that that continues under the present government. No police body can build up its professionalism or its esprit de corps unless its administration is independent. It has to be accountable, of course, to the people of Guyana, and there should be mechanisms in place to see that it is; however, it should not be required to be answerable to individual politicians. Orders should come down the chain of command, not from sources outside the force.

The point does not bear too much repeating: the nation needs an effective police force, not renegade ghostly groups.