Bills for World Cup security aid passed
By Andre Haynes
March 16, 2007
The National Assembly yesterday passed three bills to enable security assistance to Guyana during the Cricket World Cup (CWC) 2007.
The bills received unanimous approval from both sides of the House, although members of the opposition did voice their concern about some of the provisions of the laws. The Security Assistance (Caricom Member States) Bill 2007, the Visiting Forces Bill 2007 and the Status of Visiting Police Officers Bill 2007 were piloted through their final stages after the parliamentary rules were suspended to enable their second and third readings. They were all passed with amendments, including sunset clauses in the case of the latter two. Parliament also approved a motion for the deployment of members of the army in Caricom territories that are hosting the CWC.
The new laws seek to give effect to the implementation of the regional security plan approved by Caricom governments for the hosting of CWC 2007. Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee, who piloted the bills, told Mem-bers of Parliament that the community-wide security system was envisaged in light of the recognition that member states lacked resources in their security forces to ensure the safety and security of the host countries, teams and spectators during the World Cup. Apart from member states and associate member states, South Africa, Canada, the UK, France and the Netherlands Antilles are also designated states that would provide police forces and an accompanying civilian component.
The Security Assistance Bill gives the force of law in Guyana to the Treaty on Security Assistance among Caricom Member States, which was concluded on July 6, 2006. The Treaty deals with the establishment of the Security Assistance Mecha-nism for CWC; the establishment and functions of a Joint Strategic Coordinating and Planning Committee; the establishment and functions of a Coordinating Secretariat; and the appointment and duties of a coordinator and a budget. The Treaty also makes provision for areas of cooperation, including, combating threats to national and regional security; minimizing the incidence of serious crime; and preserving the territorial integrity of the contracting states. The contracting states comprise the nine ICC CWC 2007 host venues, the Bahamas, Belize, Dominica and Suriname, and the Regional Security System. According to the amendment tabled by Rohee, the Home Affairs Minister may by order specify a date on which the law would expire.
PNCR-1G MP Aubrey Norton registered his concern over the provisions of the Security Assistance Bill, including the fact that it could be extended beyond the CWC. He pointed out that the Bill was also vague about defining "serious crime" and "regional crisis," and he expressed fear about potential abuses of the murkiness. He also said that while the bill is a fait accompli to the Treaty on Security Assistance among Caricom Member States that has already been signed by Guyana, the drafting of the legislation did not allow for the kind of participation to ensure it reflects the people. And while Norton took pains to emphasise that the main opposition party is all for regional integration, he said there were reservations about having the Regional Security System coordinate the security arrangements, since Guyana is not a member of the body.
AFC MP Khemraj Ramjattan agreed, while also adding his fears about the lack of information about the funding for the security arrangements. He also expressed fear about the potential ramifications of Suriname's participation in the arrangement in light of that country's existing border dispute with Guyana. Ramjattan cited the New River Triangle incident and he questioned whether sensitive information could be shared that could create problems now or in the future. While Ramjattan generally supported the bills he did decry the fact that while the arrangements have been made in the short term for the CWC, similar arrangements have yet to be worked out with the FBI and the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to empower their agents to deal with large-scale drug trafficking in Guyana - a prospect he viewed as more important for the country in the long term.
Rohee viewed their apprehensions as attempts to gain political mileage from sensitive issues. He said that consultation was only natural as a part of good governance. He also explained that while Guyana is not a member of the Regional Security System, under the Treaty it is enjoined to the body as a contracting partner. In relation to Norton's concerns over the potential abuses of provisions for combating crime, he said the country would not return to those days. Further, he also warned against invoking 'dragons in the sky' on the eve of Guyana's hosting of the Super 8 Matches. Rohee also repeated President Bharrat Jagdeo's charge that the US has refused to give tangible aid to fight drug trafficking here.
The Visiting Forces Bill seeks to make provision for the armed forces of certain designated states visiting Guyana and for related purposes. The Bill makes provision for jurisdiction and immunities relating to the visiting forces; claims for personal and property damage; taxation including exemption from taxation; coroner's inquests; attachments to and from the Guyana Defence Force; and regulations and repeal of the visiting forces act. Rohee said the Bill is patterned after Jamaica's legislation and is based on the principle of reciprocity. He did note in particular that while there are immunities outlined in the legislation, these would only be granted to visiting forces during the course of duty.
PNCR-1G MP Basil Williams said he was concerned over the absence of a sunset clause (although by the time of yesterday's sitting Rohee introduced the amendment specifying that the law would only be in place until June 30, 2007). He also articulated his doubts about the need for foreign troops in the region, especially since he felt that the description of their "official duties" was too vague. He also expressed the fear that the foreign troops could be used to intervene in local demonstrations like marches, and other constitutional forms of protests. But Rohee did point out that the legislation was not tailored to any particular country and there have been differing views about it. He explained that some countries have decided to leave out a sunset clause, making it legacy legislation since they see it as being beneficial beyond the CWC. Rohee was also keen to say that neither the government nor the governing PPP/C support foreign intervention in countries as a matter of principle, in response to Williams' fears about potential involvement in domestic matters.
The Status of Visiting Police Officers Bill makes provision for the powers and immunities of visiting police forces, the jurisdiction of civil courts and visiting police forces and claims against visiting police force and taxation. Rohee introduced a sunset clause to limit the law to the CWC period, which PNCR-1G MP Deborah Backer called a move in the right direction.
Although she lamented the late presentation of the bills to the Parliament, she said it was better late than never and she gave the unqualified support of the party. The related motion for the deployment of Guyana Defence Force troops overseas for the CWC also received the support of the opposition parties. AFC MP Sheila Holder urged that the troops be well taken care of to avoid any potentially embarrassing situations.