Scourge of the vandals
March 16, 2007
When the essential services of two large para-statal corporations - Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) and Guyana Power and Light (GPL) - were seriously threatened, the Administration moved to deal decisively with the scourge of vandalism. Prime Minister Samuel Hinds's decision to enforce stringent regulation of the scrap metal trade came only after numerous complaints had been made of vandalism and larceny encouraged by that trade.
Few voices were raised when the Guyana Telephone & Telegraph Company (GT&T) suffered repeatedly from the uprooting and chopping of its underground cables - especially the Americas 11 underground cable in rural areas such as D'Edward Village, West Coast Berbice. Such actions had the effect of immediately disrupting international and national telecommunications services and necessitated costly material, financial and human resources being expended to restore them.
Responding to official complaints from one of the utilities under his portfolio, the Prime Minister energetically paid impromptu visits to several dealers throughout the city and elsewhere where he saw for himself the large amounts of booty, including GPL's power lines, GT&T's telephone cables and other electrical conductors used to power wells and water treatment plants.
In addition, several hundred metres of power-lines which were recently installed under the Unserved Areas Electrification Programme were vandalised and a large amount was found cut in smaller lengths in the stockpile of one scrap metal dealer. It is evident that those scrap metal dealers have been profitting from vandalism by serving as fences and providing a ready market for the materials. Astonishingly, no charge for theft or possession of stolen goods has been brought against any culprit.
During the recent floods in the Demerara-Mahaica, also, President Bharrat Jagdeo was astonished to discover that drainage structures in the Cove and John, Victoria-Haslington and Supply, Mahaica had been vandalised. The President pleaded with the public to desist from cutting dams as this caused a large volume of water from the backlands to settle in forward residential areas. But pleas have never been enough; there must be enforcement.
Few voices were raised, recently, when this newspaper reported that two of Aubrey Williams's murals at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri, were vandalised. But scores of other agencies and civic groups have been suffering in silence without redress from the law enforcement agencies. The 1763 and Non-Aligned Movement Monuments have been attacked; and several Christian churches have lost sacred icons, crucifixes, communion rails and lecterns while the historic Smith Memorial Congregational Church lost the bronze bust of Rev John Smith, the abolitionist, to scrap metal dealers.
The civic group which undertook to rehabilitate the Camp Street avenue as a millennium project has had its posh wooden benches broken and its fancy lamps stolen. International Lions and Rotary clubs and other private sector companies which built community playgrounds for children, shelters for passengers and installed sanitation facilities and other public amenities have witnessed their destruction over the years.
Most seriously for public safety, navigational buoys in the tricky river estuaries; fire hydrants in the city; and traffic lights and reflectors on the roadways have been among essential equipment that has been ruined or stolen over the years.
There is a thin line between sabotage and vandalism, both of which involve the wilful or malicious destruction of public or private property. Sabotage in Guyana has traditionally been seen as political or industrial in nature and the purpose is less to purloin than to destroy. Vandalism is usually commercial or criminal in character and often results in damage when attempts are made to steal materials to be sold to dealers.
It is a pity that the Administration waited such a long time to respond to the scourge of vandalism but it is not too late.
It is time for the police to step in and treat vandalism as the crime it really is.