Budget Speech - Mr Winston Felix—20143813 01 Apr, 2014
Mr. Felix: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker for your intervention. I promise to make every effort not to overshoot the time span allotted to me. I rise to make my contribution to the 2014 Budget Debate under the theme, “A better Guyana for all Guyanese.” Hardly any difference between this theme and the motto of the partnership I represent. I sincerely hope our motto is not used as a mere slogan, but to give meaning to it by making such allocations that would be of benefit to the poor and needy and departments in need of resources.
Having examined what has been provided in the budget, to be expended this year, I harbour a strong sense that this year’s budget has little to offer citizens of the middle and lower classes of this society. It is about big spending on capital projects of the Government’s taste. This budget is devoid of any consideration of increases of salaries and allowances. Although, it is without doubt that the public sector workers of the non-contractual grouping, must exist on meagre wages and salaries, which are at subsistence level and is insufficient in many cases to put three meals on the table for a month.
We are painfully aware that corruption is rife among public sector workers, but who can blame them. The Government had simply said to us, “Not a cent more. We have to build a modern eight gate, airport terminal building, Amaila Falls Hydro Power Project and provide subsidies to those inefficiently run public institutions. Those we will take care of first, you must take your time whenever that comes.
The joint services, which the Government relies on to provide safety and security for the people of this country, must suffer another year with no improvement in their emoluments and consequently, no improvement in their lifestyle. I have taken notice of the Minister’s indication that the collective bargaining agreement between the unions and Government will resume. I am weary of the Government’s antics to start these talks and then for some inexcusable reason they abandon it and pay their own unilateral increases.
Their allowances are horribly low in the face of high costs of rent, mortgage, light bill – which is unstable, telephone and water bills. These are the very people who must put their lives on the line to prevent and detect crime, control traffic on the streets, confront armed and dangerous criminals, fight fires and maintain security of those criminals who are confined by a sentence of court to a correctional institution.
The very important function of the Guyana Defence Force in our national security architecture makes them available for our national defence and to provide support to law enforcement in areas such as narcotics trafficking and piracy. In this regard, three metal shark patrol boats have been received through the Caribbean Basin and Security Initiative (CBSI). Government is urged to ensure that the Guyana Defence Force is adequately resource to execute its mandate, without being sacrifice at the altar of expediency for auspicious capital projects.
The Guyana Fire Service with its impending name change to the Guyana Fire and Rescue Service has always had a very essential and protective role to prevent fires and to respond when there is an outbreak. There has been an increase in the location of fire stations outside of Georgetown, which is not a bad idea in its self, but like Georgetown and New Amsterdam, auxiliary water sources have provided a challenge.
Fires occurring deep in these new housing areas will, if the situation is not corrected, encounter unavailability of water once the tenders and tanks run out. Public water supply is unavailable and in few cases the nearest canal would be out of the reach of the hoses available to the ranks at the scene. Georgetown and New Amsterdam continue to be without hydrants. A fact known to the Government, but it does not appear that Government is willing to solve the existing problem, to find a successful owner for the facility, since the now defunct Georgetown Sewage and Water Commission has given up.
There is another deficiency in the Fire and Rescue Service. The department is weak in the water because they do not have a boat. This is an issue which is also well known to the Government, but which they seem to ignore. With Georgetown being the principle port of entry and exit, for most of imports and exports, it is not difficult to comprehend why this need is express.
All bonds are at a point on the Demerara River and the fact that yachts and other pleasure boats are arriving here, a boat to fight fires in the river or in our ejet is a necessity. But it does not appear that Government is interested in having this need satisfied, unless something goes awfully wrong.
The Guyana Police Force is the principle law enforcement agency in Guyana and should be resourced according to the wide responsibilities to provide protection for life and property, the maintenance of law and order, the preservation of the peace and the repression of internal disturbances. Last year the Hon. Minister of Finance on page 45 of his address, on Public Safety and Security, said that:
“Government has embarked on a comprehensive programme of reform to the security sector. Government sees this as a long term process, and has designed a strategy which articulates a holistic approach, to citizen security and safety and public welfare.”
He went on to explain that:
“The strategy focuses on key areas dealing with developing and strengthening administrative competencies, imposing professionalism, strengthening accountability and integrity, deepening inter-organisational linkages for greater cohesiveness and impact, expanding on safe neighbourhoods and pilots, and establishing houses of justice to allow greater people participation and involvement in public safety and security issues.”
I must ask after one year has elapsed, what has been the benefit derived from this intervention? Have there been a reduced number of robberies under arms, murders, trafficking in narcotics? A reform of the security sector requires such changes that would impact on those crimes which negatively affect the lives of our citizens.
Crime statistics issued by the police intermittently has given no reason to feel comfortable that the situation is improving. The Hon. Minister of Home Affairs announced in the final days of 2011, the sermon from the Mount at Eve Leary, that under the Capital Simmons Group, work could be done in several areas of the Guyana Police Force, including administration, succession planning, probity, integrity, public relations and communications. He also said that 10 persons would be employed to hold key positions in the Strategic Management Department, which would become a department of the Guyana Police Force and they will work together with the Police to ensure that the plan will be implemented. For months now, nothing has been heard of the Capital Simmons Group and there have been three resignations from among the 10 persons employed with the Strategic Management Group, in such areas as communications, research and risk management because of an apparent fall out in relations between certain members of the group and certain senior officers.
I am certain had the Hon. Minister exercised the foresight to ensure that friction between the two groups were minimised, the suspicions which members of the Guyana Police Force harboured about a group, which was formed to aid the development of the organisation, would have been removed. I should ask the Hon. Minister whether officers and other ranks are aware of the roles of the Strategic Management Department; has the Strategic Management Department produced any change, what is the Guyana Police Force doing with the product and is there a relationship between change management and the Strategic Management Department? What has been the impact of the change on society and are crime prevention strategies documented? I see no change setting in place in the Guyana Police Force, there is much of the same.
Investigative tactics employed by the police have not changed. When investigators cannot solve crime we eventually hear of allegations of brutality or torture. We recall in 2009 the highly publicised incident of a young man who was held during an investigation during into the death of a man known for his long association with the PPP on the West Demerara. The publication revealed to us that the man’s private parts and pubic area were burnt during an investigation into the man’s death.
In the midst of the reform process there was the despicable Colwyn Harding case. He was detained at the Timehri Police Station pending a charge of theft when he alleged that a baton was forced up his anus, injuring him.
Stabroek News of 18th January, 2014 published recently a spike in armed robberies occurring on the Corentyne between 49, 55, 56 and 57 Villages. During the last part of 2013, when five families were attacked during the last quarter of the year, the residents complained of police indifference to their report, frequent blackouts and bush not being weeded. The choice of the five or four mentioned areas for the reform of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) was poorly thought out, as they do not deal with the core issues affecting the police delivery of an efficient service to the public it serves. It explains why at this point there is no discernable change in police performance. For any quick impact on performance the Government ought to have forward the recommendations of earlier work produced in the Security Sector Action Reform Project.
In October, 2006, a team from the African Security Section Network (ASSN) visited Guyana at the invitation of Department For International Development (DFID) and the United Kingdom Government to advise on the Security Sector Reform Implementation Strategy. That visit resulted in the Security Section Action Plan, which was negotiated with the Government of Guyana and adapted by the National Assembly on 1st November, 2007. The ASSN took a follow-up mission to Guyana in 20th October, 2003, to update and further develop the action plan. This report is the result, its main objective is to provide a discussion paper, laying out an analysis of Guyana’s security sector and its current challenges, proposing options of reform and providing a road map of detailed implementation actions for the future.
The report also identified key issues underlying and facilitating the overall strategy, mainly the development of a National Security Policy Framework and National Security Architecture, capacity building for key actors and the perceived links between the Security Sector Reform (SSR) and gender poverty issues. In the process the report attempts to take note of both international best practices in SSR on the one hand and Guyanese reality is on the other. What emerged in the report are recommendations designed to guide discussions between Her Majesty’s Government and the Government of Guyana.
Mr. Speaker, you would have heard me saying on several previous occasions that Government ditched this report and as a result, they have clung to a very soft form of police reform, which is not serving to improve the Guyana Police Force. The report I referred to listed eight areas: crime intelligence, I am sure we would recognise that crime intelligence is important to the improvement of the Guyana Police Force and an anti-crime unit, the forensic laboratory, traffic management, a strategic review of the Guyana Police Force, community police relations, police accountability and transparencies, national security policy, management and legal framework, national security policy and legal framework continue.
If I were to repeat the five areas which the Hon. Minister has been championing you would recognise that no perceptible change would be seen in a long while because they do not deal with the core issues which are required to develop the Guyana Police Force. They deal with more clerical work. One of major importance, which could be attached to this eight that I just mentioned, is the one with poverty. I am sure that the future of the Guyana Police Force would have been well served with the implementations or the recommendations of the SSRP.
I read in the 27th March issue of the Stabroek New comments attributed to the Hon. Minister of Home Affairs to the effect that there were significant criticisms prior to the launching of SWAT, most of which were unwarranted. I must inquire from the Minister whether he is ever present when members of the Guyana Police Force are allegedly uncouth to members of the public; brutalise and torture members of the public; fail to attend to their reports promptly and efficiently; do not investigate crime efficiently; or either absent from court or fail to summon witnesses to testify. Members of the public are fed up and disgusted by the failure of the police to prosecute their mandate to bring justice to those offended. The people at Number 48 Village were similarly disgusted with the crime situation in their area when they gave vent to their feelings unfortunately on the hardworking policemen who responded promptly to a report of robbery. I empathise with those residents and the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) calls on the Government to provide vehicles to Springlands and Number 51 Village police stations to service the needs of the people on the Corentyne, rather than the rickety vehicle the Number 51 Village police had to use from Number 63 Village toll gate.
Narcotics is a growing problem in Guyana for the 20 years the PPP has been in office ... [Ms. Shadick: Not before?] Not before. When the PPP came to office marijuana was the substance...
Mr. Speaker: Do not forget in 1988 Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances Act.
Mr. Felix: No, I will not forget that. For the 20 years the PPP has been in office they have not been able to subdue and control the spread of the narcotics trafficking throughout Guyana. I can recall that in 1985, we had developed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. We then had a booklet- “Guyana’s strategy for dealing with the drug problem”, which detailed the areas in which [Mr. Nadir: [Inaudible]] Yes, a very powerful booklet. It detailed the areas in which Government would deal with the drug problem and as a matter of fact, had started to proceed according to the guidelines of the booklet.
Unfortunately, in 1992, when this Government came they abandoned all the structures which they Guyana Strategy for dealing with the drug problem had comulgated. We had organised meetings called [Inaudible] between the services and National Drug Law Enforcement Committee (NDLEC), headed by the President and all stakeholders attended that meeting monthly. I can assure you Mr. Speaker that that meeting was no walk in the park under Desmond Hoyte, those who knew him.
That is why the drug problem, though it was growing, it was subjected and subdued because the first occasion we were able to detect narcotics going through the airport was through our organisation, from NDLEC. The National Drug Law Enforcement Committee gave us the inspiration to run certain operations and if you could remember the “hot pants cocaine”. That was as a result of Hoyte’s polices and there were several of them... [Interruption] [An Hon. Member: Cocaine in soap powder.] Yes, that was with Taps who is now dead. We also had several other instances. We had Aunt Aggie; Aunt Aggie had a maze of security features to defeat the police, but yet we were able to enter.
That is the type of policing activity we on this side of the House would like to see of the police now. What has been happening? The police have been starved of the necessary resources, even though my friends on the other side would tend to say or would say that they are giving the police more resources. It is not the giving of the resources; it is where the resources are put. They need vehicles right now – Springlands and Number 51 Village and many other stations – no vehicles.
When the residents from the Corentyne decided that they would rebel against the crime situation there, the Hon. Minister said, “clean sweep”, most insensitive statement to men who, in a rickety vehicles, visited the scene and did so promptly. [Mr. Ramjattan: What did he say?] It was “clean sweep”. All the commissioner had to do now was sweep – move everybody - much to the embarrassment to the policemen and their families who were in that area working honestly.
As a matter of fact, I recall that in 1993 there was an aircraft flying from some part of Central America and depositing 250 pounds of cocaine up the Demerara River. Luckily, we were able to recover that drop; luckily, we were able arrest and prosecute all of them; luckily, we were able to prevent, by putting into the prisons, a number of people who would have accelerated drug trafficking in this country. Unfortunately, the problems, which existed then, exist now. There is no surveillance equipment. Government would not give us an indication that it will provide aerial surveillance for aircraft in our area without reporting its presence. That is why, now, drug trafficking is so rampant in the interior locations because, now, all the aircraft has to do is to fly - come low - drop the cargo and it is gone. By the time there is a response there is someone waiting, who collects the stuff and is gone. [Mr. Rohee: [Inaudible]] Well I wrote your Prime Minister on that and he has not answered.
Mr. Speaker: Okay, Mr. Felix...
Mr. Felix: He wrote me and I wrote him...
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Felix.
Mr. Felix: ...so you must know what you are talking about.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Felix, you will direct your comments to the Chair. Do not get drawn in.
Mr. Felix: There are airstrips built in the hinterland community and there is nothing... [Mr. Rohee: I met the lady the last... [inaudible]. She is coming to Guyana soon. The story gun bruk out.] You could reach her 99 times because you can hardly question yourself. At the airstrip built in the hinterland area, no one has ever been discovered or prosecuted. The fallout from drug trafficking are a large number of unexplained murders, gun smuggling, money laundering, export of cocaine in various forms of concealment methods. Every conceivable item being exported from Guyana is tainted with cocaine, the last being awara, pepper, lumber and it does not appear as though the Government is taking seriously the effects of drug trafficking in this country.
The inability to investigate narco export in various forms of concealment, the Government always claims that it needs more information when the information is right here. Recent investigations, involving two foreign countries, revealed cocaine in coconut milk, allegedly originated in Guyana, according to the investigation out there, and ended up with an international criminal organisation with propensity for enforcing their will violently.
Now we see the need for the Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team. There is no need for a SWAT team under our current circumstances - absolutely none. A SWAT team has particular role and functions. What we need is to develop the Guyana Police Force. We need to look at all of the areas of weaknesses, the inability to investigate crimes, narcotic trafficking and the inability for us to deal with the traffic problems. Those are areas which we need to develop.
We need to solve several law enforcement challenges such as the efficient investigation of crime, the prosecution of cases and the prevention and detection of crime. This budget has not done much for the Guyana Police Force. There are marginal increases allocated to certain areas. The big increase is under training and that is to take care of the expenses incurred with the SWAT team, of which two of the trainers still remained here, obviously, to ensure that the officers are in shape or that they are properly looked after in the early stages. That is an expense on us because millions of dollars have to be paid. [Mr. Rohee: If I were you I would have lie low.] I do not have to. You have to lie low.
Community policing has been spoiled by this Government. Community policing is intended to be an interaction... [Mr. Greenidge: Political policing.] That is right, political policing. It is not community policing. There are community policing groups which have now been turned into a police force. In the incident I related on the Corentyne recently, the people had to protect themselves by forming themselves into vigilante groups when, on the very Corentyne, there are a number of persons, reported to me, who have community policing vehicles in their homes and do nothing with them. According to the reports I have received, this Government pays them $20,000 to $25,000 per month.
That is why you will notice in this year’s budget, community policing gets more than the Guyana Police Force - $413 million... [Mr. B. Williams: Are you serious?] It is if I am serious. Look, it is here, page 447. It is more than what the police will get, at least, I think, $33 million more. That is one which ought to come under the Acts.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, you will require some further time.
Ms. Ally: I move that Hon. Member be given 15 minutes to continue his presentation.
Question put, and agreed to.
Mr. Felix: I now move to an important area and that is the rule of law. During a recent question I had asked it was said that the entire question affected a personal matter. I accepted the agreement then and still do now, but what we have to recognise now is that this Government seems to have one law for it and another law for other people.
Around 2007 and 2008, a certain Minister of Local Government and Regional Development had committed a crime [Mr. Rohee: Central executive...[inaudible]] Yes. So what! He should have been arrested and he should have been charged and placed before the court because the offences he committed were clear criminal offences.
Mr. Speaker: These were allegations, Mr. Felix.
Mr. Felix: Well, the allegations made against him.
Mr. Speaker: And the Constitution states that one is presumed innocent...
Mr. Felix: ...until proven guilty.
Mr. Speaker: ... until proven guilty.
Mr. Felix: I subject myself to your corrections.
Mr. Speaker: It is not mine; it is what the Constitution states.
Mr. Felix: There is still another issue. If anyone of us is found to have committed a traffic offence – jump the major road or any such offence – we have to be charged unless the discretion of the police operates in our favour. It is not so over there, we can be drunk like a fish, we can crash into any other person’s vehicle and we can just walk away. Where is the rule of law? [Mr. Rohee: Mr. Felix, do not talk.] I am talking, Mr. Rohee.
The road corners, on our roads, are becoming more than a source of concern. There are so many vehicles, the drivers are indiscipline and there are fewer policemen. What the Hon. Minister ought to pay attention to is how to support the Guyana Police Force to retain staff. This Minister has a dead hand on the police force and nothing will move. That is why the no confidence vote is so important.
The no confidence vote ought to have seen Mr. Rohee somewhere else, but he remains with his dead hand on the organisation and literally stifling it. The micromanagement of the Guyana Police Force is becoming more and more obnoxious. When the Minister cannot get his way he calls on the commissioner to transfer and that is true – “I do not want this man here”. Whenever Mr. Minister has anything concerning the organisation, there are serious problems and as such, I think, the no confidence vote should now be ramped up so that we see him, finally, to allow the Guyana Police Force to breed.
Finally, my view is that this budget has not brought any goods for the Guyana Police Force. It has brought only extra money to be used anyhow, having been passed to community policing there is little control over it. That is one area I think, when the hammer falls, or when the hatchet falls, it should fall right there.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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