In his response to a letter to the editor written by a ‘concerned junior officer’ of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), President Granger, through the Ministry of the Presidency, instead of addressing what appeared to be legitimate concerns raised by the junior officer chose to take aim at the PPP/C administration.
As Commander in Chief (CIC) of the GDF, Mr. Granger is expected to attend to all areas of concern, in including welfare issues of both serving and retired ranks of the army.
The President’s response came across as a dismissal of the legitimate concerns of a junior officer who had no alternative but to bring his concerns to the attention of the public. They appear to be matters that ought not to be thrust aside as whimsical pieces of folly.
The nation is at a loss to know whether the concerns raised will ever be addressed. No mention was made that they would.
The President skillfully avoided a public disputation with his junior officers knowing his response would not redound to his benefit because the officer’s missive centered around three central questions; why to control, what to control and how to control.
Junior officers constitute the majority of officers within the GDF. They are the backbone of the military. Senior ranks in the army rely on junior officers for the effective execution of orders pertaining to national security and the protection of our country’s territorial integrity.
What the junior officer’s letter brought to the fore, are tensions that arise from time to time characterizing civilian military relations in a parliamentary democracy.
To appreciate how these tensions manifest themselves in the military, it is necessary to recall the character of civil military relations under the tutelage of Forbes Burnham.
The Burnham administration never allowed the military sufficient leeway to shape Guyana’s national security policies.
With Independence and the PNC in office, Guyana eventually degenerated into an authoritarian state with an ethnically imbalanced and politically cultivated army. Because of the PNC’s determination to control the military and shape it in its own image, the GDF regrettably, did not evolve to become a trusted institution nor a bulwark of our country’s democracy.
The drive to control began with the removal of Major Raymond Sattaur, the only Sandhurst-trained Guyanese, who was the most qualified at the time to head the GDF following the departure of the British.
It would not be unreasonable to suggest, that the APNU+AFC administration, notwithstanding the recommendations in the Disciplined Services Commission Report, which Mr Granger himself co-authored, failed to broaden the ethnic diversity of the GDF both vertically and horizontally.
The end result being, only about ten percent of the army’s composition is made up of ranks of non African descent. Objectively, the army mirrors the national ethnic cleavages in Guyanese politics.
And as if its efforts at dominance were no sufficient, the PNC utilized the army to undermine industrial relations and to intervene in the electoral process to thwart the will of the Guyanese people.
For the most part, under the PNC, the GDF’s role in operations remained limited while policy formulation remained vested in the Defence Board and/or the CIC himself.
Since independence, the CIC post has always been occupied by a civilian, save for the current situation where David Granger, a former Commander and a retired Brigadier who now combines both President and CIC.
Ever since the Burnham era, the post of Chief of Staff remains the top career post in the GDF however, instances of influence peddling and political manipulations aimed at undermining the authority of the Chief of Staff became a hallmark of civilian rule under the PNC and now under the APNU+AFC coalition government.
It cannot be disputed that there have been instances when severe frustration and dissatisfaction surfaced within the ranks of the GDF primarily because political authority was exercised to supersede senior ranks in order to appoint persons of the CIC’s own choice to top positions.
Notwithstanding, persistent denials, efforts at micro-managing and exerting undue political influence in the management and operations of the GDF continue up to this day.
The junior officer’s missive clearly reflects the existence of this practice.
Historically, the PNC has always sought to project the GDF as its ‘territorial and political preserve’ thus the unfortunate perception of the military being viewed by many as a virtual arm of the PNC.
Under these conditions it will not be surprising to learn about contradictions within the PNC being reflected within the GDF.
The Junior officer’s letter brings out this mutually reflective contradiction.
Further, the class composition in the leadership of the PNC coincides with the class make up in the leadership of the military.
Under these conditions, the GDF’s political neutrality is therefore questionable.
It would not be surprising to read one day, how political meddling tend to create serious operational deficiencies in the army as regards higher defence management, coordination, or a lack thereof, with other members of the joint services as well as its negative impact on the limits and capabilities of military and strategic planning.
Compounding the situation even more is the fact that the GDF has not been able to escape broader societal criticisms like corruption, race relations, mismanagement of budgetary resources and criminal activities perpetrated by criminal minds within its ranks.
But the junior officer’s letter raised another important question albeit tangentially.
It has to do with the wider issue of political stability which requires keeping to a minimum even the smallest manifestation of civil-military tension.
From all indications, it appears that the CIC’s main thrust is to reduce military prerogatives and power to a minimum.
How else can one explain the unilateral changes initiated by the CIC without due regard to long standing military traditions upheld by the GDF.
Mr Granger must be aware that his approach is bound to generate conflict as the Junior Officer’s letter has clearly demonstrated.
The challenge the CIC faces is how to maintain a healthy and sustainable balance between civilian and military interests when it is an established fact that for most of his entire adult life
Mr Granger has been in the military.
With a retired Brigadier as President and CIC maintaining such a balance will prove untenable and difficult to maintain.
Regrettably, Parliamentary oversight of the GDF is weak and limited save at the Committee of Supply level when questions are asked in connection with budgetary allocations for the GDF.
In his response, Mr Ganger took some digs at the PPP/C administration claiming; the force had suffered from years of organizational neglect, which caused the destruction of the National Cadet Corps and the ‘near extinction ‘of the GDF Reserve Force (Guyana People’s Militia).
Mr Granger must know that the members of the GPM are drawn from the public and have regular jobs. Under pressure from the IMF’s Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) and within the meaning of affordability, the Hoyte administration was compelled to incorporate the GPM into the GDF making it the 2nd battalion of the army.
The Guyana National Service (GNS) shut shop in 1991 under the Hoyte administration. In 1993 the GNS was de-commissioned and in its place a vocational training Centre was established at Kuru Kuru at the Linden-Soesdyke Highway to facilitate one-year training courses minus military component.
The organization had become unsustainable because of the high costs of maintenance.
On its assumption to office, the APNU+ AFC administration continued with the vocational training at Kuru Kuru.
With respect to the ‘destruction of the National Cadet Corps’ this was instituted by the PNC as a uniformed service mainly at Queens College but it was recently re-introduced by the Granger administration.
By the time the PPP/C came to government in 1992, the Cadet Corps had virtually disappeared so there could be no question of its ‘destruction’ under the PPP/C administration.
In its 1992 Elections manifesto the party stated: ‘Members of the army and police will be required to swear allegiance to the State and not to any political party. The Guyana National Service will be maintained on a voluntary basis and the Guyana People’s Militia will be transformed into a truly democratic reserve of standing army.’
As regards the claim that ‘defence operations and training being neglected during the former administration in the years 1992-2015.’ This should be regarded as red herring. The records would show that in the this area, training exercises especially at the unit and corps level were carried out every year, while jungle and open country exercises were held every three years.
Following Mr. Granger’s assumption to office, instructions were issued that jungle, open country and internal security training exercises, be held every year instead of every three years.
Call it re-capitalization or re-tooling the fact of the matter is that recapitalization of the GDF was initiated under the PPP/C administration with the purchase of the MV Essequibo, two Bell 206 helicopters, Y12 fixed wing aircraft metal shark vessels return to serviceability of the Skyvan, and placement of a floating marine base at the mouth of the Pomeroon river.
In any event, Mr. Granger must know just as he opted as a matter of policy, that emphasis must be placed on the administrative and operational aspects of the army, in the same way, the previous PPP/C administration was within its right to determine its areas of emphasis within the meaning of the Constitution and the Defence Act.
But there is just one caveat; and that has to do with the degree and areas of control and intrusion in the day to day operations of GDF being perpetrated by the current administration which does not auger well for civilian military cooperation.
It is to be recalled that during the ‘Commission of Presidential Commission Inquiring into the conditions of Veterans from the Guyana Defence Force; The Guyana People’s Militia and the Guyana National Service’
mention was made that service conditions in the army prior to October 1992 were not conducive to the welfare of service men and women of the GDF.
The period of heightened economic uncertainty characterized by Guyana’s uncreditworthiness had wreaked havoc within the institutions constituting the joint services.
Mr Granger is being obtuse when he claimed that the military was neglected for years under the PPP.
Comparative budgetary allocations for the GDF below speak for themselves:
LAST FIVE YEARS UNDER THE PPP/C
Total:35,092,057. Total 2,096,352
LAST FIVE YEARS UNDER THE PNC
Mr. Granger is aware of the numerous recommendations in both Reports referred to earlier.
While in opposition, Mr. Granger had pressed for implementation of the recommendations contained in the Disciplined Forces Commission Report. And on assumption to office he commissioned the COI into the conditions of Veterans from the GDF, the GPM and the GNS.
He has since dumped these recommendations and moved on with an entirely political agenda.
Rather than blowing his trumpet about his less than stellar achievements since becoming the CIC, Mr. Granger would serve his ranks well were he to back off from his intrusiveness in the army, pay attention to the afore mentioned recommendations and give space to the GDF top brass allowing them to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities to the state and people of Guyana.
Clement J. Rohee
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