By Kurt Campbell
[www.inewsguyana.com] – Improved fines and sentences are now in place for persons found using or trafficking illicit weapons in Guyana with the amendment to the Firearms Bill in the National Assembly on Thursday (January 16).
The Amendments which were voted down by the Opposition in March 2013 when presented to the House by Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee, gained the opposition’s support fully when it was read for the second time in the House on Thursday following its return by Attorney General Anil Nandlall.
Nandlall told the House that the amendment was simply intended to correct the lacuna in the Act, which existed.
He said there is no doubt that there is widespread use of illicit weapons in Guyana but argued that it is not just a problem for Guyana but for the Region at large. The AG said some 2.5 million illicit weapons are currently in circulation in the Region.
Nandlall also reminded of the several international treaties and agreements signed by the Government which demands that these amendments are done.
He told the National Assembly that the maximum punishment for a person found using or trafficking illicit firearms once it reaches to the High Court can be fined $5M or sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.
He believes the new fines and sentence captures the seriousness of the offense. Meanwhile, Opposition Member of Parliament and Shadow Security Minister, Winston Felix said the added amendments, which were voted down by his Party, including himself when presented by Rohee in March 2013 was now welcomed by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU).
He said all efforts to ensure that those involved in the trade of illicit weapons are dealt with condignly will get the full support of the APNU. Felix further added that while the APNU supports the amendments, it cannot stand alone. He said these amendments and the reform of the Guyana Police Force must go hand in hand.
“Laws alone cannot guarantee change… I would like to see greater professionalism from the Force” Felix said, adding that “I support all robust measures but do not support extra judicial methods to deal with this scourge.”
Also speaking on the issue was Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee. He spoke to efforts by the Government to prevent the penetration of illicit firearms into country.
Rohee also touched on the reform of the GPF. He told the House that the process has begun and conveyed sentiments it will not be an easy task. “We are not dealing with robots, we are dealing with individuals and it is these persons misbehave and bring disrepute against the Force.”
The Alliance for Change also supported the amendments without any objections. AFC’s Moses Nagamoottoo argued however that illicit weapons are not only used by criminal gangs or parts of the narco-trade but also in underground armory.
He urged parliamentarians snidely to be careful when they talk of importation of guns while adding that ‘many weapons are in the wrong hands’.
He said his party had also intended to bring the amendments before the House if the Government had not done since the party sees it as necessary.
While closing the debate on the amendments, AG Nandlall reminded that the amendments seek to close the gap that existed in the Act and is in keeping with international obligations.