Budget Debate 20133945 04 Apr, 2013
Mr. Felix: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Members of the Government and Members of the majority, I rise to take this opportunity to present APNU’s response to the Government’s Budget presentation by the Hon. Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh, the Minister of Finance, made on Monday 25th April, 2013 under the theme, Overcoming Challenges Together, Accelerating Gains for Guyana.
This Budget pretends to bring relief to the poor and to those whose incomes are small but, when the measures proffered in this 2013 Budget were examined, they were found to be lacking in any serious attempt to ameliorate the lives of those intended to benefit from it. In fact, the Budget proposal for 2013 lacks a human face as it gives a subtle hint at easing the burden on the poor, but does not do so. As an example, all the recruits in the services earn salaries just above $50,000. These recruits would not benefit from a three and one-third per cent income tax reduction rate. Instead of considering a living wage for all Guyanese, service members included, the Government continues to hand out, at year end, a miserly five per cent sweetener – remember sweets for the kids – to members of the joint services without any consideration of the unfulfilled needs which poor pay creates. While a pay increase is denied to some workers, GuySuCo and GPL will receive over $12 billion as compensation for their inefficiencies, emphasising the point that this 2013 Budget is about bailing out large corporations viewed as too big to fail.
The security sector consists of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), the Guyana Police Service, the Guyana Prison Service, the Guyana Fire Service and the Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU). The essential role of the GDF in our national security pursuits requires the organisation to maintain adequate assets in the infantry, aviation and maritime arms of the service in order to maintain a state of preparation to defend our territorial integrity.
Allocations to the GDF in this 2013 Budget do not inspire confidence that the basic needs for a well-equipped Defence Force would be met in this Budget. The Government, through this Budget, does not demonstrate any care which it owes to the people. The Government boasts that this is the largest Budget ever and that they have been making increases in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but it was lacking in a humane approach to the men and women in uniform who are responsible for maintaining our public safety.
The salaries at entry level are a little above $50,000. This amount offers no satisfaction to the recipients simply because a basket of goods per month for a small conservative family would cost more than $40,000. When this is added to the rent and light bill, the remaining cash in hand would be negligible.
It is a small wonder that the wastage rate in the services is so high. As an example, the figures for the Guyana Police Service for years 2001 to 2003 and from 2007 to 2009 indicate the following: in 2001, three hundred and seventy-four officers walked out of the job; in 2002, three hundred and forty-five officers walked off the job; in 2003, three hundred and twenty officers walked off the job; in 2007, two hundred and forty officers walked off the job; in 2008, three hundred and eighteen officers walked off the job; in 2009, two hundred and thirty two officers walked off the job. With the wastage rate running on occasions at one man each per day, it hampers staffing and, consequently, the performance of core police functions.
The Guyana Police Force between 2001 and 2003 was operating with shortages between eight per cent and 15 per cent, while between 2007 and 2009 the situation was between 17 per cent and 21.5 per cent.
The Police now seem to be under fire from no other than their own Minister who has recently expressed his unawareness of the number of unsolved crimes on record in the Guyana Police Force (GPF). In an article in Stabroek News dated 18th March, 2013, under the caption “Rohee dismayed at long list of unsolved crimes”, the Hon. Minister expressed his dismay in the following terms:
“I have noted, with dismay, the long list of unsolved serious crimes particularly execution type murders that remain on the records of the Guyana Police Force. We have reached a stage where some members of the public and the press have tended to insinuate that the Force lacks the ability or will to solve these high profile cases. The Ministry of Home Affairs is far from happy with this state of affairs. The Force will have to review its current investigative capacity and take corrective action.”
I find it strange that the Hon. Minister could now express his feelings, as he must be aware of the actions taken by the Police in the late 1990s after Sanichar and other high-profile murders, to apprise the Government of shortcomings in the Force, occasioned by the loss of certain hard-earned skills through retirement.
In the event that he has forgotten, I would provide a chronology of events as a reminder. The Government of Guyana agreed to secure the assistance of the Government of the United Kingdom to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Guyana Police Force. Chief Police Superintendent Paul Mathias, as he then was, visited Guyana and conducted a study of the GPS. [Member: Who was the Commissioner of Police then?] It was Mr. Laurie Lewis. A report on his findings with recommendations was submitted to the Government. In 2000, the British Department for International Development-funded consultants, Symons Group Ltd., released their report on the Guyana Police Force after reviewing it between October and November 2000. Still in 2000, President Bharrat Jagdeo promulgated a menu of measures claiming that they will improve the Police Force’s crime fighting capacity. Still in 2000, President Bharrat Jagdeo, as he then was, actually went to London to meet with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to seek British assistance.
In 2003, the British Government sent the Defence Advisory Team to Georgetown to conduct a study of the security sector and to produce a report which recommended ways in which the Police Force’s capability could be enhanced.
In 2004, the Disciplined Forces Commission, under the chairmanship of Justice Ian Chang, presented its Report to the National Assembly, containing 164 recommendations for the Police Force and other security sector reforms.
In 2005, the British Scottish Police College conducted a series of management training programmes. It presented the Guyana Police Force Strategic Plan in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank as part of the Citizen Security Programme.
In 2006, the British Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Baroness Valerie Amos and President Jagdeo agreed to a statement of principles which formed the basis on which the British Department for International Development proceeded with a first consultancy. A new British Funded Security Sector Reform team visited in October 2006 and integrated various local and foreign initiatives into a holistic strategy. The PPP/C Administration instead adopted a Citizen Security Programme (CSP) which was to be funded by a US$19.8 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
In August 2007, the British High Commissioner, Fraser Wheeler, and the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Luncheon, signed an Interim Memorandum of Understanding (IMoU) for a Security Sector Reform Action Plan.
In 2009, the British Government decided to abandon the negotiations with the Guyana Government for the ₤4.9 million Security Sector Reform Action Plan in the face of unprincipled resistance by the PPP/C Administration to previously agreed guidelines contained in the Statement of Principles agreed with Baroness Amos.
The Government moved to secure the services of Bernard Kerik to train and reform the Guyana Police Force. This attempt failed as he was imprisoned in the United States of America (USA).
In 2009, there was the promulgation of the Liliendaal Declaration on Crime Prevention by Mr. Clement Rohee. [Mr. Ali: The honourable...]
In 2010, Mr. Clement Rohee stated at an Inter-American...
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, when referring to another Member, you will say either mister or honourable.
In 2010, Mr. Clement Rohee stated at an Inter-American security conference:
“Guyana has no desire to have any resident experts in our country at this point in time [nor] …in the not too distant future either…We have enough experts here in Guyana in the police force, in the security sector…So we don’t need a foreign expert to come and tell us… In fact we have already gone a very far way with the reforms so I don’t know what we need an expert to tell us about…when it comes to bringing experts to Guyana for the security sector that is a no go.”
The British consultancy firm – Capita Symonds – presented the final draft of the strategic plan for the modernisation of the Guyana Police Force to the Home Affairs Ministry on Thursday, 29th March, 2011.
Mr. Clement Rohee made a statement at a press conference, on 31st December, 2012, outlining recommendations contained in the Capita Symonds Report.
This effort became known as the Security Sector Reform Project (SSRP).The main measures were designed to:
• Enhance intelligence gathering, analysis and dissemination, developing the forensic capacity of the Force;
• Create a specialised training centre to train ranks in modern crime fighting systems and tactics;
• Improve the material capacity of the Force in the short to medium term by procuring new weaponry, transportation equipment and protective gear;
• Review and update the crime laws to increase penalties for certain criminal activities and facilitate easier prosecution of certain types of crimes;
• Create a special trained “crime crack force” similar to a SWAT team to respond to these new criminal manifestations and domestic terrorism;
• Enhance the community policing structure through training and provision of equipment;
• Closely monitor certain categories of deportees;
• Accelerate the issuance of gun licences to qualified citizens, particularly members of the business community; and
• Ensure that provisions are made for the families of police men and women killed in the line of duty.
Simultaneously, the Government was introduced to the Citizen Security Project. It became enamoured by and gravitated to it. And, as was stated earlier, in 2009, the Government abandoned the SSRP and continued with the Citizen Security Programme. Under this Programme, the GPS is to be modernised through computerisation of the entire organisation. A Strategic Plan – at one time it was from 2011 to 2015; now it is for 2013 to 2017 – is to be launched and a leadership team is to be appointed to manage the process. On 31st December, 2012, the Hon Minister launched the project which was available since March, 2011.
According to a Guyana Times article of 31st March, 2011, under the caption, “Rohee receives new plan for a modernised police force”:
“After almost a year of consultations and planning, UK consultant agency Capita Symonds on Thursday presented to the Home Affairs Ministry the final draft of the strategic plan for the modernisation of the Guyana Police Force.”
The Hon. Minister only released it after the no-confidence motion was passed in the National Assembly and constant pressure on the Hon. Minister from A Partnership for National Unity (APNU). His delay in commencing the Programme in a timely manner has set back the modernisation which should have started about one and a half years ago. During the Minister’s launch, he addressed four areas: Administration, Succession Planning, Probity/Integrity and Public Relations.
The SSRP would have addressed, among other subjects, the development of skills and abilities of ranks in the hard-core policing subjects of crime and intelligence gathering, while the Citizen Security Programme would get there, hopefully, through the Strategic Plan.
Nothing said in this presentation should create the false impression that the Programme has no place in Guyana’s plan to effectively manage the crime situation. In my view, it is a necessary intervention but not a sufficient answer to Guyana’s crime problems.
Crime is still having a negative effect on the population, whether in their homes, on the streets, at sea, or in the mining areas. Therefore, lack of urgency in implementing the Citizen Security Programme could be regarded as unconscionable and a criminal act against citizens. The figures displayed for murders and robberies demonstrate my concern.
The evidence of the rising rate of criminal violence in Guyana, derived from the Police Force’s own daily bulletins, indicates an increase in the incidence of armed robberies and murders. Reports show that there were 1,701 murders and 11,602 robberies under arms in the decade from 1st January, 2000 to 31st December, 2009. There are, on average, about three armed robberies every day and two murders every week.
Maritime piracy along the waters off the coastland and banditry in the Hinterland has been other sources of criminal violence which affect economic activity.
The Government must develop a highly motivated work force within the GPS to patrol the streets to prevent and detect crime and eventually make the streets safer. The training and nurturing of well trained detectives to investigate serious crimes must be given priority in the preferred Citizen Security Project.
The Government has established Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras in several spots in Georgetown, but, despite these, crimes are committed; the usefulness of these cameras is questionable and one wonders what purpose they serve. For example, there are cameras at the corners of Homestretch Avenue. These cameras serve no purpose. They have not detected one crime there.
There was a robbery on Regent Street when the Hon. Minister was surprised and made comments about a store operated by Chinese being robbed. Where are the cameras? Millions of dollars were spent to set them up but the cameras are not serving the desired purpose. Similarly, when the Chinese manager of Celina’s Resort was attacked, shot and robbed on the seawall a few weeks ago, again not a camera could have helped to identify the perpetrators. The millions of dollars expended on this project is another Government failure to protect its citizens with one of its ill-advised pet projects.
The Government has misused the system of community policing and citizens use the Government to get firearm licences, and then they get scarce and groups flop. Community policing is a local arrangement between the public and the police in the area but it has been so bureaucratised that it is now morbid. [Mr. Nandlall: Mr. Felix, that is not in the Budget. Get to the Budget now.] You are wasting money on community policing. [Ms. Teixeira: You never liked them, anyway.] I never liked how they were administered.
I question the need to have a Community Policing Coordinator at the Ministry of Home Affairs. This is a function properly performed in Berbice but every year the Hon. Minister comes to this National Assembly seeking allocations to support this morbidity. Last year, under Capital Expenditure, the Minister sought $28 million to acquire boats, vehicles, outboard engines, furniture and equipment. Again, this year, that request is repeated at a cost of $19,723,000 for the same items. For a voluntary organisation, why is so much resources allocated?
Last week, while driving alongside a police vehicle, I saw it without a horn. The police vehicles are defective.
Mr. Speaker: Did you say that you saw it without a horn?
Mr. Felix: The horn piece at the steering wheel was missing. The vehicles were of the PHH and PLL series. They are old and decrepit vehicles. The police are made to perform their duties in these vehicles which should be hoarded, while the Community Policing Groups, the support organisations, are getting, every year, new vehicles, new boats, and new engines at the expense of the Guyana Police Force.
The problem in Guyana with its extensive and unpatrolled borders is that drugs and guns flow into the country easily without any serious effort to arrest the flow. The apparent tolerant attitude of the Administration to transnational crime does not aid our cause. The unchecked trafficking in narcotics, trafficking in firearms, petroleum smuggling and trafficking in persons add to our problems. [Ms. Teixeira: Why did you reject the Bill then?] I will deal with the Bill. Though trafficking in all the cases to which I have just alluded must be regarded as serious, trafficking in narcotics and trafficking in firearms are by themselves and together areas of serious threat to our safety and security. Guns kill and maim our children and families, and contribute to an estimated three armed robberies per day.
There is also the question of CANU. Does it have a structure? What are the laws which govern its operation? Is CANU given the resources to deal with its mandate? What has happened to the previously released Drug Master Plan and would there be an update of the last one which was launched in 2005?
These questions are being asked because there are many issues to be settled before Guyana’s response to narcotics trafficking could be organised in a manner that gives credibility to our counter narcotics effort.
There are issues to discuss. Let us deal with the much vaunted Bill No. 21 of 2012, the Firearms (Amendment) Bill 2012. Let me just quote for you Clause 2, Trafficking in Firearms and Ammunitions, of the Principal Act.
“17A (1) If any person knowingly imports, exports, acquires, sells, delivers, moves, diverts or transfers any firearm, or its parts and components, or ammunition to or from another country, as the case may be, without proper authorisation, he shall be guilty of an offence.
(2) If any person purchases, acquires, or has in his possession any firearm, or its parts and components, or ammunition for the purpose of subsection (1), he shall be guilty of an offence.”
That is all that is in this Bill. This Bill does not tell what the penalty is. Trafficking in persons and trafficking in firearms are serious offences - very serious offences. How can the Government bring a Bill like this without an offence? Who does the Government want to vote for it? It must have a penalty. For this Bill to mean something, it must have a penalty.
If the Government thinks that it will bring this piece of paper for us to waste our time and vote for it and then come back for another amendment, I am sorry. [Mr. Nandlall: The penalty is in the Firearms Act.] Let me explain that part. [Mr. Nandlall: Talk to the Budget.] This is part of the Budget because crime affects... [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, you are out of time and I would advise that you direct your comments to the Chair and not get distracted.
Ms. Ally: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Hon. Member be given ten minutes to conclude his presentation.
Question put, and agreed to.
Mr. Felix: With all the hype created in the Budget pronouncements, optimistic about increased arrivals of visitors, the crime situation could have an adverse effect on the growth of the Tourism Industry. This issue had been addressed by the Prime Minister of Bahamas, Mr. Perry Christie.
In an article entitled “Crime could cripple regional tourism”, which was published in Stabroek News of 22nd January, 2013, the Bahamas Prime Minister argued that this was a problem that was being underestimated at the region’s peril. “It is a major problem for us all,” he declared.
Noting that the problem did not only manifest itself in crimes against tourists, which he said has statistically remained limited, he argued that the stigmatisation of entire nations or tourism destinations as crime-ridden enclaves was destructive.
I now turn to some suggestions I have. This Government is not dealing with this issue of crime in a manner which brings safety to the public. How could the Hon. Member have an area as important as law enforcement, the improvement of the organisation... Over a year and a half, the Hon. Member has been sitting on it and then he comes back and berates the ranks for not solving crime. Solving crime comes from training and it comes from experience. A detective is not trained today and tomorrow becomes the best detective. He has to be nurtured. It is incumbent on the Minister not to sit idly by while Rome is burning and twiddle with his fingers.
That is why we showed that we had no confidence in him. That is the basic reason. It was because he did nothing when something was required. [Ms. Teixeira: Is that the proposal?] He must work. [Ms. Teixeira: You cannot beat him to work.] Well, move him.
The fire department is another area of concern. As one visits areas like Bath Settlement, there is a fire station at Onverwagt but heaven help the residents living in the centre of Bath Settlement. If the fire tenders run out of water, there is no subsidiary supply - none! Heaven help them behind there. Similarly, it is the same for the Diamond Housing Scheme. There is need to have subsidiary water supplies, whether they are hydrants or so.
For years, the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) has been crying out for a fire boat. If those wooden structures, God forbid, go up in flames, there will be another great fire because there are no boats out there to fight the fire. If the fire is to be tackled from land, there are no hydrants. Ever since the Government got rid of the Georgetown Sewage and Water Commissioners, the hydrants are without parent. [Member: That is not true.] Nobody is responsible for it. There is no water coming from the hydrants. In terms of the wharves, fires could be fought from land or from sea, if the hydrants run out of water.
The building codes need to be revised to give the Guyana Fire Service more clout in dealing with building violations. These issues need to be dealt with. Security is not about simply arresting and charging thieves. It is a total package concerning the houses in which people live.
The prisoners need to be addressed. There is overcrowding in the prisons and we should examine why that is so. Is it because in the prison system persons are being detained when they can be otherwise dealt with? Women are being sentenced for ‘small joints’ and, similarly, some young men are in prison for little or nothing at all. Should there not be alternative ways of dealing with these issues so as to reduce the problem of overcrowding and all the other attendant ills which visit the prisons as a result of that?
There was a catastrophe in August last year in Essequibo. Because the inmates complained of abuse by Ministry officials, they revolted. It was the worst revolt there has been at the New Opportunity Corps (NOC). Once there was that revolt, we must take it that those in Georgetown took notice. [Mr. Nandlall: That is not a matter for the Ministry of Home Affairs. That is for the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport.] Do not tell me what is for the Ministry of Home Affairs, AG. [Mr. Nandlall: The NOC does not fall under the purview of the Ministry of Home Affairs.] It is a disturbance of the peace; you must understand that. The peace was disturbed in a manner that the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport could not deal with and the Minister of Home Affairs, his colleague, sat on his hands again. Persons went a second night – this is what is disturbing – and burned the building.
These are issues of national security which we must deal with as a National Assembly and as a nation. We cannot have idle people in charge of our security.
I will now join my other colleagues who did not support this Bill. To those who want us to talk about the Budget, this Budget is to supply the inadequacies of inefficiencies. It is to deal with capital projects. I want to join my colleagues now and say that I do not support this Budget. I see no reason to support it. The Budget must take care of the needs of the people before we can talk anything about support. I close on this aspect of the matter. [Applause]
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