Probes must extend to those corrupting influences outside of the Police Force

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Dear Editor, I WRITE to congratulate and give my support to the police officers in ‘B’ division (Berbice) for publicly accusing their fellow officers of criminal complicity with the known bandit, Kelvin Shivgobin, who was killed in a shoot-out with the police in the Black Bush Polder area. I also take this opportunity to recognize the excellent manner in which both Stabroek News and Kaieteur News have dealt with this matter, including honouring their obligations to bring information to the public while protecting the identities of their informants.

The revelations that the phone numbers of police officers were found in the call and contact logs of Shivgobin’s cell phone triggered the present whistleblowing exercise in “B” Division. It is unusual to find members of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) coming forward and providing information that exposes the corrupt behaviour of their fellow officers and more particularly, their superiors. Those officers who have spoken out have done a great service to the Force, its crime-fighting efforts and the nation. Their actions may be a precursor of things to come which could result in the GPF once again being recognized as a respectable institution.

While the revelations in this instance are not groundbreaking, since the practices that were revealed have been known to exist in the force for ages, the government, the opposition and the rest of the society, including the private sector and professional organization, cannot deny knowledge of these matters. Allegations of “big and not so big ones” in the GPF colluding with criminals, engaging in corrupt practices such as taking bribes, not arresting wanted persons for a price or, aiding a bandit to evade capture and when caught, facilitate their escape from detention, are not new. Many senior officers, including some in the top echelons of the force, have long been accused of influencing the course of investigations that involve the wealthy and their children, the politically influential in the society and of being “Godfathers” to rogue elements who are firmly rooted in this so-called “noble and professional institution”.

The importance and significance of the recent whistleblowing acts in the GPF have to be seen in the context of the force having a new command structure, which is headed by Commissioner Mr. Leslie James, who has expressed an intention to deal condignly with all members of the force, wherever they are located, against whom allegations of corruption can be proved. The suspicion of and investigations into the allegations against the Deputy Commissioner, who heads the crime-fighting section of the force must, therefore, be seen in the context of the Commissioner’s expressed no-nonsense approach to these acts and to eradicate them when they are exposed.

The organization, now led by him, is in the process of implementing a program of reforms which are intended to help it to better execute its mandate professionally, in keeping with the law and with respect for citizens’ human rights. Cognisant of these developments, the nation desires to see a meaningful outcome in this whistleblowing saga. Unlike previous occasions when information on police corruption surfaces, the “investigations” are normally concluded without the results ever being disclosed and with the criminal syndicates unaffected and seemingly more firmly entrenched in the society.

In the present circumstances, a return to the old order that existed prior to Mr James’ elevation to the position of Commissioner, will be counterproductive and would result in further demoralization and, this cannot be ruled out, endangerment of the lives of those officers who came forward. It will also deter others from doing the same. It is appropriate to quote the words of one of the whistleblowers to demonstrate the motivation at work: “Is everybody who you ent really expect involved in certain things and it got to stop man. Is the whole Force looking bad when it got some bad characters tainting the image. The big ones dem doing it and they linking some junior ones to keep it going”. (KN June 13, 2019). Stabroek New, in its June 18, 2019 edition, carried an article which reported that elements in ‘B’ Divison were trying to determine where the leaks on corruption activities in the Force were coming from. This was expected since, in these situations, both the authorities and the wrongdoers would try to obtain information on who the whistleblowers are. While the article was not clear whether a “witch hunt” had started or an official investigation was on the way, the information that officers in the division were transferred was an indication that maybe, just maybe, some kind of remedial action was underway.

The public has since learnt that an official investigation is taking place to get to the bottom of the allegations. More recently, the newspapers carried articles that the rogue elements involved in the corruption rackets had plotted to kill a fellow officer, advancing a hit man G$ 1.4 million as part payment for the job. Corruption is like cancer. It is therefore not surprising to me that the identity of the hitman places him in the ranks of the police force. The members of the public wait with bated breath for the results of the investigation which, we are told, is underway. If properly carried out, it will go a long way to lift the negative profile of the force. The investigations must also be extended to those corrupting influences outside of the force whose offers of filthy lucre influence, to a considerable extent, the investigative and implementing aspects of the GPF’s mandate. I submit here that unless and until the Force is rid of the criminal elements within its ranks, it will continue to be an organization that the public will have little or no confidence in.

Regards Tacuma Ogunseye