Minister of Home Affairs [Mr. Rohee]: I am pleased that we have finally reached the stage to have this Bill debated. This Bill is very timely, in the sense that only recently at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government Meeting, in Haiti, Heads of Government met with the distinguished Attorney General of the United States of America who, for his part, felt that for them, in terms of the relations with the Caribbean and CARICOM countries, the most important thing was how to stem trafficking of firearms and ammunition in the region.
The mater has become so important that when the statistic is looked at, generated by IMPACS which is the Implementation Agency for Crime and Security in the region, associated with the Caribbean Community, it shows that Guyana ranks behind Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in respect of seizure of firearms in the region. Up to the year 2011, in Jamaica, two thousand eight hundred and eighty-nine and one hundred and eighty-seven firearms were seized over that period of time between 2006 and 2011. For Trinidad and Tobago, between the same period, one thousand two hundred and twenty-six and three hundred and eighty-three firearms were seized in that jurisdiction, and for Guyana seven hundred and forty-one and nine hundred and eight firearms were seized.
Firearms are mainly used according to the same IMPACS for the commission of crimes, but in this respect we are speaking about illegal firearms and the statistic, again, from IMPACS shows that illegal firearms accounted for much as seventy per cent of all the homicides in CARICOM region and sixty-one per cent in the Caribbean as a whole. Between 2006 and 2010 twelve thousands three hundred and sixty-six homicides were reported by the thirteen CARICOM Member States. Overall, the weapon of choice in most countries is small arms and light weapons obtained through elicit trafficking. This matter, in terms of the international context, regionally, if we are to take the concentric approach, is a major challenge and beyond the region it remains a challenge, Latin America, United States of America and even beyond, so much so the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations have taken upon themselves to do work in order to address this global phenomenon.
I recently came across a speech delivered by the Hon. Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Hon. Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, on the 6th of March, 2013 where he addressed the Fourth Regional Workshop on Negotiation for the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. In that speech he pointed out that gun control is now in the forefront of the global agenda. He also referred to the conversation which the heads had in Haiti on this matter. I merely refer to these experiences in order to contextualise, from the international perspective, the challenge that countries are facing in respect of this phenomenon. Here at the local level, within Guyana, in 2012 the Guyana Police Force recovered one hundred and eleven firearms, these included revolvers, rifles, pistols, shot guns as well as ammunitions. The argument has consistently been made that we are not a producing nation of firearms and therefore the question is: Is it that the firearms are now so easily available so that persons who are engaging in criminal activities could either rent one, borrow one, loan one, steal one or is there a set of firearms in circulation that is easily accessible to persons who are bent on committing crimes in our country?
The Government has set up a specialised Firearm Investigation Unit to address this question as best as it could, but this unit is not a standalone unit. It is working together with other members of the joint services, because we feel that it is necessary to take a holistic approach rather than one agency trying to address a major problem. The argument has been made, from time to time, that since we are not a producing nation of firearms, and given the possibility that there is in circulation a reasonable amount of firearms, the question still remains, what is the source of these firearms?
One of the usual solutions, or I should not say solutions. One of the usual theories, which is floated, is that because our borders are so porous, firearms easily access our country. This has been said by many experts who have made studies in respect to the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of our country. This has been said by persons who worked day and night in the interior and there are a number of anecdotal reference points to this issue. One cannot deny that because of the extensive nature of our border and because there are countries on our border, neighbouring countries which produce firearms, it is quite possible that, indeed, due to the porous nature of our border that firearms do penetrate and enter our country.
If we believe that this is a major challenge for Guyana, which indeed it is, I think it is important for us to cast our minds to other CARICOM countries. This by no means meant to minimise the argument, because the borders, for example, of the Bahamas pose serious challenges to the governments of the Bahamas. The borders of many other countries in CARICOM pose serious challenges to the governments as well. I make this point, because we are not alone in respect to this particular challenge and that is why the governments felt it was necessary to cooperate and to collaborate, having regard to the fact that we all share the same common problem, to address the stem of illegal firearms into our respective jurisdictions. One of the ways to do so is in our respective countries is to legislate, pass laws to make it illegal.
Having regard to the fact that when a perusal of the Firearms Act would show that there is some lacuna, there in the sense that trafficking in firearms is not unlawful. Also the question of importing components, which could be assembled and end up being a firearm, is also not in our statute books. As we find these gaps, it is important that we pass laws to address these loopholes. I am not arguing by any stretch of imagination. I would be the last to argue that this is the silver bullet or this is the panacea to solve this problem, but I will go so far to say that it would add value; it would bring additional to what we already have, in order to make our contribution and to make illegal, by law, trafficking in firearms as well as ammunition and important components of a firearm or ammunition that when fully assembly could eventually turn out to be a lethal weapon.
The simplicity but significance of this Bill, which is before this House, calls on the House to recognise that we Guyanese in making our contribution to the global fight against the trafficking in firearms, make our contribution to the negotiation that are now taking place at the international level, we must make that contribution by example and the best way we could make that contribution is to pass laws, so that when delegations from the foreign ministries travel to participate in the negotiations or to participate at international gatherings to address this global fight against trafficking in firearms, and components of firearms, Guyana would be proud of the fact that its representatives would have put forward tangible evidence to show, to demonstrate, that it is not all about talk; it is about action. It is about legislating and showing to the world that small as our country is we can join with larger countries. It is not the size of the country in this case that matters. What matters is the principle; what matters is the commitment to stamping out this malady, and, in so doing, making our contribution, together with the million of voices around the world, to show in concrete terms that we are committed as a State, we are dedicated as a people and that the institutions of the State, parliamentary and non-parliamentary, governmental and non-governmental, to addressing the question of trafficking in firearms. Therefore I believe that this Bill would contribute significantly and positively to improving Guyana’s image, but it is not only a question of imagery. It is a question of concreteness and working concretely to contribute to this struggle against trafficking in firearms, trafficking in the components in firearms and ammunition that could result in the death of so many people unnecessarily.
Mr. Speaker, I therefore wish to move the second reading of this Bill. [Applause]