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—says legislation being abused to protect “thinned skin snowflakes” in government
Shadow Home Affairs Minister in the National Assembly, Attorney-at-Law Geeta Chandan-Edmond said there has been “a crackdown” on freedom of speech and freedom of expression since the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government took Office in August 2020 through the barefaced abuse of the country’s Cyber Crime Act. “… Guyanese have lost the basic fun indulgence of speaking their minds on social media. We cannot even post on facebook in peace, the government cyber security teams are scouting the pages of ordinary Guyanese to abuse the Cyber Crime Act,” MP Chandan-Edmond told the National Assembly on Thursday.
While acknowledging that the Cyber Crime Act was introduced under the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC), the Opposition MP said the Act was never intended to chase down satirical cartoon characters on social media such as ‘Mudwata’ but rather to stop child pornography, the sharing of nudes without permission and the use of electronic devices for terrorist activities. “It was never intended to be used to protect thin skinned snowflakes in the Government from emotional abuse and trauma because they are subject to public critique,” the APNU+AFC Parliamentarian said while calling on the Government to stop its abuse of the Cyber Crime Act.
She said unlike now, freedom of speech was alive and well under the David Granger Administration. They told me harrowing stories about how their basic human rights are denied.
The Opposition MP told the House that in addition to the abuse of the Cyber Crime Act, the fundamental rights of Guyanese, particularly young men, have been breached by the Guyana Police Force which is guilty of arresting persons with without cause and violating their constitutional protection of the 72 hours limit. Young men, she reported, have been beaten for no reason, while others, such as Orin Boston, have been victims of extra-judicial killings.
“Sir, these developments stir insecurity. When this seething anger reaches to its boiling point, no one is safe. The continuing series of intimidatory actions and violence against powerless women and unlawful seizure of their personal belongings by errant members of the Guyana Police Force leaves much to be desired,” the MP said.
Forming part of the $552.2B National Budget for 2022 is an allocation of $47.9B for the Home Affairs Ministry, however, the Shadow Minister said, the Government must do more to address the social and economic challenges that threatens public safety and security. According to her, $47.9B will mean little if starvation and the economic carnage brought about by the mismanagement of the economy by the PPP/C Administration is not addressed.
“You cannot achieve public security only with more guns, dogs, barbed wired fences, drones, helicopters and personnel. These efforts must be coupled with strenuous attempts to deal with endemic poverty and suffering of the people,” Chandan-Edmond submitted.
It was pointed out that much as 50% of the prison population are typically from the bottom 20% of the income ladder. She said it is for that, and other reasons, the Coalition has proposed that the income tax threshold be increased from $75,000 to $125,000. “If we don’t deal with the high food prices, we cannot boast about public security,” the APNU+AFC MP submitted.
Further, she told the House that there is nothing in the Budget that suggests that Government reimagined public security in this age of oil as she referenced to the importation of “deathtrap vehicles.”
Committee on public security
In light of the circumstances, Chandan-Edmond called for the immediate formation of an inter-ministerial committee on public security to allow for multi-dimensional interventions in “these unprecedented times of relentless high crime.”
However, Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn, in responding to the Opposition MP, said it was under the APNU+AFC Administration that persons entered Guyana and went missing as he addressed the issue of safety and security.
“From the period 2017 to 2020, 36,000 persons passed through Guyana, 94 per cent of all who arrived from a particular country disappeared. When we talk about people smuggling and trafficking in persons, we have to look at these statistics,” Minister Benn told the house.
He said the crime fighting strategy put in place by the PPP/C Administration has proven effective with the country recording a 20% reduction in serious crimes.
“In spite of all that have been said about Guyana, serious crime has been reduced by 20 per cent,” Minister Benn told the Assembly on Thursday, while embracing Budget 2022. Though the country has witnessed some of the most devastating fires in recent times, including the complete destruction and gutting of the Brickdam Police Station and Sharon’s Mall, the Home Affairs Minister told the House that fires are also on the decrease.
“The instance of fires has been reduced by 30 per cent,” he contended while concluding that the fires, particularly those involving Government buildings, are largely set by arsonists. He noted, however, approximately $400M has been earmarked to reconstruct the Brickdam Police Station building. Further, to strengthen the capacity of the Guyana Fire Service, $100M has been allocated to rehabilitate and install fire hydrants. In addition, government is investing $255 million to procure a hydraulic platform given Guyana’s changing landscape.
“For the first time in more than 16 years, road deaths have dropped below 100 in Guyana,” Minister Benn added. Minister Benn said other agencies under his ministry have made great headway in addressing narcotics trafficking, seizing illegal fire arms and closing cases related to money laundering by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU).