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Thursday, March 30, 2006
Guyana on the brink
Stabroek News
Anti-crime forum calls on US to do more
Deryck Bernard

A forum to discuss strategies to fight crime yesterday concluded that Guyana was on the brink of capitulating to the deteriorating crime situation and recommended that the US government should do more than just produce reports of the narco trade in Guyana, and should help restrict its own drug market.

The issues of justice and equity and the need for government to get on the platform with the opposition and condemn crime were also addressed. The forum, organised by the opposition parliamentary parties was held at City Hall and was well attended with several members of the diplomatic corps, non-governmental organizations and other political parties participating. Notably absent was the ruling PPP/C and members of government.

The country has seen a bloody start to this year with some 40 murders already recorded. Armed robberies have also soared and a tense security situation has developed ever since eight people were slaughtered on the East Bank last month. PNCR member, Deryck Bernard who presented a summary of the discussions announced that within two weeks, a document would be drafted on what was discussed and the recommendations made. He said this would be made available to the public.

There were two main presenters: Christopher Ram, Principal Partner of Ram& Mc Rae accounting firm and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Guyana, Dr, Michael Scott.

The forum agreed that crime was a serious problem, with many feeling that the authorities should be more proactive in dealing with the issues. The forum recognized that economic issues and development were part of the crime problem and there were suggestions that there must be a strategy to disarm the many criminal gangs.

The Guyana Police Force recently made a call for all gangs to surrender, stating that it would pursue them relentlessly. The forum agreed that there were too many guns on the streets and both the presenters and commentators felt that the political issue of national reconciliation could not be left the opposition alone.

Citizens spoke of the need for better governance, with emphasis being placed on the functioning of the courts and the public service. There were also calls for greater transparency within government and a no-nonsense approach to corruption. However many persons felt that corruption was endemic especially in government and among several public officials and private individuals. The forum stressed that the general breakdown in moral standards in society contributed to the crime problem and there was an appeal for young people to cultivate better attitudes. Education, training and job creation were mentioned as some of the things, which could help stop crime.

The forum also agreed that the morale and functioning of the police force must be improved and there were calls for the immediate implementation of the recommendations made by the Disciplined Forces Commission two years ago. As means of stopping crime, there were also calls for NGOs and other faith-based organization to get onboard and become more involved in formalizing programmes to help the vulnerable groups.

The functioning of the judiciary came under the microscope, but it was felt that citizens should not assume that judiciary was incompetent and corrupt and there was nothing, which could be done about it. All agreed it was both incorrect and impractical to talk about solutions to problems of crime, unless the twin issues of justice and equity were addressed.

Many persons felt that crime could not be addressed outside the issue of governance and as such, there was urgent need for good governance. There were calls for a re-awakening of political initiatives and reconciliation.

Bernard said several of the proposals could be implemented shortly if there was the political will and determination of the citizens.

"It is not enough for the opposition alone to be taking part in programmes like these but government should get onboard," Bernard commented.

Chairperson of the programme, Debra Backer of the PNCR said that all of the political parties were invited as well as the government.

On the issue of narcotics, the forum agreed that consuming countries must play a bigger role in helping countries like Guyana fight the scourge. It was noted that the matter of controlling the narco trade in Guyana had to be a matter for consuming countries like the US both in terms of their own domestic agendas in controlling crime and markets for drugs.

In his presentation Ram said that the events of the past three years in Guyana, beginning with the jailbreak, the escapees finding a home in Buxton and the recent blocking of the main section of the East Bank highway during the massacre which killed eight people have involved terror, death and destruction on a scale that has shocked whole sections for their brazenness, brutality and impunity. "Amidst all of this, perhaps preparing the script for ultimate Guyanese tragedy, we debate whether a minister of government with responsibility for security is right to turn to a known murderer and to phantom killers to arrest a deteriorating crime situation." Ram spoke about criminals who rob, terrorise and kill members of a different ethnic group and who make innocent children into child soldiers being called freedom fighters as well as the bugging and broadcasting of a telephone conversation allegedly between Police Commissioner, Winston Felix and PNCR member Basil Williams.

Among other things, Ram said, the prevalence of the use of lethal weapons in the commission of crimes and the inability of the police to recover such guns suggest that the time has come for an amnesty for all guns surrendered with the possibility of a financial reward to those which prove not to have been used in crime.

Dr Scott, in his presentation, said there would be no security without development and visa versa.

"The provision of the basic public goods of law and order is the only way the kind of security can be established in which people can concentrate their minds on development." According to Dr Scott, organised crime has taken on a significant dimension in Guyana. He noted that the criminal enterprise has become very professional and has threatened to undermine legitimate powers. He noted that authorities need to get tough on all forms of crime as well as its causes. He called for the decriminalisation of every institution of the state. Scott suggested that a more coordinated approach by all NGOs, church groups and the wider society would go a far way in helping to reduce crime. He subscribed to the mounting of campaigns, the signing of anti-crime pledges, crime watch in communities and the creation of better policing rather than vigilantes.

Scott also said that good and effective governance; respect for the rule of law and government's recognition of the role civil society can play in crime fight would all help.

The forum was held under the theme 'Unity for security - stand up against crime and violence'.

(Nigel Williams)