The Opposition and Police Reform
One of the most encouraging events that ushered in the New Year was the announcement by Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee of the Strategic and Implementation Plans for the Guyana Police Force (GPF) – 2013-2017. Even the most fervent booster of the GPF would concede that reform of that key institution was long overdue.
The State was invented to bring order in organised human collectives. The police are the modern institution to ensure that order and citizen security are maintained. From the very onset of the introduction of this institution in the early 19th century, there were concerns about the existential potential for its abuse: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guardians?).
The abuse could be initiated by either or both the ruling class or elements within the institution itself. In Guyana we have unfortunately been the victims of both types of excesses.
It is therefore rather disheartening to hear that even though the Opposition parties agree on the need and specifics of the proposed reforms, they have announced that they will not cooperate in the implementation unless their earlier demand for the removal of the Minister is met. Whatever the merits or demerits of the Opposition’s demand, they must agree that ultimately it is a political question, based on a partisan perspective.
Reform of the police force, on the other hand, transcends such narrow parameters. There was a time, not so long ago, when an overhaul of the GPF was demanded only by certain sections of the populace, but we have long moved past that hurdle. This unanimity of views on such a crucial and ubiquitous institution cannot be ignored or sidestepped. In fact it has the potential of initiating the wider political consensus that is needed if we are ever to have sustained and sustainable progress in our country.
It is interesting that the leaders of both Opposition parties have more than a passing interest in the security area. David Granger, leader of the combined opposition and of the APNU and PNC, was once head of the Disciplined Forces – which include the police – and also Security Advisor and head of the Defence Board to President Desmond Hoyte. He was also a member of the Disciplined Forces Commission that inquired into the reforms needed to set the GPF on a course that would actually enable it to fulfil its mission to ‘serve and protect’ the people of Guyana.
By his own assertion, Khemraj Ramjattan, leader of the AFC, took an early interest in the need to reform the police force and made several proposals towards that end to his then political party, the PPP.
In fact, he claims that he got into hot water with them over his espousal of reforms. With such backgrounds, the process of police reform can only benefit with their involvement from their parliamentary perch.
The reforms will need extra budgetary support – especially to fund the extra overseas training module that forms one of the key cornerstones on the Strategic Plan. Parliamentary debate is vital to ensure that value is received from such new expenditures. The Minister also promised that his Ministry will be making institutionalised reports to the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on the Security Sector.
This is a most welcome innovation and adds a further dimension to the increased civilian oversight built into the Strategic Plan. Most importantly it allows policy initiatives to be reviewed during the implementation state and beyond.
Finally it is our considered opinion that the Opposition is exercising poor political judgement in choosing to stand on the sidelines on police reform. The unanimity in agreement for reform by the public (which is, in the end, also the voting public) is matched by the intensity of their desire for such reform to be implemented sooner rather than later.
Police reform for Guyanese is literally a life and death matter for all Guyanese living in fear of crimes and banditry; for those enduring domestic violence and for those seeking justice for unsolved crimes.
We hope that good sense will prevail.