This issue must not be sidelined
Stabroek News
February 1, 2004

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Dear Editor,

With the PPP joining the President in calling on George Bacchus to make a formal statement to the police on his allegations implicating Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj in the operations of a 'phantom squad', it seems like the issue, which started out with a criminal allegation, is slowly losing out to partisan politicking by both the PNCR and the PPP/C.

And this will work well in favour of the PPP/C, as it can easily drag the debate on for a long time until the public gets the feeling that this is just another political battle between the PPP/C and the PNCR, thereby losing interest in or focus on the serious allegations by Mr Bacchus.

The PNCR, for its part, by rejecting the idea of having a Parliamentary Committee subpoena the minister to answer questions about the allegations, and to clarify what he meant by 'national security' concerns in his talks with certain persons, may have shut the only door available to it (the PNCR) to show Guyanese and international observers it is genuinely interested in getting to the truth and not playing politics.

So what if the PPP/C has a majority on the parliamentary committee and may be inclined to play politics and side with the minister? Such a committee is not the only or final recourse to get the facts, yet by making the move in this direction, the PNCR will demonstrate it worked in good faith to get the facts; and even it gets stonewalled, Guyanese and international observers will take note and, hopefully, interest will mount and pressure will be brought to bear on the case. By this time, it may then be a whole lot easier for the opposition party to start talking about getting international observers involved.

What the PNCR has to be concerned with, though, is the perception that it is going at the issue alone against the government. This is what the government wants, but the PNCR needs to work in tandem with civil society, or at least civil society should be a lot more vocal than is the case at present. International observers may be more willing to get involved if they get the impression this is not another PPP/C-PNCR political battle, but notice instead that civil society is equally concerned about the allegations and need help in finding a resolution.

The government, meanwhile, raised eyebrows recently when it said that it will not be bound by the findings of the Disciplined Forces Commission final report because of Dr Harold Lutchman's role as a new member of the DFC.

One has to wonder how one person, joining the commission very late in its sittings, can influence the outcome of the final report. The bulk of what needed to be said has already been recorded. Further, by choosing to go public in a well-timed refusal to honour the DFC's findings, is government treating the DFC as a "Kangaroo Commission" after all the money and time spent getting input from various persons? This smacks of a pre-determined position to continue doing what government deems best in its interest.

Moreover, if government treats this serious body of upstanding persons with scant disregard for their work on what's wrong with the disciplined service organizations, are we to expect any better from a commission tasked with the responsibility to investigate Mr Bacchus' claims implicating a government minister?

Before closing, I know your newspaper is relied on heavily by many, at home and abroad, to get information about the issue, so won't you consider an editorial about the alternative options available to all concerned now that stonewalling seems to be the order of the day?

Yes, you did suggest the minister should step down and an investigating committee be set up, but barring Mr Bacchus' formal statement, and given the PNCR's rejection of a parliamentary committee idea, despite the GBA's contention that a parliamentary structure exists to this end, what other recourse do you see as viable at this time?

Do you think the time has finally come for Mr Bacchus to come out of hiding for his own safety and make a formal statement, not necessarily to appease government, but to comply just so that the investigations can get started without further delay?

After all, Mr Bacchus reposed confidence in the media (Stabroek News included) and the US Embassy, making the media and or the embassy the only likely entities which may be able to influence him to provide a formal


In addition, since President of the Guyana Bar Association, Khemraj Ramjattan, seems duly concerned, will he be willing to arrange for a team of pro bono lawyers to sit and talk with Mr Bacchus on how he could go about making a formal statement, and whether he can be granted immunity for his bravery? Mr Bacchus seems to be the only one holding the key to unlock the door to the truth.

Yours faithfully,

Emile Mervin

Brooklyn, New York

Editor's note:

There are several possible solutions, all of which have been canvassed. The first is that the police be left to investigate in the usual way. The obvious objection to that is that the police are said to be implicated.

The second proposal is a new, independent commission. There are various precedents for this.

The third proposal is that the Disciplined Forces Commission be asked to undertake this enquiry. That is a bipartisan commission with an independent chairman approved by both sides and is in existence.

The fourth proposal is that a parliamentary committee undertake the enquiry. The objection to this has been that the PPP has a majority on the relevant committee.

Other issues that arise are the terms of reference of the proposed committee and the question of granting immunity to witnesses.

At the moment, this newspaper has not taken a final position on what method it would consider most suitable, though it sees merit in the point made by the President of the Guyana Bar Association, Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan, that it is desirable when possible to rely on existing institutions as otherwise there is no point in setting them up. However, some of the above possibilities have already been rejected by one or the other of the two main political parties.