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Not so long ago this newspaper reminded the Guyana Government of the dangers surrounding the proposed establishment, by legislation, of a “border patrol unit”, particularly since it will clash with current statutory and constitutional legislation which established the Guyana Defence Force as the agency responsible for the nation’s border security.
It was clear to us then that the government was fixed on setting up a defence and security agency that would give them independent control, apart from the GDF and the GPF. The government was also advised to be careful that its actions do not further exacerbate the wounds of division and suspicion of military side-lining and neutralising. We also pointed out then, that the government would remember that it had offered to the GDF for consideration, post 1992- the Costa Rican model of not having a standing army, but instead a National Border Unit, which the GDF argued would be detrimental to a country like Guyana, with active border claims from two of its principal neighbours. The government retreated from that position
However, the government seemed to have come full circle with its intention to have independent control over of a defence, security and law enforcement agency with its announcement, in the National Assembly on Monday 14th June 2021, of the establishment, by Defence Board Decision, of a Regional Joint Support Team, whose purpose, according to Minister Gail Teixeira, is “to develop operational capacity in crime fighting”. Apart from not answering the real questions asked of her, the Minister provided no information that allays concerns that the government is once again attempting to set up an independent defence and security unit, disguised, at the moment, under the Guyana Defence Force for the purposes of financing.
The fact that the “Regional Joint Support Team” is a recent Defence Board Decision, according to Minister Teixeira, begs the question of the government’s true intentions. The Defence Board, under Chapter 15:01, is responsible for giving policy direction to the Guyana Defence Force. It does not engage in the naming of units. Neither can the Defence Board direct the Guyana Defence Force to “develop operational capacity in crime fighting”. That is the statutory duty of The Guyana Police Force. Not the GDF! More importantly, the creation of this crime fighting Regional Joint Support Team by the Defence Board and placing its budgetary allocation within the GDF would lead any right-thinking person to easily conclude that the Defence Board can, and perhaps intends to, direct and influence this joint crime fighting team.
The second issue that is very unclear, is the command structure. There is no joint service or joint command or joint operations legislation in Guyana. However, there is, by convention, the Joint Services Coordinating Council which is Chaired by the Chief of Staff and a signed protocol between the Chief of Staff and the Commissioner of Police informing how the GDF will support them in crime fighting. Under the Defence Act and the Constitution of Guyana, the GDF can provide support to the GPF. However, any support from the GDF is triggered by the Commissioner of Police, and there is an abundance of experience between the two agencies in this regard. There is no need for the Defence Board to specifically set up any agency to develop operational capacity in crime fighting. The protocols, in the absence of legislation, between the GDF and the GPF, and tested over the decades, are sufficiently robust in managing and executing joint operations .Therefore, it is quite understandable, the apprehensions and, in some quarters, fear that this new crime fighting force is a prelude to the government setting up a “border patrol unit” and a return to phantom killings, extra judicial killings and fear among our citizens as experienced under the PPP/C government, not so long ago.
Thirdly, after the Lusignan and Bartica massacres during the last PPP government, a joint special operations group between the GDF and the GPF was formed, on the request of the Commissioner of Police, to specifically track and apprehend the perpetrators of those heinous crimes. It was a time bound activity. What the government now proposes with this Regional Joint Support Team is a permanent grouping of GDF and GPF ranks, across Guyana, conducting crime fighting. Apart from being unconstitutional, that is a very dangerous development to have crime fighting teams across Guyana operating without any legislative authority, except for being financed out of the GDF budget and ostensibly being members of the GDF and the GPF
Whether this time around the intention of the government is noble is of no moment. What is more important for the government to do, is to concentrate on resourcing and developing the crime fighting capabilities of the Guyana Police Force and its return to enjoying the confidence of the citizens of Guyana. In that sense, the government would be contributing to a citizens centered approach to crime fighting as opposed to the state centric model that it is currently pursuing. Let the established agencies and protocols govern the conduct and execution of joint operations in support of the Guyana Police Force. There is no need for any new agency.