Jun 29, 2016 News
When it was commissioned in 2014, there had been intentions for the billion-dollar forensic lab aback of the University of Guyana, Turkeyen campus to serve several important functions including bio-fluid and Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing. Former Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee had even assured the nation that it would always conform to international standards.
Fast forward to 2016, however, and the lab still has some way to go before it can meet international standards or even perform the aforementioned specialized functions. In an interview with members of the media recently, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan made it clear that much still had to be done.
One problem the Minister highlighted was the required expertise and level of qualifications of staffers at the lab. He stated that it was an impediment to the lab performing at its optimum and conducting highly specialized tests.
“They have reached the Bachelors and the Masters,” he gave as an example. “But the equivalent, highest ratings that you have to pass before you can get to do all these other things that are going to mean much to the court, is very important.”
He made it clear that what the state did not want was a substandard lab, where there could be lapses while handling evidence and test tubes. He noted that if there were any problems with record keeping or the quality of evidence; then defence counsel could tear the prosecution’s case apart.
“And especially when they are going to ask questions about the temperature and the air conditioning in the department. Because all of that helps in keeping the specimen together, to the extent that it can prove your case.”
“I don’t think that even that has been reached. Because right now, as we speak, the arrangement for the offices, the regulated temperatures required to keep these specimens (preserved) are not there. We might have to reconfigure the AC units and replace a whole lot of things. It will be costly, that’s why that forensic lab can only do things like documents, fraud and handwriting expertise.”
“But when it comes to blood type and DNA testing, you have to have a surrounding environment like that which is in Trinidad and Jamaica, and we don’t have that.”
Over the years, police have consistently had to send bio samples such as blood, hair and even synthetic material to countries like Trinidad and Tobago for testing. This is a process that can sometimes take weeks and even months.
As recent as last month, when the skeletal remains of a woman believed to be Babita Sarjou were dug up from a shallow grave in her husband, Sharadananda Narine’s yard, Crime Chief Wendell Blanhum had stated that samples would have to be sent to T&T for DNA testing.
The laboratory at Turkeyen was built under the Citizens’ Security Programme (CSP), and was a collaborative effort between the Government and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The CSP had three elements: Institutional modernization of the Home Affairs Ministry, Community Action Component (CAC) and modernization of the Guyana Police Force (GPF). The final component included strengthening its forensic capability.
The facility consists of a two-storey main building. The ground floors of the main building house the administrative offices, library and research centre, conference room, security monitoring, evidence submission and washroom facilities.
The first floor, on the other hand, supports the facility’s four departments; chemistry, toxicology, document and trace evidence. These four departments have six laboratories and an instrument room.
The Facility also has a single floor Service Building totaling 2,600 sq. ft. where the main electrical panels and transformer, vehicle inspection booths, ballistics as well as chemical and general storage are located.
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