As a member of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee for the Security Sector, I have been taking special interest in the performance (or lack thereof) of the Public Security Minister, the Honourable Khemraj Ramjattan.
Apart from his arrogance and total disdain for the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Ramjattan is someone you would want to have a beer with. He is approachable and is never afraid to speak his mind, which often gets him into trouble.
I honestly believe he wants to accomplish his goals in the security sector but lacks the vision to do so. He listens to the needs of the brave police and prison officers and appears eager to fulfill those needs, but he is powerless to do so. While Ramjattan may be accessible and approachable as a person, as the Minister of Public Security, he is a complete failure.
This is a man who despises Bharrat Jagdeo and the PPP so much, that it is said he demanded the security portfolio as part of the Cummingsburg Accord with one goal in mind, to put the “corrupt” leaders of the PPP behind bars.
This would explain his focus on working with the UK Security Expert, Sam Sittlington and SOCU to prosecute Anil Nandlall, Ashni Singh and others, while neglecting the urgent need to do something to end the vicious cycle of crime that is destroying lives and commerce, prompting the UK Governments to issue the following Travel Advisory to its citizens: “Crime levels remain high and police capacity is low. There are regular armed and violent robberies against businesses and individuals… Muggings have taken place in broad daylight. Burglary and theft from cars are commonplace. Take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings… Take extra precautions to safeguard your passports, money, tickets, mobile phones and other valuables. Even if you are staying with family, do not leave valuables in view. Keep them somewhere less obvious than your baggage. Use hotel safes if possible. You should be particularly vigilant when leaving local banks to ensure that you are not being followed. In Georgetown, avoid the Tiger Bay and Albouystown areas and take care in Sophia, all of south Georgetown, Buxton and Agricola. Take particular care in the Stabroek Market area where robberies are a daily occurrence.”
While I can find no fault with this Advisory, I wonder if the British Foreign Office is aware that their security expert, Sam Sittlington, whose services are paid for by British taxpayers, is actively engaged in a political witch-hunt to prosecute high ranking PPP members, rather than going after the drug traffickers and money-launderers he was employed to do. Perhaps it’s time the Foreign Office account for his actions.
In Guyana today, people no longer feel safe in their homes. Crime is running amok everywhere, raining terror on a population that is already stressed out trying to make ends meet. More and more families are being deprived of their valuables, communities ravished and businesses left vulnerable.
In 2015, the APNU+AFC coalition campaigned on a platform to get rid of corruption and to “reduce the high rate of armed robberies and murders.”
And immediately upon gaining office, this government embarked upon a security recruitment drive and pulled several high-ranking former military and police officers out of retirement to achieve this objective. They have failed miserably!
Since Ramjattan became Minister of Public Security, he has brought the entire security sector in disrepute: In March 2016, seventeen (17) prisoners were burnt to death and 11 others injured in what was described as the worst prison riot in our history. Then in July 2017, during the blazing inferno of the Camp Street Prison, a prison officer was murdered and 8 notorious, hard-core criminals escaped, two of whom are believed to be still on the run. Since then, there have been several more well-organized prison breaks.
Everyday reports of armed robberies, murders and domestic violence dominate the news.
Prisoners, with the aid of some rogue prison officers, are now openly defying authority. At the New Amsterdam Prison, narcotics, alcohol and other contraband were recently discovered in the prison yard.
And an inmate there flaunted the breakdown of authority in the prison system by posting a photograph on facebook with fellow inmates in a cell, cerebrating Mother’s Day with several bottles of high-end liquor. During a search of the Lusignan Prison a quantity of illegal items were also found: Improvised weapons, cellphones, cellphone batteries, phone chargers, phone cards, cannabis, cannabis seeds and a cannabis plant. Earlier, a cutlass and a knife were found outside of the north eastern fence of the holding bay of that Prison.
I am pleased that Prison Director Gladwin Samuels, a young professional whom I have tremendous respect for, has been able to identify and get rid of five of the corrupt prison wardens involved in the smuggling of contraband into these prisons, for he is often expected to manage the prison population with insufficient resources and personnel.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that a basic requirement to secure any prison facility is high definition surveillance system and the use of full-body scanners at the entrance of every prison facility. Whatever the cost, these security measures must be procured and installed immediately, The Prison Director should not have to wait on the 2019 Budget to get this done. All Minister Ramjattan needs to do is to come to Parliament with a Supplementary Budget. Government do this all the time for far less urgent matters.
Since 2015, the state of the economy has declined rapidly with the loss of over 25,000 jobs and higher taxes. For most families, there is little or no disposable income left after paying utility bills; rent/mortgage; and living expense. The lack of jobs and high cost of living may be tempting some to engage in criminal activities to provide for their families. After all, desperate people are known to do desperate things.
On June 29, Minister Ramjattan got his face on the front-page of the Guyana Chronicle with a caption that shamelessly reads, “Gov’t makes ‘half-a-mil’ in pay-outs”. The article covered the presentation of a one-off payment by government of a meagre $100,000 each to five families of Guyanese fishermen who were brutally murdered by pirates off the coast of Suriname.
But this was only done after the PPP had brought a Motion in Parliament urging the government to offer financial support to these families, for Ramjattan had made it clear to them in Suriname that they should expect none. It would have been kinder if government had increased this amount to $300,000 each, the estimated cost of a decent funeral.
Nevertheless, I’m sure Minister Ramjattan was happy to be seen in a positive light at a time when just about everyone questions his ability to get the job done. How many more victims must be shot? How many more lives must be lost? How many more cars stolen? How many more women must be forced into prostitution? How many more businesses must be robbed? How many more Guyanese must be discouraged from returning home? How many youths must be forced into a life of crime? And how many more families must be deprived of their life’s savings before the Hon Minister of Public Security realise that he has failed to protect the Guyanese people and is totally unsuitable to serve in that capacity? When will Minister Ramjattan finally accept ministerial responsibility and resign? Will he ever?
PPP Member of Parliament