The public good and public trust
First, I must welcome you to State House. I think this might be the first time that the Annual Police Officers’ Conference is being held here. I’ll see you here again next year and I must wish you all a Happy New Year.
This is a special year for the Guyana Police Force. It’s the 180th anniversary since its establishment in 1839 and I’m sure there’ll be other events to mark this auspicious year and I congratulate you on behalf of the Government.
Ladies and gentlemen, the safety of citizens and the security of the state and the stability of the economy are the Government’s paramount concern. A safe, secure and stable country allows citizens to go about their everyday business without fear. Such a State protects citizens and their property and ensures an enabling environment for leisure and lawful economic activities.
Guyana cannot fulfil its potential as a peaceful and prosperous nation unless it is secure and stable. Security and stability can be guaranteed best by a strong police force. Guyana looks to the police force to ensure that its citizens are safe from the threats of criminality and that their public and private property are secure.
The Guyana Police Force, established 180 years ago, is a permanent institution of the State. The Force provides public security which is a ‘public good’ – that is to say, it is a service that is available to all citizens. One person can benefit without reducing its availability to others, one person can benefit and no person needs to be excluded.
The Police Force, if it is to maintain public security, must ensure that it enjoys public trust. The idea of public trust arises out of the relationship between the police and the public, of course. All politics is about people. It follows that whatever trust the people place in the police must be respected. Bribery, for example, is regarded as a notorious crime because it contributes to corruption and, thereby, undermines, public trust.
That is the reason we remember very well when the media asked me what qualities I sought in appointing a Commissioner of Police I did not hesitate to say that the Commissioner must be “unbribable.”
The Guyana Police Force’s role, in the first instance, is prescribed by the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, our supreme law. It is the principal agency of the State concerned with ensuring law and order. It states:
The Police Force established under the Police Act shall 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 citizens are safe in their homes, the streets and other places.
The Police Force, in the second instance, is mandated by the Police Act to perform the tasks of:
… the prevention and detection of crime, the preservation of law and order, the preservation of the peace, the repression of internal disturbance, the protection of property, the apprehension of offenders and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which it is duly charged…
A tall order, indeed. The Police Force, in the third instance, is guided by a Police Service Commission which this Government re-convened on 9th August last year. The Constitution, vests the Commission with:
“…power to make appointments to any offices in the Police Force of or above the rank of Inspector, which means all of you. It gives the Commissioner the power to exercise disciplinary control over persons holding or acting in such offices and, noteworthy, the power to remove such from office…”
This is an important function in the present security situation. Security sector reform is being pursued. It is expected that appointees will carry out the approved reforms which aim at restoring public trust in the Force; reinforcing the Force’s capability to fight crime; and promoting men and women only of the highest integrity to become officers.
Further, the Force, in the fourth instance, is guided by the Police Complaints Authority Act which established the Police Complaints Authority as an independent body. The Government re-established the Police Complaints Authority on 12th September last year.
The ‘Authority’ is vested with powers to receive “complaints of specified cases of misconduct by members of the Police Force” and “supervise investigation of certain serious crimes alleged to have been committed by members of the Police Force.”
The appointment of the Police Complaints Authority is compliant with the provisions of our laws. It also is consistent with the government’s commitment to increasing public trust in the Force. The Authority can engender public trust:
- by serving as a critical link between the Police and the public and providing a means through which the public could have its grievances against police malpractice addressed in an impartial manner by an independent body; and
- by ensuring that the Force’s actions are in conformity with respect for human rights, including the right to life and liberty – rights which are guaranteed by the Constitution.
The Authority is a public defence against the Force’s likely abuse of citizens’ rights. The Authority allows citizens to hold the Force’s members accountable for their actions.
So, you have here an architecture of four important Acts. Why do we go to all of this trouble?
The Force has embarked on a programme of security sector reform aimed at providing increased security for citizens by improving its crime-fighting and law-enforcement capabilities. Security sector reform is aimed at improving public trust and confidence, developing a stronger organization, boosting the Force’s intelligence, response and investigative capabilities and producing a more versatile police officer.
Security sector reform, therefore, must be accelerated to strengthen this vital national institution in 2019. Reform will:
- revise the Force’s institutional framework. As you’ve heard, a new leadership team has been installed within the Force. Some officers don’t know when last they heard of a Deputy Commissioner of Police. Police divisions are being restructured to correspond to Governmental regional divisions; commanders for Regional divisions will no longer be forced to endure the urban discomfort of Eve Leary but will be live and work in more pleasant hinterland regions; I’m sure they’ll look forward to that.
- Reform will allow the force to address the problems of chronic underfunding, lack of adequate planning and the low standards identified in the ‘Combe Report’, of which you heard; Colonel Combe, of course, is the British security sector advisor, provided by Her Majesty’s Government.
- Reform will reverse the Force’s record of poor maintenance and the abuse of its moveable and immoveable assets.
- It will pay greater attention to the selection and training of its constables and cadets;
- It will enhance the welfare of its constables and subordinate officers by improving the conditions under which some of them are advised to live and work, particularly west of the Essequibo;
- And it will ensure promotions are based on hard work, integrity, and merit.
The Force does not operate in a vacuum.
The Constitutions, Commission, Authority and the Acts, however well worded, will remain dry, dusty documents which could be ignored without the application of human intelligence and diligence. Context is important. The Force is distributed very unevenly throughout the ten regions of Guyana; 73 stations and 36 outposts. The country’s terrain, the coastlands, the grasslands, the highlands, the swamplands, the forests, rapids, rivers and waterfalls may appear pretty on the postcards but they are difficult for policemen to patrol.
The Force’s membership of about 4,600 is inadequate and needs to be augmented. Our country of over 215,00km², larger than England and Scotland combined, with 3,000 kilometres of borders and 460 kilometres of sea coast is challenged to maintain security effectively everywhere. Most parts of the country are accessible only by aircraft, of which the Police Force has none, boats, of which we have a few, or foot, which we have 4600 pairs or by horse, but the Police have to go there. The Police have to go there.
Officers, these geographical and demographic factors place a burden on the Force’s organisational, operational, administrative and human capabilities. Officers, in this regard, are selected, trained, appointed, promoted and tasked to command the Force’s manpower and manage its resources in order to fulfil the complex tasks of maintaining public security in this complex country, and in this varied landscape.
Officers are paid more to do more, not as reward for past efforts, but as a promise of what they are capable of doing. The Force is not merely one for shine shoes and soft raiment. It is not an organization only for desk-bound clerks and land-lubbers. Officers have to get out of their offices into the Regions and Divisions.
The most senior officers must visit, they must inspect, they report and they must correct problems where they exist and whenever they arise. Every barrack room, every bicycle, every boat, every constable, ever horse, every kitchen, every station, every stable, every vehicle, must be checked. [They] must be checked daily, weekly, monthly and annually by a supervising subordinate or gazetted officer to ensure that they are fit and proper to perform their functions.
Officer, the days of concealing security sector mistakes and misdeeds are over. The Force’s officers will be held accountable for the consequences of their actions and for the instructions that they issue to their subordinates.
The Police Service Commission, in particular, has a role to play. Its independent status can contribute to enhancing public trust in the Force, to boosting the morale of officers and to the ensuring the efficacy of law enforcement. The Commission’s powers of promotion can re-establish the principle of merit, the principle of discipline and the principle of dismissal. These principles, if applied fairly, can encourage probity and discourage misconduct.
I pay a lot of emphasis to the Commission, rather than the Commissioner. The Commissioner, I think, sometimes has more power than the Commission.
The ‘Commission’s support for the objectives of security sector reform can ensure that there will be, within the Force, a corps of senior officers committed to effective police administration, operations, investigation and intelligence-gathering, controlling sound leadership to subordinate officers and constables; and to evincing the virtues of intelligence and integrity and, once again, being capable of securing the public trust.
The appointment of the Commission, therefore, a credible Commission, is essential to the efficiency of the Police Force and to the security of the State.
The existence of a Commission, however, is not enough to guarantee that the Force would be officered by persons who are competent, committed and uncorrupted. A Force which is contaminated by corruption cannot safeguard the security of our citizens. Service in the Force must be based on the values of commitment, competence and incorruptibility.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Officers, the Guyana Police Force can fulfil its tasks effectively only if it is commanded by a corps of officers who are competent, committed and uncorrupted. The Force’s most senior officers must be men of proven independence, integrity and intelligence.
Guyana is a land of great promise, great potential. It must be protected and its resources must be prudently managed and used and preserved for the benefit of future generations. Here, the Guyana Police Force has a critical role to play, even as it celebrates its 180th anniversary. This year, it must understand that it’s not a Force of the past, but one for the future. Thank you and congratulations on your anniversary.