May 07, 2013 - Interpersonal Violence3501 07 May, 2013
May 07, 2013 - INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE
Minister of Home Affairs [Mr. Rohee]: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This question of interpersonal violence was brought into sharp focus only a few days ago when, in a minibus, a man and his wife were travelling on the East Coast and they protested against the playing of loud music in the vehicle which, in my view and the view of many other Guyanese, was quite justifiable, only to have one of the persons in the bus pounce on the male passenger and beat the living hell out of him. This matter I think has brought into bold relief what we understand by interpersonal violence.
I do not believe from the way it was put, by the Hon. Member Mrs. Backer, that there is any one solution to this problem. There is no one size fit all solution. The magnitude of this problem I do not believe could be solved by a committee sitting in a room in the Public Buildings with the aim of finding a solution. I think it is a problem that is way beyond a committee and a work programme.
The Hon. Member said that we need to put an end to this culture, but how do we do that? The mere fact that we speak about a culture and putting an end to a culture is indeed a far-reaching and a very profound exercise. Cultural patterns of the type, which we are speaking about here, do not occur overnight. A cultural pattern, whether it manifests itself in a violent form, of the type that we speaking about, germinates overtime. We have to ask the question: How did we arrive at the stage where we are today? It is not for the want of putting laws in place to deal with this matter only to have the very persons, who you seek to deal with in the context of the law, end up becoming abusive and lawless. Many laws have been put in place to deal with interpersonal violence at various levels but in the final analysis when the law enforcement agencies seek to enforce the law they are confronted with persons who become violent, who become abusive and who are lawless. How do you deal with this in a society where the persons, who are expected to enforce the law, are dealt with or confronted with in this manner? If those who are vested with the authority to ensure that the law is enforced are attacked, abused and harassed and when those, who are expected to withhold the law, within the Constitution, side with the criminals, how do we expect to deal with this culture that we now seek to address in a committee by way of a group of people sitting to formulate a plan of action?
Let me give this House a recent example. It was only Saturday, around midday, when I was at Camp and Regent Streets, parked, almost in front of the traffic lights, was a music cart playing loud music. I approached the vendor and I asked him to remove his cart from encumbering the public road. He refused to do so. What were the grounds of refusing to do so? His grounds were “This is a good spot for me to sell my CDs. I do not see anything wrong with parking here.” This problem manifests itself in various parts of our society where people take the law into their hands and believe that they have a god given rights to do anything, anywhere and anytime, even to the extent of selling publicly pornographic materials and believe that they have a right to make money off of those. When it is sought to be addressed there are letters appearing in the media criminalising the police for preventing those vendors from selling pornographic materials. What is the role of the media in a matter like this? It is that not a single newspaper has published an editorial condemning these lawless acts. Schoolchildren, walking on the pavement, can purchase those CDs. Many of us pass along with it and agree with the view that those persons are making a living so let them... It shows that the moral fabric of our society... Many of us are part and parcel of that because we do not speak out and we allow these things to fester like a running sore.
Mr. Speaker, you go around the city, at any one of the marketplaces, and see any lawless act committed you will hear persons justifying it by saying, “This is Guyana, anything goes.” We accept that as part of the culture. Nobody speaks out. Some people speak out and those that do not speak out justify not speaking out, because they claim that nothing will happen. They will usually tell you that they do not want any trouble and so the status quo is maintained.
I think we have to look at the signals that are sent when we are, ourselves, supported activities that help to engender interpersonal violence. It is amazing how many shun dialogue and sitting and reasoning things out as compare to the extent of the speed in which they resort to a piece of wood, a piece of iron, a firearm or some other instrument to end the dispute. I think that when we talk about the culture we must see a tremendous degree of impatience among these persons to settle scores by violent means. The lawlessness begins, on many occasions, in the home; the lawlessness begins in school; the lawlessness begins at the workplace and the lawlessness begins even at leisure where there is a total breakdown and disrespect for authority. People have no respect for school teacher and headmaster, politician, and so it goes.
They say that something is wrong in society. Of course, things are wrong, but what is the solution? I do not believe that this problem is unique to Guyana. We will be making a serious mistake if we are to ever believe that Guyana is the only country where there is this problem reaching, whether we call it epidemic, catastrophic, whatever description we use to describe it.
I have no problem with the spirit of this motion, but what I do have a problem with is the political context in which the motion is being brought. There is, in the political atmosphere, no spirit of cooperation. We saw that manifested in this National Assembly only a few hours ago. Bills are brought; there are serious divisions among Members of the House; the media is here to reflect that in the public domain and people interpret them in their own way. The political atmosphere is not one of trust and cooperation which is what we should be working for at the political level. If a motion, such as this, is brought and suddenly we inserted it in a political atmosphere that is charged with lack of cooperation, lack of trust...
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Minister, I would like to go even further and to say that I think that society and criminals actually become embolden when they see no spirit of cooperation in the House. It actually feeds a sense of lawlessness. It is not only that people are seeing us not working together, but it also emboldens and strengthens those who feel that they do not adhere to any law and order. That is something that we have a responsibility over and have to take full blame for it, to an extent as well. I agree with you on that, but I am saying, for me, it goes a bit further than just us not working , as well.
Mr. Rohee: I think we are on the same wavelength. Then one opposition Member of Parliament added fuel to the fire and helped to undermine whatever basis is there for trust and cooperation by stating that there is a criminal cabal on this side. That certainly does not help. What it does help to do is to maintain the highly charged political environment and therefore the question of such a motion being the subject... The sustainability for its success will depend to a large extent on the political cooperation that exists at the highest level and even at the parliamentary level as you have just mentioned, Mr. Speaker.
I have here, with me, seven volumes of the Report of the National Commission for Law and Order starting from 2006 to 2009. In these records here, one will see the efforts that were made by the National Commission for Law and Order to deal with the question of interpersonal violence among other issues. As I said, it is not for the want of not trying to address this highly complex problem, looking at it from various angles. It is not for the want of wanting to engage in consultations with stakeholders.
I saw in the motion proposed by the Hon. Member the call to set up some kind of committee to draw up a plan of action. A National Commission for Law and Order is unique in the sense that it is the only body of its kind existing in this country where there are political parties, trade unions, religious organisations, University of Guyana, all of the representatives from across the political and social spectrum who sit every month to discuss issues of this type. I was concerned, as I still am concerned, about the duplication of efforts. We also have the Parliamentary Standing Committee, the Oversight Committee on Security, which could be another mechanism that can be used to deal with these issues, to invite representatives from the social partners and others to come to give their views on this matter. Why are we choosing to over look these bodies and set up another body when we have mechanism for work to be done?
The term of reference for the National Commission for Law and Order speaks almost the same language that is in the motion by the Hon. Member. I am not convinced that the solution to interpersonal violence is one that could be found in a very highly structured approach. We have to be innovative, imaginative. I think the focus should not only be the senior people, but even the younger people in our country. It calls for a massive rejuvenation of what our ethics or ethos, our cultural values in this country have been over the years. As I said, while I support the spirit of the motion, I have mixed feelings about the approach that is being proposed, in terms of finding a solution to this multifaceted problem, this cultured problem, which did not emerge overnight, but has a long period of gestation to bring us to where we are today. This does not mean that we should not continue working to find a solution to the problem. I, like my other colleagues, support sustained work, dedicated work, to bring an end to interpersonal violence. If we are to do work in this respect we must allow each organisation, which is committed to dealing with problem, to so within its imaginative and creative ways.
Thank you. [Applause]
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