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Yesterday, the Opposition parties in Parliament unanimously lent support to the Government benches for approval of the motion setting out the terms of reference (TOR) for the Disciplined Services Commission, which is to be constituted, to conduct a probe.
The approval was preceded by one on Thursday, when the National Assembly approved the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2003- Bill No 4/2003, in which Article 197 (A) was amended to give the Commission more powers to conduct its operations.
The additional powers included "any matter relating to the public welfare, public safety, public order, defence or security", and by way of sub-article, for the Commission to regulate its own procedure, summon and examine witnesses and prosecute a person for giving false evidence.
Minister of Education, Dr. Henry Jeffrey, in his presentation of the motion, said the Commission is expected to complete an interim report that focuses on the Police Force within three months and that its entire work must be completed within six months.
But he urged that it must not be used as a basis for conducting a witch-hunt, reminding that the GPF is and continues to give sterling service to the country.
Of the terms of reference which are both general and specific, the minister said they seek to create the space for the inclusion of issues or emphases that are important at the same time as they address specific stakeholder concerns.
At the general level, he said the TOR recognises the changing nature of the problems which now confront the disciplined forces; the ethnic diversity of our society; and the level of socio-economic development which, perhaps, requires greater inter-service cooperation and collaboration.
And, regarding the implications that the direction could have for the relationship between the civilian and security authorities, the Commission is required to make recommendations for reforms that will lead to greater operational efficiency and effectiveness.
Such a call, Minister Jeffery charged, is for modernisation that demands the development of a vision that, while considering other aspects and variables, takes into account modern trends in policing.
The establishment of a Disciplined Services Commission is contained in a joint communiqué signed by President Bharrat Jagdeo and Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Robert Corbin, on May 6, last.
According to the TOR, the Commission will comprise five persons, drawn from qualified and competent persons with senior level experience and expertise in any of the following areas: the Judiciary, the legal profession, the Police Force, other Disciplined Forces, human rights organisations, management, or any other relevant disciplines or areas of expertise, and shall be both investigative and advisory.
The Chairperson will be appointed by the President after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, and both the President and the Leader of the Opposition will each nominate two Commissioners, taking account the need to consult broadly with human rights and other organisations.
Also, the Commission will be appointed within two weeks of the May 5 meeting between the President and the Leader of the Opposition, and will complete its tasks within six months.
The Commission will have all the powers and authority of a Commission of Inquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Act. Cap 19:03, and will as far as practicable adopt the procedures set out therein.
The Commission will also examine and where necessary make recommendations on the composition, structure, functions and operations of the Guyana Police Force, bearing in mind the changing nature of crime and influence of the traffic in illicit drugs and firearms, back-tracking and money laundering; the relevance of the recommendations of the International Commission of Jurists, particularly with regard to racial imbalance in the Force to today's reality; terms and conditions of employment, remuneration, training, accommodation, criteria for promotion, discipline, equipment and logistical needs; rules of engagement, including manuals of procedure of operation.
Also to be examined are the rules, regulations, and criteria for granting, and controls regarding, issuance of firearm licence; powers of arrest and determination; concerns about the adequacy and application of the Coroner's Act; and the origin, course and development of allegations of extrajudicial killings, summary executions and the involvement of sections of the Guyana Police Force in illegal activities, political interference in the administration, management and conduct of the GPF with reference to the Constitution, the Police Act Chapter 16:01 and all relevant laws.
Included, too, are ways in which increased public support and confidence can be achieved and improved.
It has a mandate to present its report, findings, recommendations and implementation timetable to the National Assembly within six months, save that the Commission will give priority to its inquiry into the Guyana Police Force and will present an interim report thereon to the National Assembly within three months.
The Report and Interim Report of the Commission shall be subject to an affirmative resolution of the National Assembly, and the findings and recommendations of the Commission that are accepted by the National Assembly are to be implemented within a specified timeframe and monitored by the Sector Committee as determined by the National Assembly, the TOR states.
In his preamble to introducing the motion, Minister Jeffrey noted that yesterday was observed as the 50th anniversary of the introduction of universal adult suffrage in Guyana, and perhaps the occasion was an apt one for the National Assembly to contemplate scrutinising some of the country's oldest institutions.
He pointed out, too, that security is one of the first requirements of any people, adding that from the earliest of colonial times, some kind of militia existed.
The motion was presented at a time when there is widespread concern about the nature and growth of crime, particularly violent crime in the society, and the effort is aimed at initiating a process that will better equip the forces to successfully confront contemporary challenges.
It should be seen too as seeking to make the lives of security personnel, who are high risk of being wantonly killed, safer, he said.
PNCR Member of Parliament, Mr. Vincent Alexander, spoke in support of the motion on behalf of his party.
He said that in examining the changing context of the Disciplined Services, the Commission will look at both national and international law, and in terms of the ethnic imbalance, urged that they do not seek to sacrifice meritocracy for mediocrity.
He said, too, that the probe will, as it relates to the Police, address issues such as manner of engagement, extrajudicial killing and political interference.
Also, it will move the Police beyond being one which is trapped by its name in particular - force - and not concerned about service and protection.
According to Alexander, the PNCR's support for the motion is because it has for sometime been struggling for such a Commission to be established, recalling that a motion to that effect was tabled in the National Assembly in 2001.
He said the records as it relate to extrajudicial killing from 1993 to 2002 is 150.
ROAR Leader, Mr. Ravi Dev, in supporting the motion urged the altering of the Constitution.
He noted that such an inquiry is long overdue and one which was being urged since the late President Forbes Burnham's era.