Death squad allegations
Not a shred of credible evidence against Gajraj -President
Stabroek News
January 26, 2004

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President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday told a gathering at Annandale that there was not a shred of credible evidence in the public domain linking Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj to the activities of a death squad.

"Many of them are calling for Gajraj's head before you even have a semblance of any credible statement...I'm not going to lynch any of my ministers...because a lot of people are calling for lynching of a minister without a shred of credible evidence."

The Head of State made this declaration during his address at a meeting organised for him to interact with the residents of Annandale, East Coast Demerara and members of the Women's Progressive Organisation (WPO), the women's arm of the People's Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C).

The President has come under pressure from the PNCR, other political parties and civil society groups to have Gajraj stand down so that explosive allegations made by a self-professed former informant to a death squad could be investigated. Calls have also been made for an independent probe to be mounted.

Jagdeo related that Opposition Leader and leader of the PNCR, Robert Corbin, had written him stating that he had credible intelligence reports of the operation of a number of death squads.

He said in response, he wrote Corbin inviting the Opposition Leader to make the aforementioned reports public or hand them over to the Commissioner of Police.

"[Corbin] has not done so, so it's one of two things, it's either he is lying or he is withholding information. And as leader of the Opposition, he should not be doing either of the two," Jagdeo declared. Corbin has said that information would likely be supplied when Gajraj steps down and an independent probe is established.

According to the President, ever since the death squad allegations against Gajraj by George Bacchus were published, the public has been persuaded by what appears to be a joint campaign by certain sections of the media and the Opposition.

Jagdeo said these sections of the media are now accusing him of being silent on the issue. However, Jagdeo further related, that he has no intention of being browbeaten into discussing the issue based on the terms set out by these sections of the media and/or the Opposition.

"[E]veryone [is] saying why isn't Jagdeo speaking on this matter...Jagdeo is hiding from the press. ...I don't need to hide from [these sections of the media]. I will not schedule my press conferences based on what Channel Nine, [Channel] 28] or Prime News say. I will speak as President on my own terms whenever I want to speak on the [Bacchus issue]," Jagdeo asserted.

He said these sections of the media and Stabroek News appear to be engaged in a joint campaign geared at removing the government from office.

Jagdeo remarked that the Stabroek News headline which indicated that Bacchus had undergone and passed a lie detector test at the United States Embassy was false and had created a negative public impression across Guyana, one which suggested that Bacchus' allegations are true.

He said he had since spoken with the US Ambassador Roland Bullen who told him the report was incorrect but Stabroek News had failed to admit it had made a mistake.

"Stabroek News has not been man enough to correct that position to say `we're wrong' until now....What [Stabroek News] want[s] is a public lynching."

Yesterday's edition of the Sunday Stabroek did acknowledge that the Stabroek News report about Bacchus taking the lie detector test was incorrect.

Jagdeo said that as the President, he will continue to defend the right of the media to be free and not to be controlled by any group "but at the same time [the supporters] will have to fight those reporters and some sections of the media who are hell-bent on bringing our government down and fomenting a campaign against our government...".

The president said that broadcast legislation is expected to be passed within six months and there will be serious penalties for the infringement of people's rights by the broadcast media.

A tough broadcast legislation committee will be put in place to deal with improprieties, he warned.

He noted that the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) which was set up to curb certain common offences by the media was condemned by the PNCR - which selected one of its members - when it suspended the licences of Channels 9 and 6.

He said the current circumstances surrounding Bacchus' allegations are likely to increase the confidence level of the country's criminal elements.

In light of this view, Jagdeo urged the members of the Community Policing Groups (CPG) to become "the eyes and the ears of the [Guyana Police Force]."

Jagdeo informed that the CPG members will be trained in the proper use of weaponry but not for the purpose of confrontation.

"We have to ensure that we do not go back to the [crime] situation of a year ago because with what is going on now I feel that some of the criminals may be feeling encouraged because they may feel that the government is under siege."

It was emphasised that the police is the only lawful agency to investigate these allegations and he pointed out that the Commissioner of Police, [Floyd McDonald], has made a clear statement and that all those who have credible evidence should approach the police.

The President did not deal with the concerns expressed by the Opposition and other organisations regarding the confidentiality of information of this nature given to the police as well as those persons' security.

The community's problems which include the need for roads, potable water supply and the regularisation of an internal squatter settlement were also discussed by the President.

The gathering was informed that the government has little control over Region Four, of which Annandale is a part, because it was won by the PNCR during the elections and has been under that party's control for over thirteen years.

Additionally, the President charged that because Region Four's Chairman Allan Monroe and his colleagues did not communicate the region's problems adequately and on time to the government, the process of providing the relevant assistance is hindered.

However, a team of officials will be sent to the area next week, the President promised, saying he plans to assign the various ministers in the respective sectors to work towards resolving these issues.

A resident complained that because of the brain drain, the Health Centre at Lusignan is without appropriate staff.

Another said the members of the Community Policing Groups tend to protect only themselves and their families while another rebutted saying that the residents do not properly support the groups.

Jagdeo also reminded the residents that government has expended $2.5B toward regularisation of Squatter Settlements and intends to put another $5.5B into this venture. This includes providing water and electricity and drainage and irrigation.

Further, government has invested $3.5B into the Social Impact Amelioration Programme (SIMAP) to help reduce poverty.

In response to another resident's lamentation of persons from overseas getting duty-free concession, the President explained that this was in fact a relocation allowance for overseas-based Guyanese who were returning to the country.

He contended that lowered interest rates mean growth and progress rather than a sign of regression and deterioration. Jagdeo noted that because of lowered interest rates since his government came into power, some $5B has been invested into home ownership.

Ordinary persons, the President said, can now receive loans to build houses with interest rates ranging from 5 to 10 percent while businessmen can get loans around 10 to 15 percent whereas these loans would have been 20 and 35 percent respectively before his government accelerated development.

Jagdeo lamented that the government is usually blamed for everything when it knows little about what is actually taking place.

He said there is a lot of corruption and laziness in the Public Service, particularly the Customs and Excise Department, and the government is blamed when it is unaware of the bribery and acts of negligence which occurs at such places.