A few years ago, a former Commissioner of Police told the nation at his swearing in ceremony to hold him accountable. That was in the context of him being held responsible as the Top Cop presumably for the actions of the Force and crime fighting under his tenure.
Some years after, the current President, said he wanted an “unbribable” Top Cop. After that, the Officer appointed threatened to charge members of the public who offer bribes to the Police while at the same time urged ranks to desist from accepting.
There is a tremendous sense of moral value in the statements made by the three individuals; statements that are well-intended and good for public confidence. However, people want to see a sustainable manifestation into reality. This is not suggesting any impropriety on the part of the individuals to which the various statements can be attributed, but the reality on the ground is starkly different.
The threat to charge people for offering bribes, ironically, may have stemmed from numerous complaints from the public. While the Commissioner is spot on that bribery is a two-way street and arguments can probably be made that some members of the public may engage for ease of convenience, there are many instances of them being forced to do so.
The term, “royal run-around” is commonly used to sum up the sentiments of customers who believe they are deliberately being frustrated when seeking a particular service and/or the time-consuming voluminous-paper-work bureaucratic process to close a transaction. Many can relate when accessing some public services as some minibus operators who allege harassment by the Police and claims that relief is only through bribes.
While it is legally not right, these situations create the environment for bribery since tremendous value is attached to time and the easing of the pains of frustration. This of course is not confined to Guyana but common in many, if not all, societies with varying prevalence.
The argument has always been for the systems to be fixed to maximize efficiency and confidence through the removal of “red-tapes”, unnecessary long wait and favouritism. If that were to be done and officers who are found circumventing the process for personal gains are disciplined, then the possibility of removing/reducing bribery, may raise its head.
There is the strong belief that situations are deliberately exploited by some public officers to force the offering of a bribe. While there is national concern over the dangers and flagrant breaking of traffic laws by some road users, there are complaints by some minibus operators who claim of being compliant but made to face trumped-up charges so that a bribe can be paid.
With an average traffic ticket in the vicinity of about seven thousand dollars, with lengthy delays when stopped, including being asked to visit the police station, the imposed understanding is for the “offering” of half that amount in order to proceed and to avoid frustration.
Over the years, terms like “a towel” or a “granger” are used to indicate the amounts in question. This has become fodder for satire with other terms like, “write” or “left”, made popular. The former suggests a seeming bluff to issue a ticket while the latter, “leave something” as the alternative.
Reportedly, there have also been instances where some ranks blatantly demand an amount from drivers in effort to satisfy their alleged thirst or hunger. This practice is seemingly more prevalent during random stops and when some traffic cops “hide” and then suddenly present themselves at points along the various roadways.
Aspects of this prompted a response from the subject minister which suggested that such traffic operations be conducted in the vicinity of the stations and that ranks must not hide and “ambush” drivers.
The current Commissioner of Police also made it clear that if ranks are uncomfortable with their salaries, they should leave the job. That’s a fair comment especially when there have been numerous complaints of harassment for bribery leveled against some members of the Force. It would have been very useful if the Commissioner had stated that cops who are found guilty of demanding bribes will be charged. While it might have been implied, the clarity of language might have been more impacting.
For sure those guilty of breaking traffic laws be made to face the relevant penalty. This however has to be professionally enforced to build public confidence. What would also be useful, is to have sustained education on procedures of stop and search, traffic operations, issuing of traffic tickets and other areas considered to be of contention to the general public. Likewise, the same for public agencies that provide vital services. The few that have taken some steps towards that must be commended.
While education in the context alluded is not a panacea, it helps to reduce ambiguities leading to better understanding of processes. However, even with such good intentions, the current reality would cause optimism for holistic success to be low. This is premised on the seemingly engrained proclivity of some public officers for the status quo to remain so that benefits continue to flow. That underscores the need for sustain action as against words.