By: Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP, Attorney-at-Law
A crime wave continues to engulf Guyana. With each passing day, the Government’s stagnant position in the face of this raging and dynamic inferno becomes more lamentable. Over the last few months, the addition of approximately 7000 sugar workers and pockets of a few more hundreds from the various sectors to the unemployment ranks has exacerbated the problem.
From all indications, the situation is expected to get progressively worse. Quite recently, a Senior Police Officer informed me that the Government has prohibited the Guyana Police Force from releasing crime statistics, which is normally done, at periodic intervals, presumably, to keep the population in the dark in relation to the level of criminality in the society. I am told that the Police Force simply does not have the man-power to investigate the deluge of reports of criminal conduct which are received throughout the country on a daily basis. As a result, many of these reports are no longer made to the Police because of the non-response. Yet the number of reports continue to be received are staggering and it is beyond the capacity of the Police Force to investigate each one.
In the face of this catastrophic reality, Minister Khemraj Ramjattan seems to be doing less and saying even lesser. The Government, as whole, seems blissfully unperturbed by this grave state of affairs. The last time the Government spoke of a crime fighting plan was nearly three years ago. Minister Ramjattan then informed the Nation that the Government was in the process of acquiring horses and dogs to boost the Police Force’s crime fighting capacity. These equine and canine additions to the Force are yet to be seen. When one adds to this equation, two of the largest prison fires in the English-speaking Caribbean resulting in the death of at least 18 prisoners and a prison break from which five prisoners escaped – all occurring just over a year, it forms a formidable basis for removal of the subject Minister.
Since there is no new initiatives emanating from the Government designed to tackle the crime situation, I humbly offer a few recommendations hereunder, which hopefully, may attract the attention of the Minister who seems trapped in an apparent slumber.
- There is a need for immediate statutory reforms specifically designed to increase the severity of penalties in relation to crimes of violence, robberies, break and enter, burglaries etc.
- Comprehensive sentencing guidelines need to be promulgated with an emphasis on mandatory custodial sentences and against the imposition of concurrent sentences for certain types of offences for example robberies, break and enter, burglaries etc.
- The enactment of a Bail Act (a draft of which ought to be with the Chief Parliamentary Counsel) which permits the grant of bail in respect of the aforementioned offences, only in exceptional circumstances.
- The recruitment and training of students who have completed the LLB program at University of Guyana but are not , or have not yet gone on to Law School and place them in the prosecutorial arm of the State to prosecute serious offences in the Magistrate’s Court; in relation to the most serious offences, if State Counsel cannot prosecute, then Special Prosecutors should be hired to prosecute the same.
- Branch offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions should be established in the counties of Berbice and Essequibo to be manned by an Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions and State Prosecutors, preferably from that county. These persons can advise on matters within the County in consultation with the DPP in Georgetown.
- The Commander of each Division must be equipped with a legal advisor resident within the Division who should function under the supervision of the Senior Legal Advisor to the Police Force stationed in Georgetown and in collaboration with the nearest office of the DPP.
- The Guyana Police Force is under strength by over 1000 persons. This has been so for the longest while. Yet there are more than a thousand trained Police Officers within the Force who are performing non-police functions. These Officers should be transferred to active duty. For example, the drivers, the dispatchers, the messengers, the secretaries, the clerks, the telephonists, the office assistants, even the persons who feed and bathe the horses and dogs are all trained Police Officers. These functions can easilybe performed by civilians.
- Concomitantly, the entire Immigration Department is manned by Police Officers. There is no good reason why the Immigration Department cannot be disengaged from the Guyana Police Force and staffed with civilians. So too should the Department which issues Certificates of Fitness, driver’s license and indeed the entire administrative machinery of the Police Force (for example Accounts Department etc.). These are all civilian functions which can be performed by civilians rather than trained police officers. Indeed, so it is done, in most countries. So within the Force itself one can easily find sufficient human resources to bring the Force up to strength, immediately. All these trained police officers who perform non-policing functions should be incorporated into active duty in the Police Force and be unleashed in the battle against crime.
- The Traffic contingent of the Police Force should be reduced immediately by 50% and traffic officers should be authorized only to direct traffic on the roadways.
- Roadblocks should only be erected when a particular emergency requires same. Traffic Police randomly stopping road users capriciously and then embarking on a fishing expedition to establish whether they have committed an offence, at road blocks and elsewhere, is absolutely unlawful, unconstitutional, constitutes harassment and is an exercise used to extract money from road users.
- The facilities at Police Stations must be improved. Simple facilities, like more telephone lines, should be installed. Police station numbers must be posted at conspicuous places within the communities and each station must be equipped with the ability to attend to calls and reports made in a timely fashion. The 911 emergency call system must function efficiently 24 hours a day.
- Each Division must be equipped with a SWAT team numbering not less than two dozen fully equipped to deal with exceptionally dangerous situations.
The above constitute just a few recommendations which come to mind. In their formulation, I took into account the cost factor. In my view, they will not constitute an undue burden on the Treasury. In any event, the Guyana Revenue Authority has surpassed its target for revenue collection for this half of the year by $40 Billion. The implementation of these recommendations will cost a mere fraction of that sum. Finally, I am aware that my critics will ask, and perhaps rightfully so, why were these reforms not implemented under the PPP administration. There were many reforms. Some of the above had started. However, I will concede that more should have been done. In any event, nothing stops this Government from fully implementing them and taking the credit therefor. After all, it is their time now.