President at Annandale meeting...
I won't lynch any minister without credible evidence
--- warns that media siding with opposition against govt.
by Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
January 26, 2004

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PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday indicated that in the absence of any shred of credible evidence, he will not yield to the incessant campaign by the political opposition and some sections of the media for him to 'lynch' Home Affairs Minister, Mr. Ronald Gajraj, over his alleged involvement in the formation and operations of a touted 'death squad'.

Speaking out publicly for the first time yesterday on the broiling controversy surrounding Minister Gajraj in the aftermath of the allegations against him by one George Bacchus about a death squad and the Minister's involvement in such a squad, President Jagdeo noted that so far there has been no credible evidence provided to the Police against Minister Gajraj.

"A lot of people are calling for the lynching of a minister without a shred of credible evidence, and the people to give that evidence to is the police. So if people - the PNC, the criminals and some of the media people - think that our resolve would be weakened because of the campaign that they are carrying out, they are wrong," the Guyanese Head of State declared.

"I am not going to lynch any of my ministers," he said while addressing a community meeting at Annandale, East Coast Demerara.
Calling the whole issue "a conspiracy", President Jagdeo said the Government has to fight two things in Guyana today. "We have to fight a political opposition - the PNC/R and all the others - and we have to fight (some sections of) the media."

The President, who was visibly upset with media, said this should not be so since it was this government that restored freedom of the media in Guyana.

"There was a time when these same people (in the media) couldn't even let out a squeak because someone would knock at their door and fetch them away...Because the PPP is liberal and we are democratic, we ensured that freedom of the media was restored in Guyana," he contended.

According to him, the PPP does not believe in stifling descent or differences of opinion. He, however, hastened to point out that "what we have now is not just a difference of opinion or an objective media but rather a campaign by the media, joining with the PNC, to bring the Government down."

"This is not going to change... for 10 years we've had to face it from the time Cheddi Jagan got into office and it would continue to go on and the only thing they would be satisfied with is the PPP leaving office so that they can return to those days when they used to rip off this country," he asserted.

"So there is this whole new campaign evolving about some man called Bacchus - and suddenly everyone seems to buy into this and they are saying why isn't Jagdeo speaking on this matter or why is Jagdeo hiding from the press?"

"...but you know me, I wouldn't hide from Adam Harris or Enrico Woolford or any of these people in the media; I think the questions that they ask are so elementary that I wouldn't have to hide from them," Mr. Jagdeo posited.

"I don't need to hide but I am not going to schedule my press conferences based on what Channel 9 or 28 or Prime News says. I will speak as President on my own terms. Whenever I want to speak on the matter then that's the time that I will speak, not on their terms," the President told the residents who gathered for the meeting at Annandale Secondary School.

Lashing out at this media campaign against the Government, President Jagdeo gave instances where he said the media were being irresponsible and lacking in 'decency'.

One such instance was the recent, bold headline on the front page of Stabroek News to the effect that - 'Bacchus took a lie detector test at the US Embassy and passed the lie detector test'.

"The impression that this creates in the minds of all Guyanese is that Bacchus has to be telling the truth," the President reasoned.

The President said he called the US Ambassador and asked him if this was indeed the case and his response from the Ambassador was that Bacchus did not take any lie detector test.

"Bacchus never took a lie detector test at the US embassy but already right across Guyana because people believe the Stabroek News headline. They think that this man was speaking the truth (and) Stabroek News is not being (newspaper) enough to correct that position and to admit that it was wrong."

"Until now they have not done that," he lamented, adding that "what they want is a public lynching. Many of them are calling for Gajraj's head before you even had a semblance of even any credible statement."

The President also referred to a recent letter Opposition Leader, Mr. Robert Corbin, wrote him in which Corbin said he had credible reports that there were many 'death squads' operating, based on that party's intelligence reports. The President said he replied to Corbin's letter and told him that if he had all of these reports why not make them public or give them to the police! "He has not done so, so it's one of two things, it's either he's lying or he is withholding information and as leader of the opposition, he should not be doing either of the two," the Guyanese Head of State contended.

"I want you to understand that we will continue to have this battle (and) I will continue as President to defend the rights of the media to be free and not to be controlled by any group. But at the same time, we will have to fight those reporters and some sections of the media that are hell bent on bringing our government down and fermenting a campaign against the government," Mr. Jagdeo charged.

He also accused some sections of the media of "playing the role of the opposition parties today."

He recalled the reign of terror that was unleashed on the East Coast less than a year ago when residents, not only from Annandale but Guyanese from all walks of life, could not pass through the troubled and violence prone neighbouring village of Buxton.

"When the situation was raging on the East Coast and you were being terrorized, many of them (in the media and political opposition) didn't have sympathies at that time. In fact every day, Channel 9 was gloating about what was happening here. But today, suddenly, they are so concerned about propriety in Guyana," he asserted.

Nothing that the Police are the only lawful agency to investigate these matters, President Jagdeo pointed out that the Commissioner of Police has made a clear statement that anyone who has credible evidence should take that information to the Police.

"The challenges before us is to constantly get out of the situation where the government is being accused of corruption and now the saying is that we organized death squads to kill all of these bandits. We have to fight that, but there are more fundamental things for us to do and for me it is to ensure that we continue with what we promised the people - such as better health care, better housing and water, and most importantly better education, because education in the long run could solve many of the problems that we have, problems like poverty."

"We have had tremendous success in these areas and today, as I speak to you, we have reduced the burden of this country. We have brought it back from a state of bankruptcy when we took over, we have huge plans that are starting to unfold for education and healthcare and housing and all of these areas and while all of these things can't be done in one year - because we still have to contend with a huge debt burden and we've had to use a significant amount of resources from the treasury to deal with that - (debt burden reduction) will allow us to accelerate these developmental programmes," the President added.

He also urged the residents that there are no rooms for complacency since from what is happening now, some of the criminals may be feeling encouraged because they feel that the government is under siege.