The Impact of the Regional Joint Support Team on Business, Tourism, and the Family

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Dear Editor,

Many persons have been asking me why am I so quiet these days? I have recently started talking publicly again, since February I went on a ‘spiritual renewal journey’. I was on 21 days of ‘spiritual consecration’, then two months of ‘spiritual separation’, then forty days of fasting and praying and now twenty-one days of fasting and praying, essentially, what is happening in Guyana has been keeping me on my knees. The ‘Peeping Tom’ article published in the Kaieteur News on June 13, 2021, titled ‘All Guyanese Should Kneel’, was timely.

Development ought to be inter-connected which means that one sector should enable or enhance the growth and development of another. In 2007, when the Cricket World Cup was coming to Guyana, there was massive investment in expanding the hotel industry in Guyana to accommodate the anticipated large volumes of visitors, tourists, and cricket-lovers, one of my disappointment, thereafter, was the underutilization of many of these hotels after the games.

I often wondered about those businesses that had borrowed loans and were saddled with mortgages despite the relatively low number of visitors or tourists.

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With the rise of the oil and gas industry, there has been much excitement again around building hotels, it is definitely an area slated for massive investment in Guyana. However, hotels would have to be occupied by visitors and tourists for the most part, hence one of my concerns with the idea of the Regional Joint Support Team, security unit. It is important that our leaders are very clear on whether Guyana will be an ‘open and safe democracy’ or a controlled state.

Guyana’s Constitution makes provisions for the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF); therefore, crime fighting is seated legally, under the GPF and national security under the GDF. The Regional Joint Support Team, based on the little information available, would not fall under the GPF, even though it is said to be a crime fighting outfit, but fall under the GDF. This decision sends a serious signal to tourists; it signals that the crime situation is Guyana is so bad, and the government does not expect it to get any better, hence the need to establish a permanent; certainly, medium to long term crime fighting unit.

We are telling investors, to come and partner with Guyana and invest, but at the same time, we also telling them that our crime situation is out of control. Are we encouraging investors and businesses to invest in the hotel industry and tourism, but yet we are not creating a conducive environment that will be competitive with other tourism countries and destinations?

I found it ironic that in May of this year, in the same week that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was organising the diaspora forums and encouraging members of the diaspora to pack up and come to Guyana and resettle and invest, it was the same week that there was the news in the media with the disruptions to the Police Service Commission (PSC) and by extension the GPF.

What is my point? It seems as though many decisions are more political but are not focused on creating an environment that will be conducive for business, investment and tourism and the growth and development of families. The Regional Joint Support Team security unit is a political decision, but in my view, it runs counter to Guyana’s business, investment, tourism, and general development agenda as a democratic country. I am concerned that if we go in this direction, investments will be made in the hotel industry for example, without adequate returns because we would have failed to create the environment for a viable tourism sector.

The business and investment community must surely be concerned with this new development; since it signals that crime is so out of control in Guyana; and secondly, it would be putting guns in the hands of a people in a unit that is unconstitutional. These things make investors and tourists very uncomfortable about countries.

From an institutional standpoint, this establishment of these two units will inevitably create tensions in the GPF and the GDF, since there are overlaps of their responsibilities.  Another point to note is, that one of the benefits and stabilizing factors built into the system and structure of the GPF and the GDF, is that after these highly trained and skilled security and military people, experts and professionals retire, they are provided with a pension plan.

This pension plan prevents them from being forced to sell their skills and expertise in unlawful ways, to make a living after they retire. In the absence of the pension plan, they could be forced to sell their skills and expertise to the highest bidder, and in an oil and gas society, the bid could be significantly high. Will the members of this new security outfit be provided with a retirement pension package, so that at the end of their tenure, these highly trained people would not be forced to sell their skills and expertise to the highest bidder to earn a living. These are organizational and systemic issues which need to be carefully evaluated.

Guyana is a small society and therefore can easily become vulnerable to small number of highly trained security experts with no real commitment to country and the people of that country.

A fundamental point to note, however, is that Guyana’s crime problem is primarily of a socio-economic nature, I find it difficult to accept that we need a high-tech security unit to manage a crime situation where the people who are committing most of the crimes are between 15 – 25 years old. Human development is essentially about expanding choices and increasing opportunities, therefore that G$700 M will go a long in creating more jobs for our high-risk youths, as a way of preparing them to be gainfully employed in the current and emerging industries, as well as it would put a lot of food on their tables. My question is whether our focus is on protecting our evolving enclaves or on human development?

It is ironic that the government would request to take G$700M of our money for a new security unit and yet borrow G$1.4B from the World Bank to enhance education in the country. While the government is planning to spend G$700 M on a new security unit, the Minister of Health is developing a National Strategic Plan to combat Non-Communicable Diseases (NDCs). The increase in NCDs is also as a result of sections of the population not eating properly.

This decision is equivalent to buying a new big screen television set when the bank is threatening to foreclose on the family home, and the school is threatening to put the children out of school because the school fees are in arrears. Our women and children need food and more fruits to eat but they need the means to buy them.

Editor, let us continue to pray for Guyana. Our male leaders continue to create unnecessary instability for our women, young people, and children, with impunity. I worry for our women, children, and young people; they, are at the bottom of the social ladder in Guyana, but they deserve a stable environment to live in.

I guess women and men have different priorities, even as leaders. We women are keenly watching our male leaders and we are taking note of the decisions they are making.

Yours faithfully,
Audreyanna Thomas



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