The statement attributed to the Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Brigadier Mark Phillips in relation to survey rights to 2,200,000 acres granted to a company with powerful Brazilian ties raises a number of issues. The Chief-of-Staff is reported to have said: “The army will remain committed and adherent to the policies of the government. ‘The government has a responsibility for governing the country and determining what is best, so the GDF will respect any decisions made for the country.’”
While democracies accept the importance of having the military answerable to the civilian administration, a constitutional amendment in 2001 defined the country’s defence and security policy, the role of the Defence and Security Forces in relation to that policy, and the allegiance of the members of those forces. These are set out, perhaps not by accident, in Article 197 A of the constitution, the same article that deals with the judicature.
That policy set out in Article 197 A (1) states:
“The state’s defence and national security policy shall be to defend national independence, preserve the country’s sovereignty and integrity, and guarantee the normal functioning of institutions and the security of citizens against armed aggression.”
Article 197 A (2) states as follows:
“The Defence and Security Forces shall be subordinate to defence and national security policy and owe allegiance to the Constitution and to the Nation. The oath taken by members of the Defence and Security Forces shall establish their duty to respect the Constitution.”
What constitutes the territory of the state is set out in Article 2 of the constitution as:
“the areas that immediately before the commencement of the Constitution were comprised in the area of Guyana together with such other areas as may be declared byAct of Parliament to form part of the territory of the State.”
The following is the oath taken by officers of the Guyana Defence Force, including Brigadier Phillips:
“I… do swear (or solemnly affirm) that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the State of Guyana; that I will support and defend the State against all enemies whomsoever; that I will faithfully discharge the functions of an officer in the Guyana Defence Force without fear or favour, affection or ill-will and that in the discharge of those functions I will honour, uphold and preserve the Constitution of Guyana.”
The amendment to the constitution was no accident. Our parliament must be assumed to have knowledge of the convention governing the relationship between the army and the civilian administration and to have been aware of the subversion of that convention prior to 1992.
My understanding is that no convention can take precedence over the law, let alone the constitution. So maybe the Chief-of-Staff can help by responding to the following questions:
1. Does his adherence to the policies of the government take precedence over his oath as an officer of the GDF?
2. Is he aware that mining activities in the New River Triangle area have always been a matter of not only national security, but also of national policy?
3. Does he disagree with the statement by former Chief-of-Staff Collins that the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) has always been instrumental and the enforcement body in relation to activities occurring in the New River Triangle area?
4. Does he know that during the period when retired Major General Joe Singh was Chief-of-Staff, the army had intervened to stop mining activities in that area?
5. Can he say if and when the policy in relation to mining and commercial activities in the area was changed?
6. Can he state whether the GDF formally advised on and accepted that policy?
7. Can he state whether Minister Robert Persaud consulted with the GDF on the decision to give access to 2,200,000 acres of land within 300 yards of the Guyana-Brazil border?
8. What resources will the GDF require to protect the 2,200,000 acres over which Muri Brasil has been granted survey rights leading to mining activities?
In conclusion, it is my belief that the leadership of the GDF has a constitutional duty to raise the Muri Permission formally with President Ramotar who is both Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and the supreme executive authority. This will be consistent with the oath Mr Phillips took.