The security of the East Bank corridor
November 23, 2006
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After the hype of the highly-publicized opening of the national stadium by the Vice-President of India earlier this month, the verdict of the International Cricket Council's Venue Development Director that there was "still a lot of work to be done" in the short time left for the start of the Cricket World Cup 2007 came as a deflating reminder of the limitations of Guyana's resources.
Inevitably, apprehensions also arose about the public safety situation and the state's ability to guarantee security during the single largest international sporting event in the country's history.
This newspaper recently reported the comments of Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee who agreed that citizens' security concerns were justifiable. The Minister seemed to think, however, that like the East Coast corridor, the East Bank corridor could also be made safe and secure. But there are many differences between the East Bank and East Coast.
The most serious is that two East Bank villages have been the scenes of macabre mass murders in which the perpetrators unhurriedly committed their crimes and casually departed without having to bother about police interference. On 26 February, eight persons in Agricola and Eccles were killed and, on 8 August, one person at Bagotstown, one at the Eccles Industrial site and five more were killed at the Kaieteur News printery at Eccles.
On 2 August, four members of one household were found murdered at Grove and, for most of the year, there have been isolated murders on the East Bank: in January at Agricola; February at Agricola, Diamond, Eccles, Grove, and McDoom; March at McDoom; July at Soedyke; August at Grove; and, in September, again at Agricola. This is a pretty high murder rate for a rural area.
The East Bank corridor is a vital national transport artery. It is the sole roadway not only from the Cheddi Jagan International Airport Timehri to the national stadium at Providence and the city of Georgetown but also to Linden, Lethem and the hinterland and to the West Bank and West Coast Demerara.
By international highway standards, the road is relatively narrow, overloaded and susceptible to congestion as occurred during the recent reconstruction of the bridges and the rehabilitation of the roadway itself. With new housing developments between Hope and Houston, the population has grown, the number of vehicles increased and even everyday commuting could reduce traffic to a crawl.
The corridor has acquired a reputation for robbery and fatal accidents and its proximity to the Demerara River on the west and cultivated areas on the east could allow criminals easy access. The rickety police stations and outposts on the 40km route are challenged for transportation, communication and personnel and there has been no sign as yet of significant upgrading of these resources.
Although the Minister of Home Affairs envisages increasing the police highway patrols along the East Bank Demerara corridor, these will not be enough. The country simply does not possess sufficient aviation and riverine transport resources to ensure protection against determined bandits who are familiar with the terrain.
With the large number of visitors expected for Cricket World Cup 2007, there needs to be new thinking to convince the International Cricket Council that the East Bank corridor will indeed become a safer place than it is now. For the CWC security plan, like the completion of the stadium, there is "still a lot of work to be done."