THE relationship of Guyanese with law enforcement has always been complex and strained. This is due to a number of reasons, the most prominent being longstanding allegations of corruption against members of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and the resultant fallout between them and the citizenry.
Before we condemn the GPF however, we must remember the context in which the organisation had been accustomed to operating. Guyana’s long and sordid history of institutional corruption, extra-judicial killings and phantom death squads are all remnants from an era of Guyanese history that we would all wish to forget. The GPF developed a negative reputation owing to their alleged involvement in all manner of scandals varying in degrees of criminality, during the time when chaos ruled Guyana.
When the tide finally started to change over the last couple of years, the GPF, has been at the forefront of a campaign to clean up its image, rebuild stakeholder trust and confidence and deliver a service befitting of Guyanese. The government instituted a campaign to reform and modernise the GPF in order to rebuild the broken relationship between the people and law enforcement. To that end, the government has invested heavily into the development of the GPF, not only by providing more equipment and hiring more ranks, but also by investing in better training programmes for ranks of the GPF. A new, young generation of police officers are now operating in an entirely different context and they should be given the chance to prove their mettle. As always though, more work needs to be done in order to fully train, update and modernise the GPF, its ranks, policies and procedures.
That said, this past week, the GPF’s capacity has been tested on an unprecedented level and they should be lauded for their response to the pockets of civil unrest emanating from our nation’s political impasse. Since the 2 March 2020 elections, members of the GPF have been on duty, working to maintain the peace and to protect people and property from reckless and intentional damage.
The GPF’s response to incidents stemming from protests, mainly by Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic supporters, has been commendable. From the close of polls on Monday 2 March, citizens have taken to the streets in protest for various reasons. There are those who have had ulterior motives and mainly took to the streets to create discord and fuel a negative and damaging narrative of the current political situation. Nonetheless, ranks have been working arduously and impartially to maintain law and order in Guyana.
A great number of our servicemen and women have been working away from home since the March 2 Regional and General Elections. They have not slept in their own beds, seen their children, wives and husbands in over a week. Needless to say, the GPF does not have 40,000 beds for its officers to occupy and even if they did, the pace of operations has been relentless and ranks have been working around the clock to respond to incidents as they arise.
Like many of Guyana’s institutions, much more investment and development is required in order for them to truly operate at the desired standard and the GPF is no different. However, we cannot ignore the human cost of the sacrifice that many ranks are making to their personal lives, in order to ensure that peace and order are maintained during this uncertain period. Much of what is said about the GPF could be said for the Guyana Fire Service, which too, has been working around the clock to respond to incidents and situations as they arise. The work that these servicemen and women are doing in the current environment should be highly commended. We are often quick to attribute blame and offer criticism, constructive or otherwise; however, citizens should be cognisant of the sacrifices that these men and women make every time they put on their uniforms and go off to work. On any given day, a police officer or fireman could be killed in the line of duty. How many of us can say that we risk our lives on a daily basis as part of our jobs and in order to build a life for ourselves?
As we have seen, situations sometimes escalate and the people who are supposed to protect and keep us safe are unable to do so. The incident at Bath Settlement where officers were attacked and injured by citizens is deeply lamentable and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. We must praise and encourage our servicemen and women, who, despite numerous obstacles, contribute to making Guyana a safe and peaceful nation.