Jun 13, 2010 Editorial
On May 16, 2003, after the citizens of this country had been terrorised, brutalised and forced to cower behind their doors in fear, by ever escalating waves of mayhem and violence unleashed since the end of 1997, Parliament established a Disciplined Forces Commission (DFC) to propose what might be done to retool an obviously ineffectual arm of the state that was supposed to maintain order. The authority for its action was a special clause inserted into the Constitution when it was revised in 2000 mandating that such commissions could be constituted to “make recommendations generally with a view to promoting their greater efficiency and giving effect to the need in the public interest that the composition of the disciplined forces take account of the ethnic constituents of the population.” It was obvious by then that the problems of the Disciplined Forces were deeply structural and would not be resolved by cosmetic tinkering.
The Commission, perhaps flogged on by the ongoing carnage, worked with unflagging energy and presented its recommendations (DFR) within a year – May 6 – to the Speaker of the Assembly. Drawing from submissions from all sectors and strata of Guyana, there were 164 recommendations in all – almost half of them (71) focusing on the Guyana Police Force. It was widely accepted that the proper functioning and integrity of this institution, the most ubiquitous in its dealings with the public and as the first line of protection against criminal elements, was critical.
To everyone’s surprise, however, the Special Select Committee established by Parliament, with high ranking members of the two major parties – Mr Bernard De Santos as chairman, Ms Gail Teixeira and Mr. Doodnauth Singh (government) and Clarissa Riehl and Debbie Backer, Basil Williams and Raphael Trotman (PNC) – did absolutely nothing with the Report apart from spasmodically pointing fingers in various directions when for one reason or the other, the matter of police reform arose.
And, of course, these occasions were not infrequent: malpractices inculcated over decades do not just disappear. By the end of the eight Parliament in 2006, the only development by the Committee was probably the change in designation of Mr Trotman from being PNC to AFC and his subsequent withdrawal.
The matter of the DFR was only raised in July 2007, when the new Parliament established another Select Committee to review the Report – the members (especially from the opposition) were the same old suspects with PM Samuel Hinds replacing the departed De Santos. While some still chanted for “police reform” there was never a focus on the DFR.
In the meantime we had the high profile massacres of Lusignan and Bartica (and their sanguinary dénouements) which prompted some of the opposition members to once again wring their hands and allow that maybe they had not been as diligent as they could have been on the DFR. The government maintained its line that reforms (many mentioned in the DFR) were proceeding apace.
They never offered any credible answer as to why matters were allowed to drift so listlessly in the Committee. They were, after all charged with responsibility for the nation’s security.
Now in the midst of an unseemly exchange between the administration and a departed senior officer of the GPF, the unprofessional shooting by a policeman of a schoolboy, robbery under arms by a Police Sergeant, we had the Committee submitting its recommendations about reform of the Disciplined Forces, what can we expect? If history is any guide, absolutely nothing.
It should be clear by now that the issue of Disciplined Forces Reform in general, and police reform in particular, is not of overriding importance to our legislators – both those on the government and the opposition benches. How else can we explain their lassitude over the last six years?
There have been walkouts in parliament and picketing of the same institution over all sorts of matters during that time: have we ever seen one on the state of the Disciplined Forces reform process? No amount of unctuous handwringing and self-flagellation will alter that sordid fact.
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