TUC rejects Presidential commission
‘a slap in the face’
Guyana Chronicle
May 18, 2004

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THE Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) has joined the list of groups that have rejected the Presidential Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the alleged involvement of the Minister of Home Affairs in unlawful killings.

President Bharrat Jagdeo Friday announced the setting up of the Presidential Commission to probe allegations that Minister Ronald Gajraj was linked to or directed a ‘death squad’ that killed and/or tortured several people during the crime wave that rocked Guyana in 2002-03.

The Commission consists of Justice of Appeal Ian Chang, its chairman; retired GDF Chief of Staff and Deputy Commissioner of Police Norman McLean and decorated army veteran, retired Deputy Police Commissioner and current Chairman of the Police Service Commission Ivan Crandon.

The PNCR, the TUC and other organizations had been calling on the government to mount an independent investigation into the allegations, originally made in January by George Bacchus, a self-confessed informant, after his brother Shafeek died in a drive-by shooting.

The police moved quickly to apprehend three persons fingered by George Bacchus in his brother’s death and they were subsequently charged with murder.

As the PNCR intensified its demand that the Government launch an independent probe into the death squad allegations, holding a vigil outside the Home Affairs Ministry, having some of its supporters conduct a mock service and picketing exercise outside the Minister’s home, and organizing what it called “rule of law” marches with the support of the TUC and other bodies, the police appealed to George Bacchus and others with information to contact them.

PNCR leader Robert Corbin, who said he had credible information substantiating the allegations against Minister Gajraj, refused to submit that/those bits of information to the police, saying it was the job of the police, not his, to investigate the allegations.

One day after the President announced the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry, the PNCR issued a statement rejecting the President’s move and saying it would not accept the results of the three-member body.

The TUC echoed the PNCR’s sentiments in a statement yesterday, calling the establishment of the Commission by the President in accordance with the provisions of the Commission of Inquiry Act, Chapter 19:03 a ‘slap in the face’ of Guyanese.

“The Guyana Trades Union Congress firmly believes that this unilaterally imposed inquiry is a contemptuous ‘slap in the face’ of the Guyanese people and the international community and strikes at the very core of good and accountable governance.”

“We posit the view that this imposition cannot and will not be regarded as an answer to the impasse over the death squad allegations,” the TUC statement said.

The umbrella trade union body, from which the country’s largest trade union and at least three other trade unions have split, urged that in the national interest the Government immediately withdraw its decision and engage the opposition parliamentary parties and civil society with a view to establishing an acceptable terms of reference and composition of the Commission of Inquiry.

“The GTUC, additionally, calls on the three eminent Guyanese named on the Commission to recuse themselves so as to ensure their reputation and integrity is not compromised,” the statement added.

The Brooklyn, New York-based Caribbean-Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID) has also echoed the PNCR’s rejection of the Commission on Inquiry.

CGID acknowledged the three eminent Guyanese who make up the Commission, but contended that Commission was set up unilaterally and the terms of reference “narrowly tailored to limit and restrict the investigation to determining the extent of ‘evidence of a credible nature’ of Ronald Gajraj's involvement in the ‘extra-judicial killing of persons.’"

In his announcing of the Commission on Friday, President Jagdeo said it had no-holds-bar authority to conduct a comprehensive investigation and gave the assurance that interference in the work of the Commission was not an option.

CGID contended nevertheless that the Commission was “restricted from inquiring into the existence, composition, financing and operation of a death squad(s) as well as any connection to or involvement of government and Police officials.

It said the President was “not interesting in a finding of fact on this matter,” but rather “engaging in political puppeteering and stonewalling by attempting to hoodwink the nation into believing that there will be a serious and thorough investigation into the Gajraj/death squad scandal.”