President sets up 'phantom force' inquiry
--- assures no interference
Guyana Chronicle
May 15, 2004

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PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday announced the setting up of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations linking Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj with a phantom force claimed to have been involved in the killing of several people.

The President said in a statement he read to reporters at the Office of the President that he sought to consult with PNCR/Opposition Leader Robert Corbin on this development.

"Failing to reach him by telephone," Mr. Jagdeo noted, "it is with regret that I had to write the Leader of the Opposition informing him of my decision."

International community representatives here are also believed to have been informed about the President's initiative.

The commission comprises Justice of Appeal Ian Chang, S.C., retired GDF Chief of Staff and Deputy Police Commissioner (ret.) Norman McLean, and retired Deputy Commissioner of Police and Chairman of the Police Service Commission Ivan Crandon.

"There can be no doubt about the fairness, competence and impartiality of these three Guyanese," the President stressed yesterday.

Justice Chang will chair the Commission of Inquiry, a position President Jagdeo said the judge reluctantly agreed to.

The three-member commission will begin work at a time to be determined by its Chairman and has been promised there would be no interference in its work.

Minister Gajraj, who told the President several weeks ago that he would willingly go on leave to allay fears of inquiry tampering, is expected to step aside when the commission starts its investigation. A Cabinet minister will deputize for him on his departure.

The Guyanese Leader said the Minister of Home Affairs enjoys his confidence and that of the entire Cabinet. "However, it is necessary to stop the trial by the media and the political agitation surrounding this matter."

Reliable sources say the international community, which has been following the issue from the day (January 5 last) George Bacchus attributed the death of his brother, Shafeek, to a 'phantom squad' he alleged was known to Minister Gajraj, is supportive of the government's position on the allegations. "They are, of course, concerned about the transparency of any process adopted by the government," the sources said last night.

President Jagdeo implied in his statement yesterday that interference in the inquiry isn't a governmental option. "I wish to state categorically," he emphasized, "that there will not be any interference in the work of the Commission of Inquiry by the Government. The commission (alone) will determine its procedures for the fair and proper conduct of the inquiry."

No timeframe has been disclosed for the commission to complete its work, but officials speculate that a report on the commission's findings could be submitted within four months.

As for those who've been calling for an inquiry into the Mash Day 2002 prison escape by five criminals and the subsequent crime wave that traumatized hundreds of Guyanese and forced some countries to warn their nationals against coming to Guyana, President Jagdeo held out some hope.

"At a subsequent time," he said, "an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the February 23, 2002 jailbreak, the plight of victims of the criminal violence and political linkages to the 2002/2003 crime wave, will be seriously considered."