Minister of Home Affairs [Mr. Rohee]: I would not deliberate too extensively on this matter, precisely, because on the 14th March of last year, according to the Hansard, it can be seen how extensively I spoke on that subject. For the record, what I had to say on this matter is recorded in the Hansard, so I would not wish to repeat most of what I said on that occasion. Suffice it to say, some water has passed under the bridge since then. While we continue to be faced with this challenge, as so many other countries in the Caribbean and indeed in the world at large, the question, I think, most people would like to have answered is what are we doing about it.
The distinguished Attorney General and Mr. Felix spoke, in general terms, about the impact and the import of the amendment from an international and regional perspective, linking, of course, the international to the national and the institution that is constitutionally vested with the authority to address the question of trafficking in firearms. The military also has a role to play in this respect, having regard to the fact that it protects our borders. It has long since been established, by many, that illegal firearms, in the same way as illicit drugs, penetrates our extensive borders, not to mention from the Atlantic coast as well.
Guyana has challenges by the very nature of geostrategic location. We ought not to overestimate or underestimate that geostrategic location which our country is faced with. Compounding that challenge is the fact that our law enforcement agencies, and to some extent the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), are hamstrung by the paucity of human and technological resources to address in a scientific and in a robust manner, an aggressive manner, this phenomena.
We have been speaking to the Brazilians and the Venezuelans, but mainly the Brazilians, who have offered technology, satellite technology, to compensate for the lack of capacity to prevent the infiltration of illegal firearms across our borders. We are negotiating with the Brazilians authorities to utilise satellite technology which, I think, will, not be the panacea, but will go a far way in assisting us in addressing this problem.
Coupled with that is the need for local intelligence from members of the community who live along our borders. This is another valuable input that could prove useful in detecting and preventing illegal firearms from entering our jurisdiction. The law enforcement agencies and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), through the defence board, have been given the necessary authority to develop friendly and cordial relations with the border communities so that human intelligence would be forthcoming were they to be aware and knowledgeable information that could help them detect and prevent the passage and the flow of illegal firearms into our country. That is another component of efforts to address this growing problem.
In addition to that, the Government has seen it fit to address two mechanisms, at the coastal level, to address the penetration of illegal firearms in the city and on the coast. Here I refer to the establishment of the task force to address illegal firearms and illicit drugs, which brings together all of the law enforcement agencies, including the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). In small country, such as ours, in which there are certain constraints, it is important that we pool our resources together so that there would not be a situation where the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing and there is not proper and effective coordination and collaboration among law enforcement agencies. We do not need to have a plethora of silos of information, among law enforcement agencies, where information, and cross-fertilisation of information, does not take place in order to address this problem.
With the establishment of this task force, it brings together these government agencies and departments as another contributing factor to deal with this matter.
Finally, there is the special firearms unit that has been established mainly in the intelligence community, the defence force and police as well as the Guyana Prison Service, to share information processed to be used as intelligence in order to be able to track persons who we could describe as merchants of deaths engaged in the trafficking of illegal firearms and ammunitions. This does not mean to say that these activities of the state and state security will bring an end to this problem. It is not going to bring an end but, at least, it will contribute to reducing, to a large extent, once there are the human resources, which are reliable. I will not be engaged in any acts of collusion to ensure that this problem is not solved. That is why the Government has engaged in the polygraph of the law enforcement agencies to help as another means, from an internal point of view to ensure that ranks, who are vested with the authority to address this problem, have clean hands and are not themselves part and parcel of the problem.
I mentioned these issues because I believe it is important for the public to know of the efforts the Government is making and that we do not speak in isolation and in abstraction when dealing with a concrete issue that is of great importance and a challenge to small developing countries such as ours. We are part of a global village and, therefore, international comity behoves us to act in concert with our friends, with countries in which we have common interest, with countries in which we see eye to eye on, for example, this question of trafficking in firearm.
Only recently we have engaged the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace Disarmament and Development and with whom we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to have two pieces of valuable equipment be installed at the Guyana Defence Force and the Guyana Police Force headquarters at Eve Leary. We want to destroy, not only weapons that are illegal, but have become obsolete technologically and have been stored for years in the armories of the military and the Guyana Police Force. I believe that these pieces of equipment, in the context of this expression of international cooperation, will send a strong signal of Government’s efforts to contain this question.
With the Organization of American States (OAS), we have also benefited from procuring equipment to mark and to trace firearms. Marking and tracing of illegal firearms is critical to the understanding of the depth and scope to which this problem obtains in our jurisdiction. In this regard, within the context of the Caribbean Community, an impact has been established to ensure the collaboration and cooperation among the member states of CARICOM, we have gone a very far way in firearm marking and tracing, particularly in respect of illegal weapons.
I take the point, I do not think there is any need for us to polemicise on this, that laws alone cannot make us undo a great challenge to country such as ours and therefore the institutions, which have to ensure that the laws are upheld, the institutions that are vested with authority to ensure that laws are enforced, have to be kept under public scrutiny. It is good when this happens because it means that the members of those organisations, particular the premier organisation of all law enforcement agencies, are kept on their toes as result of public scrutiny. When the force, for whatever reason, comes under criticism for one act that is not consistent with the Standing Orders, with one act that is not consistent with the constitutional rights of citizens, it is important that these errors be noted and be taken into account by those who lead these organisations.
In this respect, I would like to conclude by saying that we also… Like everyone else in the country, there might be differences in opinion about the pace of the reforms, the nature of the reforms, the objectives of the reforms. I do not think that anyone should have any serious quarrels when debates, such as that, arise, particularly in respect of an institution such as the Guyana Police Force. The fact of the matter is - I would not say that we started the journey, but have started a journey at reform of an institution that has had a particular way of practice for decades and no one has ever done anything about - that it was never in the history of this organisation, which is over a hundred years old, has there been such consistent and sustain efforts to reform this institution. The thing with it is that the Government is seeking to reform an institution that is made up of human beings. These are not robots where by simplification you just press a button and you expect them to react in a particular way. These are very complex individuals with their own thinking, and so on, and it will take quite a significant amount of time. I think we are talking not only about reforming the institution, we are talking about reforming the individuals who are an integral part of that institution because it is they, in the final analysis, who must interact with the public and it is they, when they displayed actions which are contrary to public opinion, contrary to the Standing Orders, bring the organisation into disrepute. It is not going to be an easy task.
I take the point, and I do not think, as I said, it is to dispute this or debate, that it is rather complex. It is a very complex situation we are dealing with but the fact of the matter is that we have started the journey. Let the debate continue to the extent to which reforms are proceeding, the extent to which they are successful and the public has a right to debate these things. Let there be full and complete debate on these matters because I believe, in the final analysis, the objective of those debates is for us to have a better organisation. I have never heard a person called for, at the end of this process, a police force, a law enforcement agency, that is worst than what it is now. People are quite justified when the demand improvement. People are quite justified when they ask to ensure that at the end of this process there is a better police force. I think this is the objective that we should be aiming for. Once we have this type, not perfection, a better organisation issue such as this, which the Attorney General has brought to this House, dealing with trafficking in firearms, trafficking in persons, trafficking in whatever the case might be, once it is part of the landscape of illegal activities, actions contrary to the laws of this country, contrary to the Constitution of this country, the organisation would better be placed to fulfil its legal responsibilities.
As I said, I would wish not to speak too extensively on this matter. The Hansard already has what I had to say, less than a year ago, on this matter but I wish to end by commending this Bill, this amendment to the Firearms (Amendment ) Bill 2013 – Bill No. 24/2013 to this House and to say I support the Bill and the amendment fully. Thank you. [Applause]