Crime and punishment
Freddie Kissoon column
Kaieteur News
March 18, 2007

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Many years ago, I did a GBC Viewpoint on the need for draconian measures to stop the social decay in Guyana . My arguments centered on crime and punishment.

I did the viewpoint as a reaction to one of the Ministers on the traffic situation. My point was that Guyana has to pursue zero-tolerance legislation to curb lawlessness on the road.

One of my suggestions was to have a substantial increase in traffic fines. He disagreed. His point was that corrupt traffic cops would take bribes and the offenders would escape the law.

That was almost ten years ago.

Look at the uncivilized deterioration on the roads and highways of this country since then. I found the Minister's analysis to be unrealistic and unintellectual.

One cannot think of the unintended consequences when one invents a machine. It is foolish to do so. For example, the number of deaths and injuries due to cutlass attacks are literally countless. Should this country stop selling cutlasses?

Likewise, there will always be corrupt officials, so why bother to pass laws. To say that if the Government increases, by a massive amount, the fines for traffic violations, corrupt policemen will take a bribe instead of charging them is an argument based on the denial of life itself.

Almost all of the foundations on which life rests will have to be questioned. Take the judiciary. One judge sits on a jury case. He alone directs the jury, normally a group of non-law people, on points of law. Why put one person to preside over a case when that person can take an inducement to misdirect the jury to achieve an acquittal.

The argument here is identical to the traffic cop. The judge has the power to decide the case. The policeman has the power to let the offender go.

The same judgement applies to politics. One person becomes president. That person has enormous scope for altering an entire country. He can become tyrannical or corrupt.

In life, there has to be trust. There is no alternative. If there is no trust, then there can be no laws. When laws are made, the assumption is that rational, decent human beings will apply the laws with objectivity and fairness. Such has been the history of civilized society. It has worked so far.

In Guyana , after 41 years of independence, this country has endured social decay in many dimensions of life. We have done nothing to stop the continuing rut. The only time our government acts, whether PNC or PPP, is when our traditional aid-givers demand that we do.

President Hoyte was forced by the Americans to pass the Anti-Narcotics Act. The present Government with breakneck speed enacted legislation against trafficking in people after the US demanded it. The same situation applied to the environment protection bill.

Crime and punishment in Guyana exist in a pathetic state. Unless we do something fast about the sickening deterioration of this country, we will end up as a failed state.

Guyana has one of the worst crime rates in the world yet the most a person can spend in jail if convicted for illegal possession of firearms is two years.

I contend that none of the countries we seek aid from have such a careless approach to nation-building.

I was amused when President Jagdeo lambasted the Americans in his speech to the Guyana Defence Force recently.

Whether you agree or not, American legislators are no-nonsense people. They have put severe penalties on people that are convicted of criminal offences.

In the US , wife-beating is viewed with tremendous anger. Here in Guyana , wife-killers seldom get more than ten years. The US does not joke around when it comes to traffic crimes. Immigrants, if they are not naturalized American citizens, are deported for second-degree traffic violations, much less the more serious offences. Drug crimes carry stiff penalties. So does making counterfeit money. Don't mess with Uncle Sam's taxes. If you do, you will serve time on being convicted.

Some years back, the world's attention was fixed on an American teenager who was caught spraying graffiti on parked cars in Singapore . He was ordered by the courts to receive a whipping then deported back to the US .

Many American organizations including legislators were indignant at the attitude of the Singapore Government but the sentence was carried out. This incident was all about the need to preserve the fabric of a society.

In Guyana , that fabric is very brittle but there is little we are doing to stop it from further rotting.

If there is any aspect of life in this country that cries out for attention it is the uncivilized use of the roads. If measures are not put in place as a matter of exigency, this country is going down the road to hell. There have to be severe measures to deal with drivers that have no place in a modern society.

What is mind-boggling is the lack of appreciation of the theoretical importance of crime and punishment by the people who are empowered to make laws for this country. People will not commit crimes if there is the pain of punishment. Take away punishment and civilization dies. It is as simple as that. If drivers have to pay $25,000 for vulgar parking, they will stop the irresponsible conduct.

Under the law, drug offences are not bailable and if convicted, a mandatory prison term follows. The Americans dictated that legislation because drug shipment from this country to the US is viewed by US politicians as a problem for American society. Here in Guyana , the disaster that has befallen Guyana 's roads and highways is not met with a similar draconian response as in the Anti-Narcotic Act which came to Guyana courtesy of the US .

One of the major killers in this country is traffic accidents. We must have the highest fatality rate in the world, per capita. Yet the madness continues. I have seen disrespect for lives of citizens on the streets by drivers you wouldn't imagine are capable of such crude and despicable conduct.

There is only one way to deal with this monster; bring in legislation that is similar to the Anti-Narcotic Act.

Dangerous driving and death by dangerous driving must not carry bail. A mandatory term of imprisonment must be imposed once severe injury or death occurs. The felon must be compelled to make compensation to the victim(s). Taxi companies must pay a fine once their drivers are found guilty. Suspend drives for a year for bad parking. After two convictions for the same offences, ban them from driving for five years.

Long, long ago, the philosophers saved civilization by inventing the concept of punishment. Civilization is in danger in Guyana . Common sense can save it.