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– Defence & Security Expert warns against political and constitutional overreach
By Svetlana Marshall
Contending that the establishment of the shadowy Regional Joint Support Teams by the government is unconstitutional, a Defence and Security Expert said this development should not go unchallenged, warning that it could lead to political and constitutional overreach.
“I think the matter needs to be challenged, the matter should be challenged in the Court because what we have to guard against is political overreach and constitutional overreach. The Government will have at its disposal, if it is allowed to do this, the best human assets in the country under the direction of one person reporting to the political directorate and that is very dangerous,” the Defence and Security Expert told Village Voice Newspaper while speaking under anonymity.
In justifying his Administration’s move to establish the crime-fighting units, President Irfaan Ali said they are necessary to combat new and emerging crimes. “The nature of crime is changing, so we have to create specialised regional outfits that have a multifaceted manner of skillset that can respond rapidly and effectively to varied situations,” the Head of State said while speaking during a recent ceremony at Cove and John Police Station.
The establishment of the Regional Joint Support Teams, which came as a major shock to the Opposition and the rest of the country last month, was birthed out of a decision taken by the Defence Board back in April. Under pressure in the National Assembly in mid-June, Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs, Gail Teixeira disclosed that the units will include representatives from both the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) and the Guyana Police Force (GPF), and are intended develop operational capacity in crime fighting. It will also include officers from the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU).
But while the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration deems the move necessary, the Defence and Security Expert said there is absolutely no need for the Regional Joint Support Teams when there is the Joint Services.
“I don’t think that the reasons advanced by the government are above board because when it comes to aiding the Police Force, there is an established protocol and convention between the Guyana Defence Force and the Guyana Police Force. The Defence Force goes to the aid of the Police Force in circumstances where the Police Force is not able to execute a particular mission or a particular task,” the expert said while noting that the assistance is never permanent.
According to the expert the establishment of the crime-fighting units is a clear breach of the Constitution of Guyana, in particular Article 197 A, which sets out clearly the functions of both the Guyana Police Force and those of the Guyana Defence Force. According to the Constitution, the Defence Force, established under the Defence Act, “shall in the discharge of its constitutional responsibilities function in such a manner as to earn the respect and enjoy the confidence of the citizens,” while the Guyana Police Force, established under the Police Act, is required to “function in accordance with the law as the law enforcement agency of the State responding to the daily need to maintain law and order by suppressing crime to ensure that citizens are safe in their homes, streets, and in other places.”
The security official said while the Defence Force and the Police Force team up periodically to form the Joint Services, it is the Police Force, which is responsible for crime fighting and not the Defence Force.
“Those two agencies have been working over the decades supporting each other but not on a permanent basis,” the official emphasised. The expert said such was the case in the early 2000s when the Lusignan and Bartica Massacres occurred.
“The Guyana Defence Force and the Police Force came together and conducted a joint operation after the Bartica Massacre and the Lusignan Massacre. They came together and conducted a joint operation, when they were specifically trying to track down the perpetrators of those crimes and when that operation came to an end, the entire unit went back to their respective organisations, it was for a specific purpose, it was to go after the high profile criminals that were involved in those two heinous crimes,” the security official explained.
The expert said that it is important for clear protocols to be established. “If an agency is coming in support of the police, those protocols have to be clearly stated and the limits and boundaries have to be clearly stated because the arrest powers are only with the police, only the police have the power to arrest.” The expert said the financial resources being pumped into the crime-fighting units, should have been channeled to the Guyana Police Force to build its capacity.
FEAR OF THE BLACK CLOTHES SQUAD
News of the new crime-fight units have sparked serious concerns, with sections of society suggesting that it will be the return of the ‘black clothes squad.”
The black clothes squad, which was formally known as the Target Special Squad, was notorious for allegedly committing a series of extra-judicial killings in the early 2000s. After much public pressure the unit was disbanded, but not before leaving a trail of bloodshed.
The Defence and Security Expert said the secretive manner, in which the teams are developed have led to those speculations.
“Certainly, we do not want to return to the days when we had extrajudicial killings because policemen were being ordered and directed by political operatives, therefore, this particular force lends to that as a real possibility and there may be a connection between the promotion of specific officers by the Government to lead that Force as opposed to it being an alternative,” the expert said.
“There is that general fear that it could end up being a return to that period when we had extrajudicial killings, significant political and government overreach and fear in the population.”
While the Government has said it was a matter of national security, the Defence and Security Expert said it is a matter of citizen security and greater insight should have been given. “The Minister [of Governance] said it was about crime fighting and crime fighting is not a matter of national security. Crime fighting is a matter of citizen security, and one has to remember the purpose of the police force. The purpose of the police force is to protect the citizens from danger, and danger can come from the government and danger can come from the citizens, and what we need, is a citizen-oriented type of police force and not one that is politically directed,” the expert said.
According to the expert while the People’s Progressive Party/Civic holds as its ideology, democratic centralism, it is the Officers of the Guyana Police Force, who must uphold the laws of the country.
“The Police [Force] is a Constitutional Office, the Commissioner is a constitutional office holder, he is under the Police Force Act and therefore the Police have got to confirm to the act; confirm to the protocol of how crime fighting is done in Guyana, and how the police force is assisted,” he said.