Foreign military officers cleared for CWC here
By Neil Marks
March 16, 2007
THE National Assembly yesterday commended into law agreement for foreign Police and military personnel to visit Guyana during the period of Cricket World Cup (CWC) and for them to be granted special privileges and immunities.
Home Affairs Minister, Mr. Clement Rohee, who took the three pieces of legislation through the House, stated that the same privileges would be enjoyed by Guyanese police and military personnel who go overseas to assist fellow Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states also hosting the tournament.
In a supplementary motion taken to the House in the name of Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, the National Assembly approved the deployment of Guyanese soldiers to other Caribbean countries hosting CWC, deemed the third largest sporting event in the world.
Opposition Members of Parliament called for the minister to say what foreign forces are likely to visit Guyana, but he did not respond definitively.
Rohee stated that an international advisory group commissioned by CARICOM heads of government had visited South Africa, the last host of CWC, and India, a major cricket nation, and they both agreed to send police and military personnel to the region.
According to reports, India has sent two bomb disposal squads from the National Security Guards to work in the Caribbean during the tournament, and most of the top eight cricketing teams travel with security staff.
During the debate for the passage of the Security Assistance (CARICOM Member States) Bill 2007, Mr. Aubrey Norton of the main opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) suggested that the House was being asked to “rubber stamp” what the regional heads had already agreed to, since the Bill sought to give force to the Treaty on Security Assistance which heads of government of the regional body agreed to in St Kits and Nevis in July, 2006.
He said akin to the CARICOM Civil Society Charter, there should have been consultation before the Bill was taken to the House, but Rohee argued that the treaty was agreed to after the heads would have been advised by their respective foreign ministries, legal departments and, in Guyana’s case, the local Police Force and the Army.
Norton, as well as Alliance for Change (AFC) member Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan, found the Bill wanting in that it did not describe what constitutes “national and regional crises to combat serious crimes” for which the treaty dictates the injection of the security mechanism for “expedition, efficient mobilization and deployment of regional resources”. Norton posited that since the there was no clear definition the government here could invoke it at its “whims and fancies”.
Ramjattan said it was worrying too that pertinent national security information would have to be shared with a nation such as Suriname, which used gunboats in June 2000 to eject Canadian oil company CGX from an area of Guyana’s exclusive economic zone. The dispute is now before a UN arbitration panel for settlement.
Norton found strange too that Guyana signed on to the treaty which states that the Central Liaison Office of the Regional Security System would be designated the Coordinating Secretariat of the Security Assistance Mechanism even though this country is not part of the RSS.
NO `DRAGONS IN THE SKY’
Rohee allayed these fears by pointing to the treaty itself which states that the Joint Strategic Coordinating and Planning Committee would comprise the coordinator of the RSS and the Forces Commanders. In Guyana’s case, he said representation comes from the Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force and the Police Commissioner of the Guyana Police Force, and thus dismissed the opposition as taking the “spaghetti approach” and the “conspiracy approach” to score political points.
“Let us not on the eve of Guyana’s hosting of the Super Eight matches of CWC invoke ‘dragons in the sky’ when we are waiting to welcome all,” he declared.
The Visiting Forces legislation will give foreign officers working alongside law enforcers in Guyana the same powers that local officers enjoy. Some of the officers will be following specific teams from venue to venue.
The legislation provides for the civil courts in Guyana to have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over members of visiting forces, and it authorises the Defence Board to order the arrest of a member of a visiting force or a dependant at the request of the officer in command of the Force.
The legislation provides for the visiting forces to be exempted from certain taxes and duties, including import duties and income tax.
PNCR Parliamentarian Mr. Basil Williams said the legislation basically gives the visiting forces the same privileges of a “normal diplomat”.
He charged that the Bill was “a no ball” since it has absolutely noting to do with CWC and there is not mention of the cricket tournament in the legislation.
Rohee concurred, but he said the spirit of the bill provides for activities surrounding Guyana’s hosting of the games, namely the need to beef up security and to ensure that the tournament is in “safe and secure hands.”
Rohee accused Williams of being smacked with the “suspicion syndrome” when he suggested that the presence of the foreign forces for “official duties” was too vague, since the government could call in them, say for quelling street demonstrations and the like.
The minister said the legislation reflects the “one size fits all” position since the law was not designed for Guyana only, but the rest of the Caribbean. He said countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia, and Grenada will keep the legislation in force, but for Guyana it would enjoy the status of “sunset legislation” since it will end on June 30, when the tournament would have ended.
The third piece of legislation, “Status of Visiting Police Officers Bill”, provides for the presence, activities, privileges and immunities of police forces of foreign countries and certain civilian personnel accompanying the forces during visits here for the staging of CWC 2007.
It gives immunity to the members of the visiting foreign police forces from civil and criminal proceedings in Guyana in respect of action taken by them in the course of their official duties. In addition, it empowers the Commissioner of Police here to regulate the possession and carrying and use of explosives, ammunition and firearms by the members of the visiting police force.
Further, it empowers the Minister of Home Affairs to determine the functions of every visiting police force.