“GUYANA IS A SAFE PLACE”! SAYS JOE HARMON


Last Thursday the United States renewed its Level 2 travel advisory on Guyana. It advised travelers to exercise increased caution. The US’s four travel advisories range from ‘exercising normal caution’ to ‘do not travel.’ The recent shooting to death of three men at Black Bush Polder, Berbice, and another three men in a home in Norton Street, Georgetown, that they had invaded, is a backdrop to the travel advisory, which is the same level of caution that Guyanese would normally exercise.

Most who live or work in Georgetown avoid certain areas and exercise increased caution even when not in those areas. Most do not wear jewellery or keep it safely hidden on their person. It is not safe for women to walk with handbags or for men to have easily accessible wallets which are easy targets for pickpockets, with the aid of knife or gun. Reports of harrowing incidents fill our daily news and these are only the tip of the iceberg of what happens every day in our streets and homes. Many overseas Guyanese, particularly from Berbice, do not visit Guyana on holiday because of the crime situation. All Guyanese know that visiting relatives are an invitation to bandits, as the Norton Street incident demonstrates.

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THIEVING AND CORRUPTION ARE NOW PART OF THE NATIONAL CULTURE


Firemen are first responders who are required to help and protect victims and their property. While purporting to do so, many fireman seize the opportunity to steal from victims. The stealing of property by firemen from the Fly Jamaica aircraft which had mechanical problems and landed with some difficulty at the CJIA, is a shameless and sickening disgrace. It was far more extensive than has been reported.

In the past, burglars invaded my late parents’ home and stole a number of items. Four or five policemen came to investigate and as they were leaving, one of them swiped my father’s wristwatch from a table. Some years later, firemen entered the Cameron & Shepherd building in Avenue of the Republic, where I then worked and sill do. The top floor was on fire. After they left, all movable objects of value that could be fetched out had vanished. Long before then, criminal activity by members of the disciplined forces and corruption in the society had been simmering and growing. Corruption by prison officers has reached alarming proportions. Little of consequence was done by successive governments to stop the slide. The result is that it has now escalated by leaps and bounds throughout the country. Thieving and corruption are now part of the national culture. It includes murder in the course of robbery and paid killings, including by members of the disciplined forces.

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SYSTEMIC VIOLENCE AND CORRUPTION IN THE POLICE FORCE


This article below was first published in June, 2014, in a different political era. The recent shooting by the Police of three men on the seawall demonstrates the continuing relevance of the issues discussed at that time. I wrote as follows:

Violence and corruption in the police force can no longer be classified as allegations. They are real and are now an integral part of the culture of the Police Force and policing in Guyana. The sooner the authorities accept that these are chronic and systemic problems in the Police Force, the quicker there will be a serious attempt at a solution. No such attempt has yet taken place, even though modest efforts at ‘reforms’ have been made. But these have been attempted only reluctantly, after much public pressure and as an attempt to soothe public opinion. When public rage overflows, such as after the shootings in Middle Street, the public is offered the creation of a SWAT team. But the danger now exists that the Police Force will become so enmeshed and so entrenched in violence and corruption, that systems to protect these will take on a life of their own within progressively higher reaches of the Police Force.

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THE POLICE AND THE PUBLIC


It is not known whether the post of Commissioner of Police, which has become vacant with the retirement of now former Commissioner, Seelall Persaud, will be advertised to facilitate applicants from Guyana and the Caribbean, or will be ‘selected.’ President Granger implemented that policy in relation to the posts of Chancellor and Chief Justice, for which he had argued forcefully as Leader of the Opposition. It was productive because one such applicant was nominated for the post of Chancellor. Consistency demands that the position of Commissioner of Police be similarly advertised so as to attract the best qualified from Guyana and the region.

When appointed, the new Commissioner will recognize that without the cooperation of the public who provide information and intelligence, the capacity of the Police to solve crime would be severely diminished. It appears that such cooperation was significantly enhanced during the tenure of Commissioner Seelall Persaud. This saw a heightened crime resolving effort by the Police which deteriorated as soon as the Police came under public attack at the recent inquiry and the negative consequences of that inquiry. It is hoped that under new leadership the Police will revive its effort at good community relations which is recognized the world over as vital to crime-solving.

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INVESTIGATING THE INVESTIGATORS


The public has been gripped over the past few weeks by the evidence which has been emerging from the Commission of Inquiry (‘COI’) into the alleged plot to assassinate President David Granger.

The COI was announced on July 11 and Demerara Waves quoted parts of the Terms of Reference (‘TOR’): “The Commission will review all actions taken by the Guyana Police Force and examine whether there was evidence failure, neglect or omission to thoroughly or properly investigate the intention or plan to assassinate the President and determine whether such failure or omission was intentional…The Commission of Inquiry will also seek to determine whether any person and, in particular, officers of the Guyana Police Force had any information before and after reports were made of the plan to assassinate the President and whether any such officers communicated that information to a superior authority.”

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