The Opposition this afternoon threw its support behind the Police Amendment Bill, which amended the Police Act, CAP, 16:01, after the government made several changes to the earlier proposal.
The Government was hammered earlier this year by Civil Society organizations and the Guyana Bar Association when it proposed to amend the Police Act to allow for the taking of DNA samples from persons in custody. The administration was also criticized over the lack of consultation on the amendments.
The Guyana Bar Association had expressed concern that the previous proposed amendments which would have allowed for DNA collection of arrested persons could have created a platform for misuse and mischief.
The Government went back to the National Assembly today after listening to the position of the Opposition and Civil Society and removed the worrying clause completely from the Amendment Bill.
“After due considerations and perhaps some criticisms, at this time this resort is not necessary so I also want to delete this clause,” Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn said during his reading of the Bill on Monday.
Opposition Member of Parliament, Dawn Hastings- Williams, was the first to rise for the Opposition and give her no-objection for the Bill to be passed with the new proposed amendments.
Opposition MP and Former Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan said the deletion of the DNA information clause is welcomed since it could have been abused.
“And quite frankly I did not believe at all that the integrity of the collection and the preservation of DNA samples would have been to that high quality that I think that we should make it, so that is an important deletion,” Mr. Ramjattan said.
The National Assembly has also amended Section 2 of the Principal Act by inserting two new definitions for the terms ‘arms’ and ‘less-lethal weapons’.
The purpose of that amendment is to provide the Police Force with less-harmful weapons when they are executing an arrest.
And for the Home Affairs Minister, that move should be welcomed because it paves the way for arrests that are less confrontational.
“We identify that we want to avoid situations in which the engagement moves from simply and engagement – a scuffle because we have seen in many instances, where persons have taken the resort of scuffling and even fighting with the police, resisting arrest, and unfortunately in some instances, the police may have to go to what is described as lethal force,” Mr. Benn said.
The clause was supported by Opposition Member of Parliament, Geeta- Chandan-Edmond, who believes that with the advent of the technology in the security sector, the Guyana Police Force must also move in that direction but in doing so she said the Guyana Police Force must also move in a direction where its ranks act in a manner that is professional.
For his part though, Mr. Ramjattan said the Home Affairs Minister must press the GPF to ensure that Officers act in the best interest of citizens.
“We saw what happened to Orin Boston. Orin Boston, in his room, with his wife and they gone in there with big guns, they didn’t take any other non-lethal or even ask CID detectives at Suddie, arrest that man, he was not a known criminal,” Mr. Ramjattan said in making his case for the clauses in the Bills to be strictly adhered to.
The Guyana Police Force has been accused of using excessive and at times deadly force during arrests.