By Leonard Gildarie
The last few weeks have been highly stressful for Guyanese, especially with the Camp Street prison fire and escapes dominating the news.
There are a few things that glared blatantly at us. For years now, we have been hearing of rackets being run inside the prisons, with the guards overseeing schemes – profitable ones – to take contraband to prisoners.
As we speak, we learnt of a search on Thursday at the New Amsterdam prisons that unearthed improvised weapons, sharpened spoons and a quantity of cell phones.
Prison authorities believe that with the surprise search, they were able to thwart a plot to cause a disturbance. Any disturbance at New Amsterdam, to add to those shocking incidents and clear lapses at the Camp Street and Lusignan facilities, would have been totally unacceptable from a security point of view.
For Guyana to hear how prisoners dug a tunnel under the nose of the security ranks at Lusignan was a further blow to our confidence and sense of security.
The good news is that they have so far been able to capture more than half of the escapees. Eight dangerous, desperate men remain on the run. I know it is a matter of time before they are caught.
For the escapees who were captured, the police and joint service ranks who were doggedly on their trail, did remarkably well. A few cynics would wish that the men were killed.
Our country has to move beyond the time we can recall so vividly, when a few men in uniform decided that they had the right to become the judge, jury and executioner.
Much to the credit of this administration, since coming into office, almost every week at the post-Cabinet briefings, a long list of overseas trips for specialized training and forums are being announced.
These, officials say, are specifically designed to build our capacity. We are a growing country. However, like so many developing ones, we are struggling with the rule of law. People are committing all kinds of wrongs without regard for the laws.
Last week, we spoke of the situation in Trinidad and Tobago. Despite that Twin Island leading the way in the region and the Americas in terms of development, their one major challenge and nightmare remains the high crime rate.
Residents continue to point directly to crooked cops and politicians as playing a major supporting role for creating what has become a situation that has almost traumatized its people, who are now afraid to even go out and ‘fete’. Trinidadians love to party and for any situation to scare them like this is serious.
In Guyana, we have laws that are clearly outdated and clearly do not reconcile with our situation.
There is good news. Government is moving to modernize our Constitution – our supreme law – with the way paved now to establish a body to oversee the work.
I would love to see modern laws for drugs, including how this country intends to handle marijuana. A spliff gets a man a criminal record. Unacceptable.
We need adjustments to address the shortcomings of first-past-the-post system in elections and even stricter monitoring of our powers that be.
It is incomprehensible that the people who are supposed to be protecting us -representing us – are the ones that seem to be the biggest culprits. Security officials need now to make preparations that will see the tabling of tougher punishments for ranks who facilitate criminals.
It can no longer be a slap on the wrist for police ranks and prison officers. And, of course, for families.
Somebody allowed the lighters and cell phones to be taken in. The contraband items could not have made it over the fence at Camp Street unless the cameras were not working or the sentinels at the huts at four corners were all asleep at the same time or the cameras, which we spent millions of dollars to procure, were not working.
There is a video that is going viral on social media that accuses the prison officers, and even police that stand guard on the perimeter, of turning a blind eye for a small sum.
I rather suspect that they overlooked even weapons and other items when they were being passed.
We cannot have our prison guards, politicians, police ranks (lots of Ps here) and public servants to believe that they are above the fray. Even family members who encourage their loved ones to be breaking the law cannot be let off.
I hear of persons being accused of armed robbery being bailed because of no space in our jails.
I don’t agree with this. We are fostering a situation that can quickly spiral out of control, like Trinidad.
We look at what is happening in the White House with Donald Trump and understand one thing clearly. A number of high ranking officials, including the Chief of Staff, have been removed.
There is a lesson here…if one thing does not work, change it, replace it, get another.
We cannot allow the tail to wag the dog.
If there is need for a major management shakeup at the prisons and in the security forces, then so be it.
We have to demand better.
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