PNCR MPs don aprons to protest death squad charges
But motion for emergency debate denied
Stabroek News
March 16, 2004

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Continuing the campaign for justice: PNCR parliamentarians demonstrating outside the Ocean View Convention Centre yesterday, when the National Assembly held its first sitting for the year. The PNCR MPs walked out after the Speaker of the House denied a mo

The PNCR yesterday took its call for an investigation into death squad allegations to the National Assembly, donning aprons with slogans calling for the resignation of Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj.

But a motion by the opposition leader for an emergency debate on the death squad allegations was denied by Speaker Ralph Ramkarran who said that he was given late notice.

PNCR MPs walked out of the National Assembly's first sitting for the year and joined protest demonstrations after Ramkarran said the multiple issues in the motion did not qualify as a definite matter of urgent public importance.

Gajraj was not present at the sitting but the PPP/C MPs voiced a collective 'no' when the speaker read the resolutions that were contained in the motion.

"In relation to the issue of urgency, the matter must be of recent occurrence and raised without delay," Ramkarran told opposition leader Robert Corbin, who entered the Assembly wearing an apron with the words "Guyana is Bleeding" printed on the front.

"I referred to the fact that the events are dated between December and January and that there was sufficient time for a private members' motion," he said.

Corbin would later say that a private members' motion was not moved because he was hoping that President Bharrat Jagdeo would have reconsidered his position and acted on the repeated calls for an independent inquiry into the allegations.

In the adjournment motion, Corbin seeks a discussion on the allegations of the existence of state-sponsored death squads and the alleged involvement Gajraj.

Allegations about the death squad first surfaced in January this year when self-confessed ex-informant George Bacchus went public, implicating the minister and other prominent individuals for their alleged involvement.

Gajraj has dismissed the allegations as speculation.

Corbin asked that the National Assembly call for the minister's resignation to permit an independent inquiry. He also requested that the minister be barred from further participation in the business of the National Assembly until he resigns.

The motion asks that the President be made to establish a commission by the end of this month to conduct the independent inquiry.

He envisions a commission of jurists or other qualified persons from both Guyana and other countries, two of whom will be nominated by the opposition parties.

But in the event that the minister fails to resign, Corbin asks that the President be requested to remove him from office to ensure that he does not interfere in the inquiry.

Failing these moves, Corbin entreats the Assembly to approach the UN for assistance in the appointment of an international inquiry.

Though he noted that some of the matters raised were proper subjects for debate, Ramkarran said that the adjournment motion was received less than two hours before the sitting of the Assembly.

He said Corbin had informed him of his plan to introduce the motion at 11.45 am yesterday and he received the motion half an hour later, and this was not enough time for him to study it properly.

He used a ruling by his predecessor, Sase Narain as a precedent, noting that it was decided that adjournment motions are required to be lodged with the Clerk of the Assembly by 11 am on the day it is to be tabled.

Ramkarran did note that there was enough time since the allegations surfaced for a private members' motion to be lodged for debate as this only requires 14 days notice.

He said the multiple issues could not be defined as definite since that would require a single specific matter, while they also could not be defined as urgent, given their genesis in the period between December and January.

Though he noted that there is no doubt that the issues raised are of public importance, he said they did not satisfy the definition by parliamentary standards, which requires that they arise from sudden events and not from events that have arisen over a period of weeks. He also said that the facts have to be admitted or established.

Meanwhile, ROAR leader Ravi Dev said his party did not support Corbin's motion because they felt the minister should recuse himself and not resign.

Shortly after the ruling Corbin withdrew from the Assembly, noting that he would be failing his constituency if he continued to participate in the proceedings.

He and other members of the party then joined the more than one hundred people who were gathered outside the Ocean View Convention Centre to protest the allegations until the end of the sitting.