Gajraj willing to facilitate forensic audit on Force's ethnic composition
By Nivedta Kowlessar
November 16, 2003
HOME Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj, says he is willing to facilitate a forensic audit to determine the ethnic composition of the Guyana Police Force.
He made the offer Friday in testimony to the Disciplined Forces Commission, conducting a public inquiry into the Police, Army, Prison and Fire Services.
Gajraj, at the hearing at the Supreme Court Law Library in Georgetown, said he had not verified figures submitted by the Police to the Commission on the composition of the Force. The data was supplied at the request of the Home Affairs Ministry.
Senior Counsel, Charles Ramson, who is sitting on the Commission, pointed to a narrowing of the disparity between African and Indian Guyanese, based on the figures submitted by the Police. These show there is now one Indian to about five African officers.
Ramson told Gajraj he did not get the impression that members of the Force, while "willing to accept", were "very enthused with the idea spawned" by evidence given to the Commission that there was a great racial imbalance.
As a result, he said he was "toying with the idea" of recommending to the Commission, the setting up of a bi-partisan ethnic sub-committee to do a forensic audit to ascertain the composition of the Force.
Gajraj could not say what was the ratio upon enlistment, but reported receiving "quite a few" complaints from Indo-Guyanese about pressure and intimidation, having made attempts to serve as policemen.
In earlier testimony, the Minister said after the country attained independence in 1966, the composition of the Force appears to have been "drastically changed" and there were several reasons for that.
Noting that he did not want to usurp the functions of the Commission, he said there have been reports of pressure being brought to bear on certain ethnic groups within the disciplined forces.
Apart from that, there were complaints about inadequate recruitment notices and an "unnerving environment" at Police stations where prospective applicants can seek enlistment.
Gajraj said he has changed procedures to have recruitment notices published in three consecutive weeks and the non-attachment of bio-data to exam papers in an effort to prevent discrimination.
He said efforts have been made to attract recruits in predominantly Indian populated areas, resulting in improvements. The Police training school in Anna Regina, Essequibo, for example, had up to two weeks ago, 18 Indian recruits out of a batch of 23.
The Minister advised that the Commission could get more detailed information from Force orders on the number of recruits, withdrawals, resignations etc.
"We think that numbers in itself can afford some amount of security, and we've been trying to encourage Indo-Guyanese and Amerindians, to come out in larger numbers and be enlisted," Gajraj said.
The Minister said he is anxiously awaiting the recommendations from the Commission with respect to ethnic balancing, noting considerations of religious persuasion sociological security, sub-culture, family ties, food and other factors.
But he said he would not support the idea of prescription.
Asked about the Government's linking of political violence to ethnic imbalance in the Force, Gajraj made reference to late opposition leader, Desmond Hoyte's description of policemen as "kith and kin" on a political platform at a time when violent acts were being committed against some people.
"There are several conclusions that we can draw from that, but within our context, we can understand fully well what was the message being sent," he told the Commission.
He said efforts by the body to address the issue now might rekindle the confidence of certain sections of the society in the disciplined forces, stressing that all the administration is asking for is professionalism.
The Minister made a lengthy appearance before the Commission, chaired by Appeal Court Justice, Ian Chang and comprising Ramson, Brigadier (ret'd) David Granger, Attorney-at-Law, Anil Nandlall and member of the Commission for the Administration of Justice of Northern Ireland, Maggie Bierne.