More inclusivity, yet maintaining standards proposed by PPP to DFC – Forces must reflect demographics of Guyana - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

PPP delegates from left: General Secretary Donald Ramotar,
Robert Persaud, Shirley Edwards, Moses Nagamootoo and Ms Gail Texieira

The ruling Peoples Progressive Party, today, in defending its submissions to the Defence Forces Commission, called for more inclusivity in the Armed Forces, whilst high standards are maintained.
PPP General Secretary Donald Ramotar who spearheaded a team of Party executives including Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport Gail Texiera, Information Liaison to the President, Robert Persaud and executive and former Minister of Information, Moses Nagamootoo, said that the Forces, especially the Police Force, were, over the past 20 months, made to deal with a level of crime that they were not accustomed to.
He noted that new kinds of crimes emerged. Narco-trafficking is being regarded as the more central of the lot. The twelve-page document also referred to illegal trading in firearms, illegal trading in aliens, money laundering, smuggling, kidnapping and extortion and armed robberies as the more prevalent types of crime committed in today’s society.

New Crimes

A number of proposals were made in the document. These include efforts to combat
• The changing nature of crimes
• The ethnic imbalance in the Force
• Resource allocation
• Terms and conditions of service
• Rules of engagement
• The issuance of firearm licenses
• The powers of arrest and detention
• The Coroner’s Act
• The origin, course and development of extra-judicial killings
• Ways in which increased public support can be achieved
• The establishment and functioning of community policing groups
• The Police Complaints Authority/Ombudsman
• Decentralized recruitment and training and
• Financial accountability.

Ethnic Imbalance

The party submitted that ethnic imbalance in the Forces has its genesise in colonial times. It was the design of the plantocracy, the PPP General Secretary said, to ensure that the Indo-Guyanese sugar workers remain on plantations even after the abolition of indenturship, whilst at the same time, recruiting Afro-Guyanese in the Disciplined Forces. Ramotar said however, that there was a deliberate and politically motivated effort to sustain such an imbalance during the PNC era.
On this, Ramotar said that a rigid anti--Indian testing mechanism was initiated, making it almost impossible for Indians to be accepted into the Forces. In addition, the Forces were made to swear allegiance to the PNC at its congresses, creating a particular culture in the Forces.
Ramotar called for a process of sensitizing the Indian Guyanese populace to the benefits of joining the Forces, by those directly responsible for the recruitment drive. The ruling party also submitted that the prevalence of Christian practices and the non-existence of Hindu and Islamic practices were contributory factors. Currently, there is a Christian chaplain for every Force in the Joint Services. Ramotar said that the lack of dietary consideration is yet another contributory factor.

Rules of Engagement

The party submitted that anecdotal evidence suggests that the ways in which those rules have been, and are being enforced, have created concerns in the citizenry. Ramotar said this occurs at a particular period of time when there are incidents of political disturbances. He referred to incidents on the East Coast of Demerara earlier this year when people were being beaten, shot and robbed in close proximity to ranks of the Disciplined Forces. Yet no responses were made. The party General Secretary said a Disciplined Force where the country’s ethnic demographics is truly represented is essential. Chairman of the Commission, Senior Council Ian Chang, suggested that such an Force may only have face value, but Ramotar asserted that Guyanese of different ethnic backgrounds have been known to work in a spirit of camaraderie.

Firearm licenses

Ramotar on his party’s behalf submitted that there must be some form of criteria for the issuance of firearm licenses. He said that there is need for the issuance of licenses, especially to farmers, hunters and businessmen, but cautioned that at the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the Security forces to protect the citizens of the country.
He believes that the Divisional Commander should have an important say in the issuance of such licenses, but there should be an ultimate decision-maker in the form of the Commissioner of Police.

Powers of arrest and Detention

The PPP called for a proper sensitization programme for making the public aware of their rights in instances of arrests. The party also recognizes that the security forces should abide strictly with these rights so as not to infringe on the rights of citizens.

The Coroner’s Act

The PPP called for this to be reviewed. However, Ramotar said that this should not be viewed in isolation since the judicial system as a whole is at a stage where much leaves to be desired. This especially in terms of its slothfulness.

Extra –Judicial Killings

The PPP General Secretary said that extra judicial killings have their roots in the colonial era. However, it has continued into the PNC era but with political undertones.. He referred to the Enmore Martyrs, Jagan Ramessar and Bolanauth Parmanand, Dr. Walter Rodney and Father Dark as prime examples of how the PNC Administration asserted itself politically, utilizing the resources of the Disciplined Forces. This was done, he said, by the formation of Para-military groups within the Forces.
Ramotar noted that he is not so sure that any ethnic group is being targeted today or whether extra-judicial killings are more prevalent today than before. He said there is more sensationalisation of incidents by especially political talk-show hosts, in a society where the media is more prevalent and diverse.

Efforts to increase public support

The party submitted that the Administration must be congratulated for its consistent work with the leadership in the Disciplined Forces to adopt, introduce and sustain the implementation of measures to achieve the objective of improving public confidence in the Disciplined Forces through striving for ethnic balance.

Community Policing Groups

The party called for attention to be paid to the recruitment practices, functioning and establishment of Community Policing Groups. Ramotar said that the groups have existed since 1976 and recommended the enforcement of the rule that at least one policeman should be with a patrolling party at all times. He said many groups have attracted unjustifiable and unnecessary criticism.
This, the General Secretary said, is why greater regulation of the groups’ activities in necessary.

Police Complaints Authority/Ombudsman

He said that the party is supportive of the calls to put in place an independent Police Complaints Authority. It should be in the form of an investigative arm, which will increase transparency and objectivity in the investigation of allegations made against ranks. Ramotar added that there should be a body with more power than it currently has.
The submitted document suggested that the role of the Ombudsman in dealing with complaints is also important. He noted that a young career oriented person might be good for the post of Ombudsman, but the appointment of a retired Judge, for example, should not be frowned upon, since a retiree still has much to give in terms of service.

De-centralised recruitment and training/Financial Accountability

The party believes that the Administration’s efforts to decentralize training in the Disciplined Forces are welcome signs. More resources given to training, consistent increases in budgetary allocations to the forces are other efforts made by the Administration for which commendation was given by the party. In 1992, $589.5M was allocated for the Joint Services, with an additional $39M for capital expenditure. There has been a consistent increase over the last ten years. In this year’s budget, over $2.9B will be spent on the Disciplined Forces, with an additional $280M on capital expenditure.

The Disciplined Forces Commission is currently looking into allegations of unprofessional conduct by members of the Disciplined Forces, whilst accepting and eventually deliberating on recommendations for the general improvement and efficiency of the Forces.
The Commission is comprised of Senior Counsel Ian Chang as its Chairman, Irish Human Rights Activist, Maggie Byrne, Senior Counsel, Charles Ramson,former Guyana Defense Force Colonel and Publicist, David Granger and Attorney at Law, Anil Nandalall.