‘GDF better equipped’

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President David Granger (centre) is flanked by Vice President and Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan; Chief of Staff, Brigadier Patrick West; and other Officers of the Guyana Defence Force pose for the traditional ‘family’ photo. Also in the photo are: Minister of Finance Winston Jordan, Attorney General Basil Williams and Director General Joseph Harmon. Photos by Delano Williams

…President says force can now adequately respond to threats
…cites improved budgetary allocations by more than 72.7 per cent

By Svetlana Marshall
COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF of the Armed Forces, President David Granger, said the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) is better positioned to identify and deter threats to Guyana’s territorial integrity and the national patrimony, now that it has been regularised, reorganised and recapitalised.

In his keynote address during the opening ceremony of GDF’s Annual Officers’ Conference at State House on Thursday, the Commander-in-Chief, while noting that illegal appropriation and exploitation of the country’s resources undermine national sovereignty, said the Defence Force has been responding to four formidable threats facing the country. Illegal incursions, piracy, illegal exploitation, and natural disasters remain grave threats for the country that is on the verge of becoming one of the world’s leading oil producing nations.

“First, the interruption of economic activity in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has been a grave threat in the recent past. The country’s maritime zone now is the scene of a surge of economic activity; petroleum production has commenced and exploration is continuing,” the Head of State pointed out while underscoring the importance of protecting the EEZ from illegal incursions intended to intimidate investors or interfere with production. The 2013 Venezuelan military seizure of Teknik Perdana, a seismic survey vessel attached to Anadarko and the attempt in December, 2018 to board the seismic vessel Ramform Tethys are just two of the recent illegal incursions experienced by Guyana.
Incidents of piracy, President Granger told the government, military and police officials, seated under the Baridi Benab, remain a major concern. Highlighting the fact that the Fish Industry contributes to the national economy and food security, he said the country’s fishing grounds, and those who are employed in it, must be protected.

Illegal mining

Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President David Granger

The third threat, he said, is that of illegal mining and invasions by criminal gangs. “…illegal miners from other states have entered our territory, occasionally, to exploit our mineral resources unlawfully and steal our wildlife. Incursions into our territory by illegal miners and wildlife raiders must be resisted in order to protect our natural resources. Criminal gangs, known as ‘sindicatos’, have been known to invade mining camps, blockade rivers and commit murders. The country’s frontier communities and their residents are vulnerable to attacks from these armed gangs,” the Commander-in-Chief said as he painted a vivid picture of the situation. Natural hazards, such as floods and drought that inflict destruction, distress and even death, are also cause for concern.

In light of those concerns, the Commander-in-Chief said the GDF has repositioned itself to better identify and deter threats to territorial integrity and the national patrimony.
“The past five years have witnessed the Force’s regularisation, reorganisation and recapitalisation,” he told the officers, while adding that “the Defence Force today is fit for role.”

He explained that the promulgation of a defence doctrine, the strengthening of the technical corps, the pursuit of defence cooperation with friendly countries and the implementation and organisational restructuring have improved the Force’s readiness to respond to threats.

“The Force’s overarching defence policy – the doctrine of Total National Defence – implies that all the elements of national power – diplomatic, economic, military, political, social and technological – will be employed to reinforce defence and promote economic development. This doctrine means that the nation must depend on an affordable but effective Defence Force while counting on the cooperation of citizens in the event of a challenge to its territorial integrity,” President Granger explained.

Technical corps
Improvements in the technical corps – particularly the Air Corps, Engineer Corps, Signal Corps and Coast Guard – have enhanced the Force’s agility and capability, he related, while adding that the Air Corps’ fleet was augmented with the acquisition of light reconnaissance aircraft. Added to that, the Signal Corps benefitted from the acquisition of new communications equipment and training while the Engineer Corps received equipment to improve its responsiveness to climate hazards and promote greater stability and climate resilience in frontier communities particularly in the South Rupununi.

“The Force’s recapitalisation programme has been boosted by increases in Central Government’s budgetary allocations. The Force has received financial resources to improve its capabilities. Budgetary allocations increased by more than 72.7 per cent from G$ 8.04 B in 2014 to G$13.9 B in 2019,” he told those present. Defence cooperation has also resulted in donations of equipment, training and participation in military exercises with friendly states. Such partnerships, he reasoned, has enhanced cooperation in combatting transnational crime and managing disasters.

As part of its policy to augment the Reserve, GDF has increased its Militia to nearly 1,500 persons from a low of 125 in January, 2015. The presence of the Militia in the administrative regions has resulted in a timely response to threats and emergencies.
The Force’s institutional reorganisation policy, he said, has resulted in a more resilient architecture for the high command with the restoration of the appointments of Adjutant General, Inspector General, Quartermaster General and Commandant of the Militia.
“These changes allowed dedicated superior officers to pay undivided attention to discipline, recruitment and soldiers’ morale; to the improvement of soldiers’ living conditions; to the maintenance of a high state of operational readiness and to inter-operability with fraternal hemispheric armies and Caribbean defence forces and the mobilization and training of reserves,” he explained.

Jungle training
As it relates to training, he said the Force has re-focused its attention on operations in the jungle, rivers and savannahs and to improving logistical support to soldiers in the field, in difficult weather and terrain, for long periods. “The promotion of greater training in long-range jungle operations will ensure a more versatile force. It will better equip our Defence Force to help to protect the country’s biodiversity, mineral resources and the integrity of our environment,” he reasoned while disclosing that the Decade of Development will incorporate policies to better equip the Defence Force to protect the country’s natural resources, on land and at sea.

Generally, the Commander-in-Chief said the Force, today, is a superior organisation to what it was five years ago. “Public confidence in its capabilities has been restored. National defence, as a consequence, has improved. These improvements will continue over the next ten years,” he assured the military officers.

The Head of State also used the opportunity to brief the men in uniform on the transformative changes the country will undergo over the next 10 years. Under his leadership, Guyana is poised to become a Petroleum State, a Digital State, a Green State and an Education Nation. During this period, President Granger said, the Defence Force will experience greater investments aimed at its continuous retooling and strengthening, and expansion of the Militia.

“The Coast Guard’s fleet and personnel will be increased, continuously, to provide greater security of economic activity in the EEZ,” he assured the officers, while explaining that “technological improvements will allow for better surveillance and policing of our maritime zone.”

Given the circumstances, the Commander-in-Chief said the Officers’ Conference 2020 should consider the Defence Force’s role in strengthening border and maritime defence and in ensuring the economic development of the country.

Chief-of-Staff of the Defence Force, Brigadier Patrick West; Vice President and Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan; Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams; Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan; Director General of the Ministry of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon; and Commissioner of Police, Leslie James were among the officials present at the opening of the conference.