It was the January 2016 complaint by goldsmith Ramjit about being detained at the Airport and having four million dollars worth of jewellery taken from him by CANU that caused us to refocus on this Customs Anti- Narcotic Unit, Guyana’s embattled crime buster which seems to be accumulating too many nebulous encounters, always climbing out of a scandal, perpetually defending seizures, explaining rationale and never quite getting to whether confiscated items were ever returned.
We couldn’t keep up, largely because the incidents were too many but mostly because we try to follow these things in chronological order.So, forgive us if we are still limping behind the shipment of rice that contained 73.34 Kilos of cocaine on August 13, 2013 that made its way past the CANU check point and ended up in the Dominican Republic from port Guyana.
This rice thing, in 2013, came five years after the government, under the People’s Progressive Party, had embarked upon some reputation management by recruiting a new Chief Executive Officer for its Customs Anti Narcotic Unit, CANU – to offer some perspective.
Up until then, the unit had been operating for some thirteen years, after Guyana, once an idyllic geographic curio, had degenerated to drug hub, transshipment point, money laundry or any combination of terms used to describe a country that was thriving on an economy fueled by drug money. Internationally, the government was being raked over the coals for not having a handle on the upsurge of usage of Guyana as a pirate port so they established this Customs Anti Narcotic Unit which much fanfare and very little else.
As the world watched and Guyanese waited for more than just the setting up of this crime fighting unit – which appeared more as an aesthetic political monument than it was a practical safe haven for Guyanese at home – the government remained suspiciously inept, strangely incompetent, questionably inobservant, as the monikers of shame were heaped upon it by the international community. ..bumbling through the fix with way too much method, with far too much structure to claim naiveté.
It was only after the international allies threatened to withdraw aid and alliance that President Jagdeo decided to demonstrate that he was duly embarrassed and compliant by firing nine of the Customs and Anti Narcotics, CANU, staff.
Then, with a bravado that was intended purely for international consumption, he began searching, intensely, for the right replacement to get the unit to be functionally acceptable.
With Guyana being a signatory to several international agreements to enforce laws and implement measures to eradicate the trafficking of drugs, weapons and money, there is an expectation, anticipation, that the country would show sincerity in honoring the treaties by advertising for the highest qualified person.
The appointment of James Garvin Singh, thence, came with the implied promise of an executive with the requisite qualifications and experience in identifying, containing and deterring drugs and trans shipments of illegal cargo in and out of the country.
But the choice was a curious one. Per the Ministry of Home Affairs, Singh was the holder of a Diploma in Public Safety and Security Management from University of Guyana, an International Diploma in Business Management from Cambridge International College and a Diploma in electronics from DeVry Institute of Technology, Canada – a combination of qualifications so eclectic, we’re still wondering what single thing appealed to President Jagdeo when he chose James from the supposed sea of applicants. James was, also, though less trumpeted, head of security at business conglomerate, The Beharry Group and allegedly attended an Officer Cadet Course – allegedly because there is no available verification nor is there any reference to any rank that he may have earned or left with.
We don’t like to think that we throw around terms like Nepotism loosely but when James Singh-with this resume that reads like a hodge podge of trial and error, contrasting starkly with that of the typical operative on his level from countries that are serious about eradicating smuggling – was made head of the country’s premier international crime fighting unit, we were forced to take a look at this practice because he was hired to replace men who were seasoned military veterans, with earned national badges of honor and thousands of hours defending the country’s borders and fighting crime at the local level; men who, up until the selection of James, were stellar contributors to the nation’s social fabric, upright men, community role models, decorated military veterans.
They were dismissed for failing a polygraph test.
We were never told why the polygraph was necessary and if it was conducted by an impartial, independent agency of veritable repute but we do know that former head, Orville Nedd, had said often and openly that his agency had information pointing to a drugs for weapons trade from which the marauding phantom and black clothes squads were direct beneficiaries.
These death squads were linked to the very government that had hired James Singh and fired Nedd and eight other operatives, through its Minister of Home Affairs. As international communities threatened to pull aid and alliance if the Jagdeo administration didn’t arrest the appearance of government complicity with lawlessness, Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj was removed as top security officer and awarded an ambassador posting to India.
It is in this context that we must understand why Nedd and Eight failed that polygraph test which opened doors for James Singh, the DeVry electronics graduate with a multifarious curriculum vitae, who may have been an Officer Cadet.
We can only assume that Orville Nedd and Eight failed their polygraph tests because they were unable to lie about their collection of intelligence on government’s connivance with the drug trafficking and money laundering that was degutting the moral fabric of the country. We have to assume because the results of those polygraphs or the questions asked were never made public. The official announcement of their firings never made clear what they failed but made very clear that they were fired.
For some things, circumstantial evidence is all that is needed to confirm complicity.
It is now easier to connect the failing of the polygraph tests, ordered by a President Jagdeo who was mired in the controversy of the phantom killings and marred by the monies that were laundered through his country, to the hiring of James Garvin Singh to head CANU even though he came with flimsy bona fides and shrouded in allegations of associations with the very reason why there was a CANU unit in the first place.
Singh comes with a strange congeniality to very wanted men for very high crimes that rank very high on the villainy roster; comes with a social casualness with criminal elements and situations that would conflict with the impartial discharge of the duty he is being paid to undertake.
After eight years of James Singh as head of CANU, as its Chief Executive officer, Guyana remains a port of ease for transshipment of all things illegal. From bauxite ships to women smuggling exotic birds in hair rollers, smugglers continue to see the ports and borders of the country as accessible.
From its inception to May 2015, CANU remained an entity whose success was trumpeted by a government that struggled to remain compliant. There is much ado about the US Drug Enforcement Agency’s praising of CANU’s efforts but the US does that as protocol with any country that is assisting them in containing the flow of drugs, weapons and illegal cargo to their shores.
The eight year leadership of CANU by James Singh has been largely reactionary; a period of administrative reflex action. There were few, if any, busts initiated by CANU and few, if any, strategies initiated by the unit to deter illegal activity.
When Singh replaced Orville Nedd and then fired and rehired a crew that he felt comfortable with, it was all under the guise of improving the efficiency of CANU.
There is no dispute that during his eight years as boss there were definitely more arrests made, larger amounts of illicit goods seized, more breached areas discovered.
But these numbers hardly represent success.
On the contrary, they represent how much Singh’s efforts have failed to deter criminals, how lightly Guyana’s efforts to protect the flow of drugs and contraband are being regarded by countries which see it as a transshipment point. For the country to remain a hub of choice is a sign that the old methods of enticement, the payoffs and the involvement of officials are still alive and well.
And, in the history of Drug Czars and Chief Executive Officers, Singh must be using a talisman of some sort because embattlement, ineptitude and failure to perform over consistent and consecutive periods constitute failure and warrant firing. In the real world, preserving the mission and integrity of the agency surpasses preserving the job of an operative. Singh would have been relieved of his duties, having demonstrated with undeniable consistency that he started the job at the level of his incompetence.
In November 2015, the Granger Administration proposed a National Anti Narcotics Agency- a body to absorb the Customs Anti Narcotic Unit, the Police Narcotics Branch and the Guyana Revenue Authority Drug Enforcement Unit. Just listing these three agencies paints a picture of the propensity for a lack of coordination, fractured administration and an opportunity for pervious pockets.
With the commissioning of a National Anti Narcotics Agency, there may be restoration of integrity in hiring to fill positions that are so sensitive in nature and require solid and proven experience to command.
Let’s wait and see.