GEORGETOWN, Guyana (GINA) -- Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee said that, during discussions with senior officials prior to the fatal shooting of protestors in Linden, Guyana, on July 18, he was given the assurance that live rounds were not going to be used by the police.
The minister was at the time speaking on a special programme on the Linden protest; aired on the National Communications Network (NCN).
He explained that tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons could have been used to restore order; however, live rounds is a deadly response that is not catered for in the standard operating procedures (SOPs), in a situation such as this.
The minister said that the loss of three lives is indeed regrettable and extended his heartfelt sympathy to the relatives of the deceased; saying that this was not a calculated move’ which, hopefully, the Commission of Inquiry and post mortem will bring to light.
“To say that the SOPs were followed, I would say yes, but only up to a point which I saw in the footage, the rest I cannot vouch for, the inquiry will allow for a full assessment of what took place,” he said.
Senior Superintendent Clifton Hicken, who was the commanding officer at the time of the shooting, has since been removed and sent to the Force’s Headquarter. He has been replaced by Assistant Commander Gavin Primo.
From a public order point of view, the Ministry of Home Affairs was tasked with the responsibility of monitoring the situation on a day by day basis, which meant keeping close observation of the protestors, the cause they are advancing, the slogans that were being used and to check whether or not they were targeting any specific individual or institution.
On the other hand, organisers of the protest had to ensure that permission was granted from the divisional commander and other basic protocols had to be observed and ironed out such as the route the procession or march will take, so as to ensure that the activities are carried out within the meaning of the law.
These are the general parameters that the ministry would normally pay attention to, to ensure that there is no threat to public order in the vicinity that the activity is being held. However, Rohee explained that in every society, when such an activity is being carried out, there will always be persons who will be endorse it and those who prefer to steer clear.
In such a situation, both groups must be taken into consideration, so as to ensure that people who have no interest in supporting what a specific group is advocating, are not in any way, denied the freedom to move around unhindered.
“Those who are involved in a demonstration have a right to do so, but that right should not impede the right of others who have nothing to with what the demonstration is about,” the home affairs minister said.
Responding to accusations that the ministry took a decision to slash officers’ annual leave, Rohee said that it is imperative to ensure the availability of sufficient ranks at the upper echelon of the force to manage the organisation.
While, the commissioner has command of the force according to the Police Act, the home affairs minister is vested with the authority to ensure that it is always in a position to respond effectively with regards to manpower in any given emergency.
As such, the ministry has to exercise good judgment and consult with the commissioner so as to ensure that public order is not jeopardized when senior ranks proceed on leave. He affirmed that the ministry does not have the authority to take away or lessen anyone’s leave.
As it relates to whether or not the protest was in anyway politically instigated, the minister explained that from the intelligence that the ministry received and from the observation of civilians, political activists were seen in Linden almost on a daily basis leading up to the protest.
“Anyone living in Guyana who is following public statements and political activism of these individuals would recognise the role that they have been playing over the years in every anti-government activity; either in front of the Office of the President, Police Force Headquarters, and other public places, they are always protesting some matter which they felt aggrieved about,” Rohee stated.
He questioned their involvement in the protest on the increased rates for electricity for Linden, since they themselves are not Lindeners. He added that, while Guyana is a free country and citizens have a right to voice their concerns, these personalities spent considerable time in Linden using inflammatory statements to agitate the kind of unrest the subsequently ensued.
The minister dispelled rumours that he was passing on instructions to ranks at Linden via a radio system on what actions to take and explained there is no way that a handheld radio in Georgetown can connect onto the frequency of the radio network in the mining town.
“This is a fabrication. Each police division has its own radio frequency. You cannot be in Georgetown and talk with someone in Linden, it’s impossible,” he stressed.
As, it relates to the call for his resignation, he reiterated that he wasn’t on the scene at the time nor did he instructed the police on what actions to take. He added, “I would continue to serve the people of Guyana, my conscience is very clear, with respect to this matter. I am prepared to face the Commission of Inquiry anytime if I’m called.”
The police have issued a statement clarifying that the actions that were taken on July 18 were not prompted by any politician.
As it relates to why the water cannon was not used to disperse the crowd and restore order, the minister explained that when equipment is handed over to the force, it is left to the police to manage and use them as they see fit.
Last Wednesday evening, three lives were lost as a result of clashes between the police and Lindeners who were protesting the increase in electricity tariff for the town.
Subsequent interventions saw government and APNU agreeing on the establishment of Commission of Inquiry to launch an investigation into the matter.