Budget Speech Mr Winston Felix- 20123523 13 Apr, 2012
April 13, 2012
Mr. Felix: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. On this my first rising, let me take this opportunity, first of all, to express my sincerest gratitude to all those citizens whose vote is responsible for my arrival here. I shall make every effort to ensure that their vote is meant something in this Assembly.
I take great pleasure and pride in expressing my views on the presentation of Budget 2012 by the Hon. Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh, who produced glowing figures on the performance of the economy in 2011 and made projections for spending in 2012. He and his obviously hard working staff must be congratulated for their production of this year’s budget. However, the only relief the Hon. Member could offer was lifting the income tax threshold to $600,000 per annum without any increase in salaries and or other allowances for members of the joint services.
Listening to presenters on the other side, I get the impression that Government wants the Opposition to shower it with praise for any initiative it takes, regardless of the consequences, be they negative or positive. But that is not the role of a vigilant Opposition. In this new dispensation, as the configuration of the Tenth Parliament is referred to, the Opposition will call the proverbial spade a spade when the Government falls short on its performance or neglects its responsibility in any area. The Opposition, who are guardians of the public’s interest, must ensure that the Government is kept focused on the task ahead. Therefore when the Opposition provides constructive criticisms of Government’s actions, we are doing so to represent those citizens whose interests, in our views, are not well served by the Government. In fact, the Hon. Minister has lifted the threshold, for those persons paying income tax, to the tune of $600,000 annually, meaning that members of the disciplined services, as their counterparts in the wider public service, will take home precious little – approximately $3,000 – because many of them were already under the threshold. There is nothing else in the budget to benefit this category of Government employees, but it is this neglected category of Government employees who must stand up day and night, even outside of this Assembly and for the duration of these sittings, to provide protection for our work.
An accompanying feature of any consideration of national development is security. I mean effective security systems to ensure that productive work proceeds unhindered in a stable environment. This is principally the role of the Guyana Police Force (GPF). It is being responsible for the internal security of the state. The Guyana Defence Force (GDF) is responsible for external defence, our territorial defence and integrity and to define aggression. At times, it supports the Guyana Police Force when its services are needed. The Budget 2012 does nothing to motivate the members of the joint services to continue working unbelievably long hours and sometimes lose their lives in the process. Their salaries are already small. The merit increment scheme is no longer awarded annually to deserving members to increase their salaries. Allowances have been stagnated. This year’s budget has done nothing to make the lives of members of the joint services better. In a society where emphasis is placed on preventing and detecting crime, one would have thought that the Government would have found it prudent to add comfort to the lives of the members of the joint services.
In spite of the glorious picture painted to describe our economy, permit me, Mr. Speaker, to illustrate the paltry allowances which our police and other joint services ranks receive. House allowance: This was graded upwards, from Constable to Commissioner, between $1,003 and $4,000 per month. Let us look at a rank, whether it is a Constable or Officer, with a degree, the education allowance - $312, with a diploma - $250, Caribbean Education Council (CXC) - $50 and the proficiency for tradesmen - $40. The laundry allowance: Constable to Sergeant - $1,000, Inspector - $500. When I go to Crystal’s Dry Cleaning, the price to clean a pair of trousers is $900. The Detective allowance is $50 and the plain clothes allowance is $240. This does not exhaust the list of paltry sums paid as allowances to members of the joint services. In the case of travelling allowance for Officers and Inspectors with motor vehicles, classified as A Grade, this category of allowance was increased to $17,460 in 1995, when the cost of gasoline was between $200 and $300 per gallon. The cost to fill a tank today would be in excess of $10,000 depending on the capacity of the vehicle. In addition, the cost of the vehicle spares is exorbitant. Surely, the Hon. Minister of Finance could have seen it fit and just to ameliorate the financial burden faced by our citizens who have chosen careers in the services.
On page 3 of the Stabroek News, dated Tuesday, March 13, 2012, and captioned, “Low pay and no voice make cops open to bribes, study finds - says weak judiciary, cash economy enabling organised crime” reported the findings of a study by researchers Taylor Owen and Alexandre Grigsby entitled, In Transit: Gangs and Criminal Networks in Guyana. This work asserts:
“The shortage of manpower, low wages, and a lack of representation to lobby for better working conditions create disenchantment in the Guyana Police Force, making officers likelier to accept bribes or, in extreme cases, join drug trafficking networks to get rich, a recent research has found.
Given these structural conditions, it is unsurprising that officers attempt to bribe or ‘shake down’ the population they are sworn to protect.”
The article went on to state:
“…the police force’s inadequate staffing is among the three structural factors that make it susceptible to corruption. The force is described as “chronically understaffed” – with between 2,400 and 2,880 members to police the country’s 750,000 population at 2010 – limiting its ability to patrol the internal waterways that are considered a key transit route for the drug trade. (Similarly, the Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU) is viewed as handicapped by insufficient enforcement capacity.)”
This research has made manifest that there is a necessary connection between low salaries and staff and corruption within the GPF in the fight against trafficking in illicit drugs and crime. These are key problems which beset this country without a credible response from the administration. Maybe, the Government might wish to consider increasing the salaries and allowances of members of the services so as to attract the brightest young minds from the top secondary schools in the country to offer their services. But this cannot be detained where there is the attitude to terminate the services of those officers who studied and attained a degree in law and a postgraduate degree in security management in the United Kingdom (UK). A rethink of the outdated policy on education is needed to promote human development within the services.
Section 3 (2) of the Police Act, Chapter 16:01, charges the Guyana Police Force with the prevention and detection of crime and to achieve these objects it ought to be organised, equipped and trained for these roles. Crime is an ever present feature in every society. It would not go away, but with a consorted effort it can be controlled, providing that the political will to do so exists. Therefore the Guyana Police Force has to be dynamic in its approach to the multifaceted nature of crime in order to protect the citizens and to generate public confidence in its work. We must recognise the powerful nature of the internet and television which convey information around the world with astounding rapidity and bring crime into our homes via these electronic facilities, educating the child and criminal alike. Professor Ivelaw Griffith, in his 13th Annual Eric E. Williams Memorial Lecture at Florida International University on 28th October, 2011, quoted Mr. Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, as observing, and I quote:
“Globalization offers the human race unprecedented opportunities. Unfortunately, it also enables many anti-social activities to become problems without passports.”
According to Griffith, drugs and crime are among the problems without passports to which Mr. Annan referred. They share some common features, one being transnational. Drugs and crime cross national and regional spaces, paying no regard to physical, political or legal boundaries. They have no passport.
In 1992, after there was a change in Government, the new Government saw an escalation of crime. It would appear that it undermined the police, resulting in a few becoming totally corrupt. We must all recall the notorious activities of the elusive Jerry Perreira who robbed and murdered victims with impunity between Demerara and Berbice, where he eventually met his demise. Shortly after his death, a decision was taken to seek assistance from the British to reform the Guyana Police Force and this resulted in the visit to Guyana of retired Chief Superintendent Mr. Paul Mathias of the London Metropolitan Police who interviewed the relevant stakeholders in the three counties and garnered facts upon which his report was based.
During that period, firearms became the weapon of choice to commit robberies and murders and to settle scores. The figures on serious crimes revealed a trend indicating an escalation in drug- running on serious crimes. What is certain is that the incidents of crime are not reducing. This means that the public must live in fear for want of protection against criminal acts. It is pointless glorifying ourselves with figures and the millions and billions allocated to the Guyana Police Force. That means nothing to suffering public that wants to feel secure while at home, at work or on the streets.
During that period, the security of the Georgetown Prison was impaired. By allowing prisoners and prison officers to attend Mash tramp on 23rd February, 2002, five notorious criminals escaped and mayhem resulted. The Government managed the situation by committing crime to solve crime. It enlisted the assistance of a fugitive from North American justice well known as Shaheed Roger Khan. [Hon. Members (Government): Son-in-law.] You provided the wedding. Police and GDF personnel, twice, arrested him with a cache of firearm and ammunition, silencers and grenades but his charges, for various reasons, were dismissed in court. He is now a guest of the American Government, having been convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering and gunrunning to the United States of America. In this period, extra-judicial killings by phantom squads were the order of the day and there were drive-by and walk by shootings in execution style. Illegal firearms were regularly in use. Kidnapping arrived on the scene in Guyana and the village of Buxton, on the East Coast of Demerara, became a restricted area to policemen between 2002 and 2004. The Roger Khan group was identified as a phantom squad, so named because young men were found dead in various parts of Georgetown and on the East Coast of Demerara without anybody being associated with those killings. Invariably, the bodies were found with several bullet wounds and with no trace to a perpetrator. The deaths were attributed to that group. The crime spree resulted in the deaths of twenty-one policemen, but, unfortunately, the Government was loath to hear the cries of members of the force for more resources. After thirteen policemen died, then two policemen were sent to the United States of America to secure protective gear. The Government has not shown an interest in holding inquest to determine whether anyone was criminally concerned in the cause of death of scores of Guyanese. Presumably to prevent exposure on its connection to the phantom squad, was there a cover-up or was this an attempt to protect the phantom squad?
The police’s response to violent crime has frequently been criticised as heavy-handed and often resulted in death. Policemen investigating violent crimes have often been accused of human rights abuses. In his book on Public Security, the author, Brigadier (retired), David A. Granger expressed the view that there are two schools of thought on how police should respond to the threat of criminal violence. He described them as the “brute force school of policing” and the “human rights school of thought.” “The former school,” he said, takes the view that the chief responsible of the police is to safeguard the security of the citizens. If this can be done only through allowing the police the flexibility to shoot and kill suspects, to rough up citizens and turn a blind eye to torture, then so be it.”The author described the latter school in this way: “Adherence to the human rights school of thought, on the one hand, usually takes the view that the police should operate only under the strictest legal constraints that characterise democratic states. According to this school, human rights are more important than public security.”
It is important to note that at the opening session of the 24th Annual Conference of the Association of Caribbean Commissioners, held in Georgetown, in May 2009, President Jagdeo expressed in unequivocal term his preference for the brute force school of thought. President of the Association and Commissioner of the Royal Barbados Police Force, Mr. Darwin Dotting, expressed his preference for the human rights school of thought in these terms, and I quote:
“As police organizations, we are not fighting war against our citizens. Even though they are provoked in most cases, police officers are working in a conflictual position. We think that their training is as such that it would be able to deal with those persons with whom they are in contact in a respectful manner.”
This contrast of views would continue to drive debates on the use of violence of citizens in the police custody. The fact of the matter is that the laws of this country do not support the brute force rule. To address this challenge the Government of Guyana entered into agreements with the British Government to train policemen to resolve violent incident safety, criminal violence and community policing. This training which was undertaken by the Scottish police came to an abrupt end in July, 2006. There were other efforts aimed at accessing British training for the Guyana Police Force, but for various reasons those efforts were either incomplete or abandoned. The force is now participating in a citizen’s security project which is financed by the IDB. While this development is taking place, the force has the inescapable ability to reduce crime to make the society safe.
The attack of Guyanese fishermen at sea by pirates is another challenge the force must be confronted either by itself, given adequate resources, or in conjunction with the GDF coastguard in a joint operations mode. The latter course seems feasible since the GDF is more experienced at sea, having in the past to challenge foreign vessels in our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), searching and detaining them, and would have the equipment and training necessary to use them competently. In view of our current challenges, the Guyana Police Force needs to improve on the quality of its entrance and should look towards secondary schools graduates. This can be aided by an increase in salaries and allowances which would make the Guyana Police Force, and the services, competitive with the private sector and to provide the organisation with young minds with the capacity for training in technical, specilaised and scientific fields.
Narco-trafficking: When the Government changed in 1992, marijuana was known to be trafficked in and out of Guyana. Cocaine trafficking was statistically insignificant. The new Government began dismantling structures set up by the previous Government to coordinate activities of all agencies having a role to play in the new drug strategy. There was a National Drug Law Enforcement Committee (NDLEC) which was chaired by the former President, now deceased. This committee met monthly inter alia to receive reports from members on the circumstances in which narcotic drugs were found in Guyana and to examine similar reports from foreign countries, examine training opportunities and to provide coordination among constituent members. The activities of this committee ceased in 1993.
In the intervening years, law enforcement has been monitoring the Cheddi Jagan international Airport (CJIA), discovering passenger bound for either North America or Europe with cocaine either strapped to their bodies or swallowed. A few persons who ingested cocaine died because of their indiscretion. Larger finds were found by CANU and we can recall the Danielson, the foreign-owned and registered vessel which was seized by the order of the court after the captain was convicted for drug trafficking. In another interesting case in 1993, Jairo Patino Ramirez flew an aircraft from Columbia and dumped approximately two hundred and fifty pounds of cocaine in Loo Lands, upper Demerara River. As a result of quick actions by the police most of the substance was recovered on the East Bank and East Coast of Demerara. Ramirez and his Guyanese associates were arrested, charged and sentenced to terms imprisonment. Since then, according to reports received from foreign territories, cocaine has been found in rum, rice, pumpkin, cabbage and lumber, all exported from Guyana. The drug trade has exposed the vulnerability of our airspace, particularly because of our wide and expansive nature of our unpatrolled border. Aircrafts and vessels can enter and leave the country, as they currently are doing, deposit large quantities of illegal substances and indulge in illicit contraband trade without being intercepted by any security personnel.
The illicit drug trade has brought Guyana a desire for more illegal firearms, particularly ones with rapid fire capability to protect the turf of the drug lord. Consequently, there are conflicts as deals would go bad and the concomitant effect of a war erupting and unexplained deaths being the unfortunate result. Drug dealers tend to desire, most, the control of people with political power, the judiciary and the police, to provide coverage for their illicit business. Strenuous efforts must be made to keep the organisation free from the clutches of the drug lords.
The Budget 2012, with all its promises, has not catered for the provision of appropriate patrol vessels with navigation equipment and appropriate weaponry to protect the fishermen against the attack by pirates. This ought to be the given priority since consistent attacks on our artisanal fishermen would eventually destroy the industry. It is not expected that four boats would be required at the same time, but it would send an encouraging sign to those affected if at least one or two boats were acquired to protect all fishermen at sea.
Politicization of the Guyana Police Force: Since the Hon. Member, Minister of Home Affairs moved into the Police Headquarters, and occupies three buildings, one gets the impression that the act as taking politics in to the face of the Guyana Police Force. The building located at the corner of Young Street and Camp Road is identified as the new training school, but it cannot be used as such until the Hon. Minister has completed his period of training. Indications are that even before the Minister took over this building he has been directing the transfer of a certain senior police officer whom, it was suspected, had written an anonymous letter detailing certain irregular police behaviour during the questioning of suspects. The force is so richly endowed with officers trained and experienced in forensic sciences that the officer was summarily isolated at Mounted Branch. He has not been working since.
I have one experience with the Hon. Minister intervening into the police matters. On Monday, the 28th of November, between 2 p.m. and 2.30 p.m., retired Police Commissioner, Mr. Winston Felix, was in Sophia when a police vehicle drove up. He heard a transmission from the police communications network. A policeman was reporting the arrest of a well known miscreant associated with Office of the President who goes about damaging windscreens and is otherwise offensive to members of the public. Mr. Felix heard a call sign, with which he is familiar with, calling senior members of the force and admonishing the police not to arrest the arrested miscreant or any such people who arrested him would be guilty of an assault. Just then the vehicle drove off and Mr. Felix heard nothing more of this matter. [An Hon. Member: Get the tape.] I am the tape. [Mr. Rohee: Miscreant!] You play that. This is you all property. It is you all who make that.
There is another matter currently in the public domain which the Hon. Minister has made pronouncements on ordering that the acting Commissioner discipline the certain senior police officer. Then he proceeded to instruct that the officer should explain why he should not be charged. This is utterly incorrect. Firstly the Police Discipline Act, Chapter 17:01, has set out the procedures to discipline any member of the force below the rank of Commissioner. The Hon. Minister has no part in that procedure. He may discuss matters of that nature with the Commissioner but he cannot direct him. I know of certain retired Police Commissioners who would have told the Hon. Minister where his role ends and where the Commissioner’s commences. I hope the acting Commissioner would put on some muscle and prevent intrusion into his space.
When a breach of discipline is discovered the rank who has defaulted must be served with a notice in which he or she is told that he or she is under investigation of the alleged breach and of his or her right to refuse or to make a written or oral statement if he or she so desires. There is a choice here. There is another procedure to follow when the investigation is completed and the charge is preferred. These steps must be followed where any rank below the rank of Commissioner is to be charged.
In the case under review, the acting Commissioner of Police has to determine whether he would write the Assistant Commissioner a letter with a view to censuring him or whether he would prefer charges. The Minister’s voice should not have been heard in this matter. By instructing the acting Commissioner to write the Assistant Commissioner for him to explain why he should not be charged, he misled him, because such an action is not known to the Police Discipline Act, Chapter 17:01, which is a law passed in this National Assembly. With the Minister current attitude, how can we be sure that decisions of the police are not politically motivated? I trust that better judgement would be exercised on another occasion and power drunken officials would not overreach themselves and damage public confidence, or whatever is left of it, in the Guyana Police Force.
The budget seems to cater for incomplete projects and to maintain Ministries and Departments by providing allocations that would ensure the organisations meets their needs. Under item line 6231, “Fuel and Lubricants”, there is one common thread running through the police and fire allocations for the commodities. Though the two departments have been identified to receive new outboard engines, motorcycles and vehicles, the budgetary allocation which should have been increased has decreased. In other words, it is getting more vehicles; there is an increase in the price of fuel, but its allocation of fund, this year, is less than last year. I get the impression that there is a set up to come for supplementary, when we are told that the law clearly states that supplementary is only properly before this House if it is either sudden or unanticipated. So we have to look out. We know that the services would need it, but it seems to me that there is a bit of ineptitude. Figures were just picked up and seemed to be plucked in. If one goes through the Estimates one would see it. In one case I saw that different headings having the identical figures. It cannot be. It has to be a strange coincidence that two separate heads are carrying the same figures, under allocation.
The allocations for training in the police and fire services seem inadequate, and notice is served, but inadequate provisions should be exhausted by mid-year with accompanying result that the training programmes might have to be curtailed.
Fire Service: The budget for the Guyana Fire Service ought to reflect the current housing drive where expansive schemes are built. Some locations are not situated near reliable water reserve and there are no hydrants. In Georgetown where the availability of fire hydrants once assured the Guyana Fire Service on reserve of water, this facility is not available since the Georgetown Sewage and Water Commission went out of existence. The question is: Who is now responsible for hydrants or the facility to provide water in the event of fire in any one of the housing schemes? Is there a plan to resuscitate the system? The recent fire at La Parfaite Harmonie has given rise to this question.
The development of urban areas has presented challenges for the efficient performance of fire fighting duties. High rise buildings require lifts, hose and pumps to take water to the height of four and five-storeyed buildings, should there be an outbreak of fire in the upper flat. In addition, the observation must be made that with the type of materials being used in building construction, for example dry wall and other material, may issue an odour that is offensive to the health of fire safety personnel during the course of performing duties in extinguishing a blaze. There is also the consideration that fumes released during combustion might penetrate the skin. The recommendation is hereby made for considerations of appropriate respiratory and body protection gears to protect fire service personnel. There is a proposal to construct a larger terminal building at CJIA and extend the runway. What considerations have been given to aerodrome firefighting? There is also the possibility that a fire may affect a vessel in one of our main rivers. Resources must be sought to ensure that the fire service is prepared to protect life and save property.
For the Guyana Police Force there are some recommendations which, I think, would be appropriate at this time.
• First, members of the Guyana Police Force need to be retrained with a view to building capacity to perform the duties of their offices efficiently and at every level.
• The Guyana Police Force, in view of staff shortage, should examine carefully the benefits to be derived from the employment of civilians to take over clerical and technical jobs so as to release policeman for law enforcement duties.
I admit that there are challenges, but solutions can be found.
• The Guyana Police Force should pay strict attention to indiscipline at all levels of the service and deal with deviant behaviours condignly.
• The courts must be monitored with strong supervision to ensure that cases are not dismissed for want of prosecution, where this result has been achieved, enquire into the cause and where necessary discipline the defaulting rank.
• Personal development within and outside the organisation must be encouraged as ranks progresses in the service.
• An annual increment award system should be reintroduced, assessing performance, discipline, initiative and response to an adaptability to change, among others.
Finally, as I examine the budget’s theme I feel good about it, but when I get into the Estimates there is nothing to encourage anyone to remain on course, neither can we unite in purpose. The low level employees would wish to express their thanks to the Hon. Minister for $3,000 which this Budget 2012 has given to them. Thank you. [Applause]
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