June 18 ,2021
The National Assembly on Monday approved more than $700M to the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) for the establishment of a new crime-fighting `Regional Joint Support team’.
The sum is part of the $23 billion supplementary allocation approved by the assembly without amendment.
At the beginning of the consideration of funds for the Regional Joint Support team, Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon rose and asked for clarity on the allocation.
“It says for provision of additional resources to the Regional Joint Support team. Is there a Regional Joint Support Team in the GDF? I have never heard about it….Because if we are providing additional resources, it suggests to me that there is already a team in existence and that we giving additional resources to it,” Harmon, a retired army officer, questioned.
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira explained to the House that the Regional Joint Support Team is a “new initiative” that was set up to aid the crime fighting capacity of the Guyana Police Force (GPF).
She said it will consist of members of the GPF and GDF, and if the need arise more recruits will be hired by the respective organisations.
“The regional joint support team is a new initiative that was decided on by the Defence Board … around April this year and it will be an initiative involving the GDF and the police force to develop operational capacity in crime fighting,” Teixeira said.
“So this is a brand new initiative to be implemented and the budgetary allocation…is to be able to provide resources that they would need in order to function, to be established and function,” she added.
A number of questions surrounding details of the new team including its hierarchy were posed by various members of the Opposition but were brushed aside by Teixeira, who said that it was a matter of national security, preventing her from divulging certain information.
However, among her brief responses, Teixeira stated that the team will be operating across all the administrative regions in the country, with bases being set up at various locations.
Under line item 6222 titled “field materials and supplies”, the sum of $249,967,523 was listed.
Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Ganesh Mahipaul asked to be provided with a list of materials and supplies that are requested for the Regional Joint Support team.
In response, Teixeira noted, “I regret the honourable member that would not be possible. As a security issue, these are the regional joint support teams that will be in 10 regions of Guyana”.
Mahipaul further asked for confirmation “there will be 10 regional joint support teams” to which Teixeira responded “they will be based in the regions of Guyana”.
Among the other line items listed were “rental of buildings”, “maintenance of buildings”, “air, land and water transport” and “other”.
As the House moved to consideration of “rental of buildings”, Mahipaul asked to be provided with locations of the buildings, if there are more than one and whether the sum of $2,100,000 provided for this purpose, will be segregated if there are more than one building.
According to Teixeira, the cost is for rental of buildings “that will be used in various regions in order to have the Regional Support Team have an operational base”.
At this point, there was an uproar in the House as Opposition Member and former Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan stood and expressed his thoughts, stating “this is obviously crime fighting. This is not national security here and we cannot scrutinize and interrogate crime fighting?”
Ramjattan comment was applauded by fellow members of the Opposition amidst heckling from both sides of the House.
However, Teixeira said that she was not aware that it was a question.
In reply, Ramjattan shouted “yes it is” and Teixeira said “I think the honourable member heard me very clearly. This is a new initiative that is now beginning. How can one say where buildings are when you are now starting?” Teixeira questioned.
This was followed by a back and forth between Ramjattan and Teixeira.
Ramjattan once again rose in the House and asked whether the purpose of the team is “exclusively” crime fighting.
“…Notwithstanding, that the GDF is involved. This house Mr Minister ought to know where these constructions and rentals are going on. Please answer the question,” Ramjattan urged.
In her explanation, Teixeira said she cannot provide the names of the places where the bases will be commissioned while noting that the Government does not have a list.
“I didn’t remember to ask the honourable member where your dogs and horses were placed when you came up with that crime fighting initiative in 2016. However, I guess you know horses blend in better and dogs than humans. However, Mr Speaker, I have made it clear. This is a new initiative started in April this year. It is now being set up. The budgetary allocation cannot accommodate the new initiative and therefore the funds being requested is to cover and to allow them to get set up,” she explained.
A series of questions also arose from the line item titled “other” under which a sum of $84,358,400 was allocated.
The Opposition Leader questioned what the monies will be spent on.
In response, Teixeira said uniforms and “other things” which will be needed during the setting up of the team.
“The issue of the $84 million has a number of aspects to it including uniform and obviously this is a crime fighting body. It has to acquire information, it has to be able to fight crime…….It’s not just running around with a uniform and gun. It’s also about being able to work in the communities and have information,” Teixeira said.
Teixeira was specific in pointing out that the unit will not usurp the authority of the GPF while stating that both the GPF and the GDF operate under statutes and the Constitution.
“This is about enhancing the capacity of the law enforcement agencies with the support of the GDF in being able to fight crime. Whether it’s narcotics, whether it’s other forms of crime, it is there to work and support each other and therefore this is not to become a hysterical thing. These are two properly functioning bodies that will work in collaboration with each other in a newer and different structure,” she explained.
Under further questioning by the Opposition members, Teixeira revealed that under line item 1200100 titled “buildings”, the sum stated is for the rehabilitation of a number of buildings.
Out of the sum, Teixeira added that $2.9M will be for rehabilitation at Eve Leary, and another $22.9M for the construction of a base at Eteringbang, Region 7.
“One where the base would be at Eve Leary as well as rehabilitation of a building at Eteringbang,” she said.
Teixeira further stated that thirty-three vehicles will be acquired for the team. The fleet, she said would consist of one car and a number of pick-ups and All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs).
During Monday’s consideration, Ramjattan deemed the move to establish the team as “unconstitutional”.
In an invited comment yesterday, Ramjattan maintained his position. “……It is unconstitutional what they doing. It is illegal. They cannot go and set up a force like that, separate from the GDF and separate from the Police Force,” he said.
“Moreover, it is startling…when she (Teixeira) answered the question that this is a crime fighting force. Crime fighting is exclusively the preserve of the police……When you just setting up something here and also doing it away from the scrutiny of the members of the Parliament…..Crime fighting comes under the Police Act”, Ramjattan added.
According to Ramjattan, the fact that the GDF will be included in the team is what makes the move unconstitutional.
“This is what makes it so unconstitutional. The army has national security interest to look after. The army cannot get involved unless the criminality of the situation is so high and rampant that it is leading to a national security crisis, the police can then call them in….They are always a supplementary force for purposes to help the police but they cannot be a frontline force,” he said.
“The whole thing is one big charade…..I have some very fundamental things against that setting up of that regional force and they have to say why is it not going to be strictly under another unit, if they want to have it and the biggest question that kinds of open up the whole scenario is why is it crime fighting. If the purpose is crime fighting, it must never go to the army, never,” he stated.