Saturday, June 21, 2008

Still at a standstill

Still at a standstill
Stabroek News editorial. Tuesday 17 June 2008

Few security topics have been more discussed over the past decade than narcotics trafficking. But those who hoped three years ago that the talking would have stopped, and that serious action to uproot this crime would have started, were to be disappointed.
Saturday next marks the third anniversary of President Bharrat Jagdeo’s formal launch of his administration’s National Drug Strategy Master Plan for 2005 - 2009 on 21 June 2005. This was Guyana’s third counter-narcotics plan.
The first, entitled Guyana’s Strategy for Dealing with the Drug Problem, was promulgated by the PNC administration since December 1988. It was completely ignored when the PPP entered office in October 1992. The second, the National Drug Strategy Master Plan 1997-2000 introduced during the troubled tenure of Mr Ronald Gajraj as Minister of Home Affairs, remained largely unimplemented. The present plan, launched while Ms Gail Teixeira was minister, has been brought to a standstill and seems set to suffer a similar fate to the preceding plans.
According to a Government Information Agency statement in December last year, Minister of Home Affairs Mr Clement Rohee promised a thorough review of the plan “in the first quarter of 2008.” His intention then was to evaluate those aspects that had been implemented and to examine the areas that needed immediate attention. The first quarter passed. The end of the second quarter is upon us. The plan’s final year is about to begin.
Earlier last year, in response to a claim by the US Department of State’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report that the government of Guyana had yet to implement important initiatives of its drug strategy, Mr Rohee rather extravagantly announced that “ninety per cent” of the plan’s first-year target had been achieved and promised that the government “will be aggressively pursuing implementation of several important aspects of the five-year programme during this year [2007].” This year’s edition of the US report iterated what everyone already knows: that the administration accomplished “few of the principal goals” laid out in its drug strategy. By this time next year, excuses would have been exhausted, the plan would have expired, and the war on drugs would be at a standstill.
The National Anti-Narcotics Commission chaired by the president himself, and the National Anti-Narcotics Co-ordinating Secretariat, the strategy’s main executive organ, are still not operational. Nor have the plan’s principal arms − the Joint Intelligence Co-ordination Centre, Joint Anti-Narcotics Committee, and the ten Regional Anti-Drugs Units − been activated to function in the manner the plan stipulates. In short, the organisational engine which must drive the entire plan is still not in place.
The country’s two existing counter-narcotic agencies − Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit and Police Anti-Narcotics Unit − have still not been strengthened by the provision of additional resources under the ambitious $650M plan. Better border control facilities and the surveillance of the country’s extensive air and sea spaces are still to come on stream. In fact, the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit has been eviscerated by the recent purge of its head and several staff members.
Back in September 2006 soon after he assumed office as Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Rohee promised to be “tough on drug lords.” He boasted that he had an ‘international perspective’ of what the fight against drugs, arms smuggling and money laundering entailed and promised to employ his political and international experience to establish contacts with the neighbouring countries. But these promises are still to be fulfilled.
As recently as March this year during a meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, President Jagdeo repeated a request for the United States of America’s Drug Enforcement Administration to establish a permanent presence in Guyana. But this charade has been going on for over a decade. It is the Guyana administration, not the USA, that curiously has failed to provide appropriate accommodation and assets for a local bureau to function.
Elsewhere, in the absence of a coherent national strategy, the security forces perfunctorily conduct their counter-narcotics campaign by destroying illegal airstrips when they are discovered, desultorily burning a few fields of marijuana here and there and arresting some low-level couriers at the international airport from time to time.
As President Jagdeo himself said, “…at the end of the day, the responsibility to implement the strategy is ours.” This explains why the strategy, like the summer solstice that falls on 21 June, is at a standstill.

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