APPOINTMENT OF A COMMISSION OF INQUIRY TO INVESTIGATE THE INCIDENCE OF TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS IN GUYANA
Minister of Home Affairs [Mr. Rohee]: Mdm. Deputy Speaker, I think that my task has been made very simple and I will not be too long, even though as Chairman of the taskforce, the taskforce covers a wide area of activities.
Suffice to say that since the establishment of the taskforce under the Cabinet’s advisement, the taskforce has issued reports every single year since its existence. There was a report in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. These reports reflect exactly what the Opposition Members have been saying that we should be doing.
I think the problem that we have is that the information on the taskforce has not been widely disseminated. In addition to that even when they are sent to the media, the media determines what sections of the report it would have reflected in its pages or on its screens. We have absolutely no control over that.
The question of the Commission of Inquiry, I would not go into all the details that I wanted to talk about because many of them have been covered already. We do not dodge issues, particularly not this one because if we had set out to dodge the question of trafficking in person, we would never have set up the taskforce with so many Minister, having inter agency cooperation and collaboration and we would have never have done the amount of work that we were doing or have been doing. When the question of dodging was mentioned, I remember Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger.
We have patiently and consistently done our work. The problem with this work is not work for celebration or for trumpet. Patient, consistent and quiet work, as we do for example as political parties, is precisely the same type of work that is done for trafficking in persons. Not every time you venture in the interior you issue a press statement to say what you have been doing. Up to two days ago the taskforce met and decided to visit 14 check points in the interior, these included, Mahdia, Omai, Imbaimadai, Kurupung, Olive Creek, Fourteen Mile, Issano, Puruni, Aranka, Itabali, Eclipse Falls, Lethem, Ogle, Kanauru and Matthew’s Ridge. We have prioritised these places and the agencies have already identified the teams that will visit these places.
This is not the first time we are going to be visiting these places; we have visited these places before. But like I said, when the taskforce sends out teams to visit these places, it is not a matter for a press conference or a press release, it is just quiet hard work on the ground to establish the activities that are going on these and to have them reflected in your reports on the National levels or on the reports that we send on an annual basis to the United Nations or the Organisation of American States (OAS). The information is there on the internet. Maybe we need to find more creative ways of disseminating all this hard work that was done and I take a criticism, maybe, that we are not doing enough to make our work known.
The setting up of a Commission of Inquiry, I think that was adequately dealt with by the Hon. Attorney General. It is never for us a question of going into any denial mode; it is a question of the denial mode vs. the reality mode. The reality mode is that trafficking in person is not a major country wide phenomenal as far as the data goes for those who have done the analysis and the assessment. We do not consider it necessary because the United States Government is saying we have a problem with trafficking in person in Guyana that we must follow suit or as they say, “follow pattern”. The American Administration is free to pronounce on the status of trafficking in person in any country. We cannot stop them from doing that, but we as Guyanese, must make our own independent assessment of the situation and publish how we assess it as far as possible.
Much has been said about the US Administration, but it is important for us to note that there is a major tips problem in the United States. I think it is important to point out that in the United States, by their own admission, they have over 50,000 cases a year and yet they are on tier one. How did they end up as a tier one country? I think that the claim…. Let us recognise that there is no perfect situation, in terms of the fight against trafficking in person. This is a work in progress; we would never meet a state of perfection in the struggle against trafficking in person, irrespective of the dimension of the problem. We have to continue being as effective as we can with this challenge, as the Attorney General said, as we are in the question of dealing with road traffic accidents, the fight against crime and so forth.
The motion refers or calls on the National Assembly to declare its abhorrence. The Government has done so time and time again; in every report we have declared our abhorrence at the crime of trafficking in person. We have also expressed our sympathy.
The same sentiment that has been expressed by the Opposition benches in terms of expressing sympathy, we find common cause with the Opposition on this. We are Guyanese and therefore every time we find a person or a victim involved in or being trafficked we obviously feel a sense of sympathy and we join with the Opposition in expressing sympathy with the victims of trafficking. They should be treated humanely; of course, we agree with that. We agree that they should be treated humanely. We have said that publicly and that they should not be treated as offenders and that the state should assert the responsibility. I think that I heard someone say that the Government is not doing so. That is not true. I have that information here where the Government and the State is asserting its responsibility in respect of trafficking in persons and I believe that by circulating these reports that information would be better understood.
I agree that the establishment of a commission of inquiry is not the appropriate mechanism to address the question of trafficking of persons. This is a living problem. This is an ongoing problem. This is a problem that requires soldiers, so to speak, on the ground on a regular basis. A commission of inquiry will meet and it will engage in all of the academic discourses. They will engage in all of the theoretical, all of the information that could be found on the internet. We have heard some of that this afternoon. There are tonnes of information on the internet on this matter. This is a practical problem that has to be addressed in a practical way so that even if one establishes a commission of inquiry the commission of inquiry will call for the establishment of some kind of practical mechanism. The practical mechanism is already there. The only problem is that it is made up mainly of Government Ministers. Maybe we need to find a way of involving the opposition in the work of the Ministerial Task Force or of the task force in order that Opposition Members could get a better grasp of the challenges that the task force is confronted with as well as the need to provide the human, material and other resources out there to do the work of the task force.
I want to conclude by saying that with the existence already of a Ministerial Task Force or a task force I cannot see how we could reconcile or bring some degree of synergy between a commission of inquiry and the task force. I would like to also draw to the attention of the House where the CARICOM heads of government at their meeting held, I think it was earlier this year, in Haiti decided to establish a CARICOM expert working group on human trafficking to pursue training of customs officials, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement and security officials in dealing effectively and appropriately with human trafficking cases. The heads urge member states to adopt national action plans against trafficking in persons, implement specialised units devoted to trafficking in persons and initiate a regional network of NGOs observatory on human trafficking and smuggling in the regions. We are committed to this and we have already begun to take steps to implement this decision of the heads which was adopted at the last heads of government meeting in Haiti. I think that this work to fight trafficking in persons is practical work, day to day work and I think the task force is trying its utmost. Obviously the taskforce could not have done a perfect job; there is always room for improvement and we are always willing to listen to other stakeholders who are committed to this fight, to joint with them in order to improve what has to be improved in terms of fighting trafficking in persons. Thank you, Mdm. Deputy Speaker. [Applause]