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OPINION: Police integrity versus the lust to conceal acts of corruption

Last Updated on Tuesday, 9 November 2021, 10:23 by Denis Chabrol

by Clement Rohee

The Symposium on Police Integrity held recently to discuss integrity in policing raises a number of questions.
The fundamental question has to do with the concept of integrity and it’s application to extant institutional and constitutional arrangements in Guyana.

First on the question of integrity; According to England’s Lord Justice, John Fletcher Moulton; ““The true test of greatness is the extent to which individuals composing the nation can be trusted to obey self-imposed laws.” In other words, do what is right where there is no one to make you do it but yourself.

Second, in respect to institutional and Constitutional arrangements; in our country there is a Constitutional body called The Integrity Commission, it is a creature of Act No. 20 under Articles 13 and 18 of the Constitution of Guyana.

According to the Act, persons employed by government are required to ‘file with the Commission, an Annual Declaration that shall give full, true and complete particulars of assets and liabilities and income for a period of twelve months’. The Act stipulates further that the person filing the Declaration must indicate ‘whether the assets were (sic!) held by that person and the spouse and children of such person to the extent to which such person has knowledge of the same.’

Apparently, the Integrity Commission is of no relevance to the GPF insofar as the pursuit of integrity is concerned, thus, it was not surprising that, even though a new Commission is yet to be appointed, mention of the Commission’s role was a conspicuous ‘No No’ at the symposium.

The Commission aside, there exists two Acts, and one Constitutional body whose task, inter alia, treats with integrity within the GPF. They are; The Police Act, Cap.16:01 (1957); the Police (Discipline) Act, Cap.17:01 (1975) and the Police Service Commission (1975); Then there are the Standing Orders of the GPF based on widely recognized experiences, knowledge and historically developed rules. These laws, regulations, orders and service commission, have been in place for decades, but suddenly their effectiveness or ineffectiveness was brought under the microscope giving rise to the need to convene a symposium on police integrity.

Experience has shown that it is neither the laws, regulations nor Force Orders that are problematic. On the contrary, it is the frailties of human nature that constitute the greatest threat to integrity in general and police integrity in particular. Recall our recent election experience. With adequate Constitutional arrangements and electoral laws and regulations in place at that time, yet they were blatantly violated by persons bent on thwarting the will of the people. Thus, it was neither the constitutional nor electoral laws that allowed for rigging, it was greed to hold on to power.

Former President Granger said he wanted an ‘unbribeable’ Commissioner of Police to oversee the GPF yet his administration abolished integrity/polygraph testing for senior ranks of the GPF.  Integrity/polygraph tests proved to be an innovative tool introduced in 2006 by the PPP/C administration for the first time in Guyana primarily for law enforcement operatives including members of the GPF. The aim was to tackle corruption in the GPF at the individual level using integrity/polygraph tests as a scientific tool to do so. However, the significant successes notwithstanding, a claim was advanced by the police hierarchy that ranks could not be disciplined nor charged because of failure to pass a polygraph/integrity test.  This argument was further buttressed by the claim that ranks can only be charged and/or disciplined under the Police (Discipline) Act. Consequently, none of the high number of ranks was disciplined by nor dismissed from the Force.

Faced with the option to either introduce Pre-employment Integrity Tests at the recruitment stage of prospective applicants or transfer those who failed the test to other police departments or Station Districts, government opted to pursue the former while pursuing the latter with a view to implementation.

Experience teaches that recruitment into the GPF should be based on the principle that no applicant should be recruited where serious doubts exist. Careful background checks and polygraph screening followed by rigorous training and supervision must be obligatory. And while academic qualifications and ethnic diversity in a Guyanese context are necessary they should be balanced against prevailing customs and mores in society.

Incidentally, included in the four components of the 2013 Capita-Symonds Strategic Plan for the GPF was the question of police integrity. This was to be implemented through an ‘Early intervention strategy to
identify and correct deviant behaviour; the establishment of an Internal Affairs Unit similar to what obtains in the US and new methods of conducting drivers ‘ examinations by Certifying Officers.’

The 2020 election intervened and the APNU+AFC scuppered the plan. In retrospect, the aforementioned matters should have hung together rather than separately since generally and holistically their target concept was police integrity. Compounding that deficiency, was a refusal by Force headquarters to acknowledge that integrity in policing must co-exist with openness, and when pursued, it should not be hamstrung by suspicion, nor be subjective and empirical in its orientation.

Historically, Police integrity has been constantly trumped by a passion for secrecy and a lust to conceal acts of corruption. It is this dual malpractice that facilitates a culture of drawing ranks away from the constraints of law enforcement and into the syndrome of a genre of integrity, peculiar only to the police, that is continuously questioned. Police integrity cannot be achieved on the basis of a one-off event. It must be pursued and sustained at the individual and institutional level. And it’s betrayal must be rooted out with persistent and enduring vigilance.
What is totally unacceptable is while competent and honorable police officers do their level-best to serve the public, lazy, inept and corrupt ranks betray the public’s trust and their fellow officers.

In the circumstances, the establishment of a Civilian Complaints Review Board as an oversight body could prove helpful. I close with the following piece of advice to ranks of the GPF and others who either underestimate or have no appreciation for integrity; “Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show it can bear discussion and publicity”. -Lord Acton

Mr. Clement Rohee is an executive member of the People’s Progressive Party and has served as a Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Home Affairs.