As the PNC’s tenure inevitably winds down – time being longer than twine or running to the courts – crime is seemingly inevitably increasing. While this may appear to be ironic in view of its campaign Manifesto declaration that “the crime situation is the most pressing and most depressing problem facing ordinary Guyanese today. APNU+AFC pledge to ensure protection for all citizens, communities and institutions from threats to their well-being”, it is not. After four and a half years in office, Guyanese can now appreciate that the PNC simply mouthed whatever platitudes it felt would garner their vote, and never had any intention of fulfilling its promises.
But on the crime situation, citizens may have been excused for buying the PNC’s tale; if for no other reason than its ranks were so swollen with personnel drawn from the Disciplined Forces. It was not unreasonable to assume these personnel would give the PNC Government a head start in returning security to a beleaguered populace. Especially since their Manifesto outlined 27 specific measures to “address the breakdown of law and order”. But it soon became clear that there was another agenda at work.
The third recommendation was to “complete the implementation of the Disciplined Forces Report…”. Now one of the latter recommendations went to the heart of the contradiction in the Guyana Police Force – identified since 1965 – which militated against its professionalisation: the need for the Force to represent more faithfully, the composition of the populace. The experience in all the developed countries, especially the UK and the US, which have been advising the Government on reform, highlighted the need for this recommendation. But the PNC Government never incorporated this key policy in the slew of changes it made in the GPF since 2015.
It was in 2017 that the most significant changes were made, but these had nothing to do with the crime wave that by then had increased significantly. Using an allegation that the Police had not thoroughly investigated an “assassination plot” against him, President David Granger appointed a one-man Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate and make recommendations. Nothing came out in the inquiry to charge anyone for the “plot” – indicating that the initial Police’s dismissive assessment of the matter was correct. But Granger used the CoI’s Report to shake up the entire top brass of the Police Force. In the process, he placed junior officers over senior ones and banished those he felt were “friendly” to the previous PPP regime, to outlying regions. This left a very demoralised Force to face the crime challenge, since it was apparent to the lowest beat cop that political loyalty trumped professional performance in the GPF.
At the swearing-in of the new Commissioner and his deputies in August 2018, President Granger intoned: “Unless those officers are persons of integrity, intelligence and impartiality, this country will never be secure and our women and children will never be safe.” He was correct. But when a year later, when one of the Deputy Commissioners – the one who acts as Commissioner when the latter is absent – became embroiled in accusations of blatant corruption made by serving ranks, Granger chose not to appoint a CoI, but left the investigation to the GPF’s internal Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). Not surprisingly, nothing came out of the matter.
It should, therefore, not be surprising that while there are undoubtedly pockets of integrity in the Police Force, these are more the exception than the rule in all facets of this institution, which forms the front line in the battle against crime. And obviously aware of this state of affairs, the criminals have become emboldened in all areas of the country from Essequibo to Berbice; Georgetown to Lethem and all stops in between.
In the meantime, the influx of refugees from Venezuela, with their quota of criminals and the criminally minded – has added to the challenge of drugs and guns entering from our western and southern borders. While intended for transshipment, an increasing amount of the drugs are used locally creating a more dangerous group of criminals.