Firearms (Amendment) Bill 2013 – Bill No. 24/20133072 16 Jan, 2014
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Minister, is there an amendment to this Bill as well?
Mr. Nandlall: Yes, Sir.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you. Please proceed.
Mr. Nandlall: Thank you very much. This is another Bill of brevity in terms of its size, but is of fundamental importance to our country. This Bill has an international component to it. Guyana as a nation state has signed on to certain protocols of the United Nations General Assembly. We have signed on to the Palermo Convention against illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in fire arms, their parts, components and ammunition. We have signed on to the United Nations Convention against transnational organised crime and these conventions devolve upon us an obligation to pass legislation to render criminal and illegal illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in fire arms, ammunitions, explosives and other related materials. If I may read from the document prepared by the Organisation of American States (OAS) which was distributed to all of its member states which would have signed on, as an introduction they say as follows:
“For arms traffickers the world is a very small place. If the price is right these criminals have the capacity to move weapons from country to country or even from continent to continent. Examples are plentiful. In January 2001 a West African arms and diamonds dealer e-mailed a long list of weapons, including sniper rifles, anti-tank weapons and shoulder launched surface to air missiles to an Israeli arms dealer operating out of Guatemala. The Israeli forwarded the request to another Israeli who forwarded it to another one of his contacts in the Nicaraguan military. The weapons were for West African friends in Africa. The West African had many friends including the horrifically brutal revolutionary united front in Sierra Leon and...”
Mr. Speaker: Is that an OAS document that you are quoting?
Mr. Nandlall: Yes, Sir.
Mr. Speaker: So it just says that the West Africans have many friends and you...
Mr. Nandlall: I am reading, Sir.
Mr. Speaker: Is that an official document?
Mr. Nandlall: Yes, Sir, from the website. They continue “...America’s enemy number one, Al-Qaida. Unfortunately, the...”
Mr. Speaker: Are you saying that an official document just says that West Africa has friends in Al-Qaida and...
Mr. Nandlall: Let me read it again...
Mr. Speaker: It is as if you just say ‘all South Americans have terrorist friends’. Is that a document that the Government is relying on? The weapons were for the “West Africans friends in Africa”. “The West African had many friends including the horrifically brutal revolutionary united front in Sierra Leon and America’s enemy number one, Al-Qaida. Less than a year later the same arms dealer duped the Nicaraguan Government into selling them 3,000 AK series assault rifles and 2.5 million pounds of ammunition which he calmed was for a Panamanian National Police. Instead, the weapons were shipped via boat to Turbo, Columbia, where they ultimately ended up in the hands of United Self Defences Force of Columbia, a paramilitary organisation that is on the state department list of international terrorist organisations.” [Mr. B. Williams: Source?] The OAS Fire Arms Convention. This is the introductory note and then they have the entire convention, Sir, at the back. I pulled this off of the website. [Mr. Nagamootoo: Do you know how many [inaudible] you violated just now?] I am referring to a public document. Sir, this international component that this Bill has mandates us as a country to pass legislation to outlaw illicit manufacturing, illicit trafficking of fire arms and parts of fire arms. If I may be permitted to read, the principle act is amended by the insertion immediately after Section 17 the following section, 17 (a) (i):
“If any person knowingly imports, exports, acquires, sells, delivers, moves, diverts or transfers any fire arms 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. If any person purchases, acquires or has in his possession any fire arms or its parts and components or ammunition for the purpose of Section 1 he shall be guilty of an offence.”
Locally, we are aware of the many instances of gun-related crime in our country, mainly utilising fire arms that are unlicensed and ammunition that is unlicensed we know of several instances where parts of fire arms have been found hidden in goods and merchandise coming into Guyana. The current construct of our Fire Arms Act does not create an offence for a person being found with a part of a gun and this Bill is intended to fill that lacuna.
Recently it was reported in the press some years ago where, I believe, nearly a container or a container containing a large number of high profiled rifles were found somewhere in the Rupununi. Many believe that it was in transit to Georgetown. I do not think that I have to make a case out in respect of the wide use of illicit fire arms in Guyana. In fact, the last time this Bill was presented I recall my colleague, the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Rodrigues-Birkett, spoke and she had statistics which suggest that there are in circulation in South America and Latin America over 2.5 million illicit weapons. It is a Caribbean problem. It is a Latin American problem. It is a South American problem. One only has to look across to Trinidad and Tobago. Yesterday in the newspapers I read reported that it was the 13th and they had 26 murders already; most committed with the use of illegal guns. Jamaica is not far different. Guyana is not far different. Even in Barbados we see crime showing its ugly face in what otherwise was considered a crime-free country. That is why at the OAS level, at the United Nations Level, at the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative level there is a collaborative and consorted effort to have legislation of this type pass.
Again, like its predecessor, I do not anticipate any opposition. It is a very straight forward Bill and it deals with a matter that is of burning importance to our country, crime and criminality. There is one amendment which I would like to draw attention to. I believe that it has been circulated. If one is to examine the Bill which has been circulated one would see that there is no penalty here identified and set out. There is, however, a penalty section in the law itself and I will read that because someone just asked if I had just awoken. Section 48 says:
“Any person guilty of an offence against this Act for which no other penalty is specifically provided shall be liable on a summary conviction to a fine of $15,000 and to imprisonment for three years.”
There is an omnibus penal provision which would have captured the offence... [Mr. Ramjattan: Do not say that. There is $500,000 in this one here.] I am drawing attention as to why I corrected it.
It was not because of the absence of the pro penal provision in the legislation; it was because of the leniency of the penalty which was prescribed. After discussion with the Hon. Minister of Home Affairs it was decided that the penalty ought to be increased and that is why the addition or the amendment, which is being put forward here, increases the penalty, if it is on summary conviction or if it is a magistrate court, to a fine of $500,000 and five years imprisonment and on conviction an indictment, which goes to the High Court, it is a fine of $5 million and ten years imprisonment.
I believe that this penalty captures the gravity of the offence which is being created by this Bill. I believe that the omnibus penal provision was not harsh enough and I do not think it captures the seriousness which the state ought to attach to such offences having regard to their prevalence, having regards to the impunity with which they are committed, having regard to the destructions that they do, socially and economically, in our country. I believe that we should register, in a very harsh way, as a National Assembly, our voice in protest and in condemnation of this type of conduct.
With those few words I asked that the Bill be read a second time.
Mr. Nandlall (replying): I want to begin by thanking the Hon. Mr. Winston Felix, the Hon. Mr. Moses Nagamootoo, the Hon. Mr. Keith Scott and, of course, the Hon. Minister of Home Affairs, who have all expressed their support for this amendment.
Many different and disparate issues have been raised. The common one being that this Bill cannot be the end all in respect to the fight against crime and the illicit weapons trade. I do not think that the Government is of the view and conveyed the impression in any form or fashion that this Bill will solve all of the problems in relation to crime in the country.
In fact, the Organization of American States (OAS), when it promulgated the Convention, which requires Member States to pass this Bill, made that very fundamental point. It stated:
“As is the case with any multilateral instrument, the Convention should not be viewed as a panacea. It does not - and cannot - address all the myriad factors that contribute to illicit arms transfers. Nonetheless, the Convention is suited to accomplish several goals essential to the curbing of illicit transfers of firearms in Latin America.”
That is the view of the Government in relation to this legislation. There is a lot more, obviously, that has to be done. This Bill, however, is a requisite in fulfilling not only Guyana’s international obligations but in bridging a huge gap which exists in our very comprehensive firearms legislation.
Listening to the presentations made and the calls which have been made for further law reform, I get the distinct impression that the persons who spoke never really took the time to go through the Firearms Act, Chapter 16:05. It is a very comprehensive piece of legislation, numbering nearly 50 pages and nearly 50 sections, and it deals with almost every conceivable problem that has been identified by speakers in their presentations.
It speaks to how one surrenders firearms, how firearms are marked, how they are kept by way of a register, how they are entered in that register, what a person should do when a licence is not produced, penalty for surrendering a firearm, firearms not surrendered being liable to forfeiture, the penalty imposed if one breaches the licence, penalty for if a person is found in possession without a licence and a whole host of matters, many of which were alluded to in presentations made and conveyed the impression that those are deficiencies of the law which we have to look at. I just wish to point out, Sir, that they are part of the law and, perhaps, the question really is one of enforcement.
The Hon. Minister of Home Affairs spoke at length about some of the measures which are being implemented to bring reform to the Police Force and the security sector generally. He made the fundamental point that in no period in the 164 years or more history of the Guyana Police Force has there been so many reforms, so wide ranging reforms touching and concerning so many facets of the security sector.
I just spoke about the scientific laboratory. That will be buttressed by the establishment of the Guyana Forensic Laboratory. There is a whole plethora of changes that are bringing scientific methodology into investigations done by the Police Force.
There is another component that seeks to increase the weaponry, assets, apparatus and equipment of the Police Force which they are expected to use in the execution of their day-to-day activities.
Another component deals with human resource matters, training, education, et cetera.
There is a major security reform project that embraces many, many changes and touches and concerns many of the various aspects of the security sector. This Bill must not be viewed in isolation but it is part of an approach and it is an essential part of that approach.
Legislation is recognised the world over as a requisite mechanism to fight crime. It is recognised not as the only mechanism, but as an important part of that network to wage a war against crime and criminality. Therefore, this Bill is welcomed. I thank, once again, APNU and the Alliance For Change (AFC) for their support and I ask that this Bill be read a second time. Thank you very much.
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