“We have never built something like this before in Guyana and yet the contract was awarded to a local firm. If you are building a lab like this why would you use someone who has never built one before? It’s like the Amaila Falls Road, where a man never built a road and was given a big contract,”
BY DALE ANDREWS
Last year April, the Guyana Government signed a $450M contract with Courtney Benn Contracting Services Limited for the construction of a forensic laboratory at the University of Guyana, Turkeyen Campus.
The construction of the laboratory, which is funded by the Inter American Development Bank in partnership with the Guyana Government, is expected to greatly enhance the investigative capabilities of the Guyana Police Force.
And with so many local cases going overboard due to the over reliance on eyewitness testimony alone, forensic science in police work is certainly the way to go in these modern times.
It will certainly help to reduce the reliance on eyewitness testimony, most of which have been successfully challenged by smart defence attorneys.
“Physical evidence don’t lie; while eyewitness testimony has been found to be manifestly wanting,” said a senior police detective.
But while the world is way ahead in this area, is Guyana really serious?
For one, the time frame given for the completion of the laboratory is fast running out. A visit to the Turkeyen Campus of the University of Guyana where the state-of-the art laboratory is being built revealed a sorry sight.
Parts of the roof are still incomplete and there still remains a lot of work to be done on the actual structure itself.
When the absence of the specialised state-of-the-art fittings is taken into consideration, it is anyone’s guess when the facility will be completed.
At a signing ceremony last year April, the contractor Courtney Benn Contracting Services Limited had assured that the multi-million-dollar facility would have been completed within 12 months.
There is now the worry that given the certain extension for the completion of the facility, the cost of the laboratory itself could be significantly increased.
“We have never built something like this before in Guyana and yet the contract was awarded to a local firm. If you are building a lab like this why would you use someone who has never built one before? It’s like the Amaila Falls Road, where a man never built a road and was given a big contract,” said a prominent government critic.
According to a source who is familiar with Police Forensic Laboratories in other parts of the world, especially in the Caribbean, such facilities are not the ordinary run of the mill laboratory.
Forensic laboratories contain the most up-to-date technology and techniques for enhancing and analysing fingerprints, shoeprints and tyre marks.
A common unit found in forensic laboratories is the Serology Unit, which deals primarily with the testing of blood.
The Serology unit specialises in the identification and analysis of bloodstains and other bodily fluids, as well as DNA sequencing.
The most common of the DNA tests, the polymers chain reaction, can now be performed in small laboratories, thanks to advancements in this area. However, the analysis of mitochondrial DNA is still only performed in large forensic laboratories.
Large labs also have arson and explosives experts as well as specialists in software, computer data, files, documents, audios and video recordings.
The units available in different labs will vary from one to the other, however, the need for certain analyses and the budget of each lab determines the availability of the departments.
At present, the few pieces of local evidence that require forensic analysis are all sent overseas to either Barbados, Trinidad or Jamaica.
The source said that although the facilities in these countries are of a high standard they are still not up the best in the world.
And even with this in mind what is being built in Guyana will in no way eclipse those in the Caribbean.
For example, “at the Barbados laboratory, the doors are opened with the swipe of a card. I have never seen a forensic laboratory without a fence; the one we are building does not have a fence,” the source pointed out.
Defence lawyers, he said, will have a field day questioning the integrity of the evidence coming from such a facility.
Forensic laboratories all run on the same basic rules and regulations. Any item of evidence that enters the lab must never come into contact with anything that could contaminate it.
Its progression through each of the departments must therefore be fully recorded so that it can be perused at any time.
Forensics laboratories are extremely complex and involve up to hundreds of people to ensure everything runs quickly and efficiently.
Staff has to ensure that evidence is correctly booked in, prepared and stored.
They also have to clean and maintain the lab, as well as servicing the various pieces of technical equipment and keeping them looked after.
And this is where another problem arises-the question of proper staffing.
According to reports, no one has so far been sent for the requisite training to first of all work in a state of the art forensic laboratory, much less give expert testimony on the results obtained.
“This facility requires state of the art training and so far nothing has been done in this area. Those who have to operate in the lab will have to attend specialist universities to do work like Serology, which is one of the most common forms of evidence today,” explained the source.
He also referred to the area of toxicology, DNA which he said is absolutely necessary though expensive.
Dna testing locally will be cost effective he argued since, according to the source, it could easily cost the Guyana Government about $300,000 to send each sample overseas for testing.
“Where are all the bright Guyanese? Barbados is beating us with training. In their lab they have people with Master’s Degrees,” the source declared.
Last year, Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee remarked that because of the involvement of University of Guyana personnel, public confidence in the forensic results would be well enhanced.
He noted that in Guyana and the rest of the world, “the complex nature of crime has to be responded to both with old, tested methods and with new cutting edge methods.”
Rohee said that the criminals of today use modern methods…and old and tested ones, and law enforcement personnel have to respond appropriately.”
Stressing that citizens must have confidence in what is done at the laboratory, the Home Affairs Minister said that the decision to locate the new facility at UG “took into consideration the results coming out of the laboratory.”
For the Guyana Police Force, the laboratory, when completed, will be “a dream come true.”
The Guyana Police Force inherited a “forensic” laboratory in 1987 and with the help of University graduates, the Force has managed to upgrade the lab facilities in areas of drug processing, blood splatter analysis and fingerprinting.
But it will be quite a while before the local police cease their dependence on their overseas counterparts for DNA and other aspects of forensic testing.