President, Corbin face off on the Gajraj issue
Guyana Chronicle
April 9, 2004

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THE PNC/R is insisting that its leader Robert Corbin spoke with President Bharrat Jagdeo on the Gajraj affair on several occasions, but the Office of the President is adamant that that isn't the case.

In a statement yesterday, the PNC/R said, "The PNCR Leader, on three occasions, as early as the first week in January 2004, spoke to the government about the necessity for an impartial investigation into the Gajraj Affair. On two of those three occasions, Mr. Corbin communicated directly with President Jagdeo."

No so, the Office of the President responded in a statement of its own yesterday afternoon. Said an OP statement: "President Bharrat Jagdeo maintains that PNCR Leader Robert Corbin never made use of opportunities presented by the constructive engagement process to discuss the allegations by a self-confessed informant against the Minister of Home Affairs. The only time President and Mr. Corbin spoke on the issue was during the chance encounter on the occasion of the visit by a United States Coast Guard Vessel - Gentian WIX 290. Mr. Corbin could not term that brief and informal chat an opportunity to seriously discuss his party's concerns. This is too serious an issue to be dealt with in such an off-hand manner."

The controversy surrounds the disclosure in January by self-confessed informant George Bacchus that his brother, Shafeek Bacchus, was slain by men of a phantom force and that Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj was linked to the squad.

According to Bacchus, the squad was responsible for the killing of many of the criminals and crime suspects that terrorized the Guyanese coastland for more than a year after five of them, who later called themselves "freedom fighters," stabbed a 21-year-old prison officer to death and shot and critically wounded his female colleague, in their escape from Camp Street Prison on Mash Day 2002.

The PNC/R has taken up the issue ever since, accusing the Government of running a state-sponsored "death squad," calling for a government-commissioned investigation into the affair, and demanding the resignation or removal of Mr. Gajraj from office.

In another of its statements on the issue yesterday, the PNC/R said Mr. Corbin first raised the matter formally with the government on Friday, January 9, 2004 just prior to the swearing-in ceremony of the Police Service Commission.

"Later that month, the two leaders met at a ceremony held on a visiting US Coast Guard vessel and Mr. Corbin raised this matter with the President. They spoke one-to-one exclusively on the Gajraj issue for 45 minutes. Whether or not this meeting was a chance encounter is most irrelevant. The fact is that Mr. Jagdeo had ample opportunity to indicate his intention to seek some resolution of the matter. In fact, he did...

"Then on January 15, 2004, Mr. Corbin wrote to President Jagdeo calling for an independent and impartial inquiry into several matters, including the allegations of a state-sponsored death squad(s) and the involvement of Minister Gajraj in directing its operations..."

Responded Information Liaison to the President Robert Persaud: "Upon President Jagdeo's return from his State Visit to India, he received a letter on January 15, 2004 from Mr. Corbin informing him of the PNCR's position and a demand for the removal of the Minister of Home Affairs. There was no indication or request for an audience with the President to discuss the matter. Clearly, Mr. Corbin had made up his mind and taken a position, hence his lack of interest in any discussion or discourse on the subject.

"It must be recalled that since the January 15, 2004 letter, Mr. Corbin has refused to attend consultations called by the President on several national issues including appointments in the Guyana Police Force. If Mr. Corbin was ever interested in engaging the Head of State on this issue he would have attended the consultations and used the opportunity to have his concerns addressed in a very serious and deliberate way. This issue is now the ruse for the suspension of an integral element of the constructive engagement process - direct meetings between the President and the Leader of the Opposition.

"The President stands by his assertion made at a media conference on Friday, April 2,2004: 'If we had those discussions, we might have been able to sort out some procedure that would treat all the people who were accused fairly, that they do not have a trial by the media and the public, and at the same time assure Guyanese that the Government has nothing to hide and that we are fully transparent on the matter. But there has never been that opportunity to talk on this issue. By the time I got back to Guyana, the PNCR had made demands.'"