Commission does not require
- President Bharrat Jagdeo
Key concern is that credible people are appointed
Guyana Chronicle
May 23, 2004

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`This is a Presidential Commission of Inquiry. There is no requirement that the President consults. My only concern is that I name credible people. I wonder if I had named three PNC members and didn’t consult, whether they (PNCR) would have had a problem with that. So it is not the consultation that actually matters; it’s the credibility of the people who are going to conduct the inquiry.’ President Bharrat Jagdeo

PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo said yesterday he does not have an obligation to consult the political opposition or any other group on the composition of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the allegations levelled against the Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj.

The process was an exercise of the President’s authority, the head of state emphasised yesterday in a television interview with Dwayne Fowler of National Telecommunications Network Incorporated.

On May 14, the President announced the appointment of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry.

He said that in accordance with Chapter 19: 03 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, which enables the President to appoint a Commission, he had appointed the Commission chaired by Justice of Appeal, Ian Chang, SC. The other members of the Commission are former retired Major General and Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Norman McLean and retired Deputy Commissioner of Police, Ivan Crandon. Crandon is currently the Chairman of the Police Service Commission.

The appointment of the Commission follows Minister Gajraj’s public announcement on May 7 that he had requested from President Jagdeo, permission to proceed on leave to allow for an impartial investigation into allegation of his knowledge of the operations of an alleged death squad.

Yesterday, the President explained that he met the donor community and indicated to them the Government was taking this approach, which would hopefully bring closure to the issue and “take away the excuse from the PNC that because there isn’t an inquiry they would not participate in the National Assembly, which I think is not only an untenable position, but one that is rarely heard of in the modern world.”

Opposition parties had reacted negatively to the President’s decision of appointing a Presidential Commission, even though they have repeatedly called for an investigation into the matter since the allegations were made in January.

“The PNC [People’s National Congress Reform] has chosen this as their path for political agitation. I cannot comment on their strategy. I just think it’s anti-productive…and it doesn’t allow democracy to grow because it is important that you have a functioning Parliament in a democracy,” he said.

The President explained that this inquiry is different from the one just concluded by the Disciplined Forces Commission, since that was a Parliamentary Commission and Government consulted with the Opposition on the Chairperson and two members each were selected from Government and the Opposition.

“This is a Presidential Commission of Inquiry. There is no requirement that the President consults. My only concern is that I name credible people. I wonder if I had named three PNC members and didn’t consult, whether they (PNCR) would have had a problem with that. So it is not the consultation that actually matters; it’s the credibility of the people who are going to conduct the inquiry,” the President said.

He ruled out the speculation that consultation process would have brought added credibility to the process. The President said efforts were made to contact Corbin on the matter, all of which were futile.

“We pander too much to the PNC and they play it deliberately as a strategy to get donor support because they promise to disrupt and not participate and this is how they [PNC] become relevant. They then get attention…and it encourages them to further take intransigent positions,” he said.

Criticisms were also levelled against the ‘confined’ Terms of Reference of the Commission.

According to the Guyanese Leader, the inquiry had to be very specific because it’s not a human rights issue, but rather criminal allegations against Minister Gajraj. With this in mind, the President said particular skills were sought and the three individuals named to sit on the Commission.

SC Chang, a Court of Appeal Judge and former Director of Public Prosecutions, chaired the DFC, which had the mandate to investigate the allegations of extra-judicial killings by members of the Guyana Police Force. The President pointed out that Robert Corbin, Leader of the Opposition had agreed to Chang as Chairman of the DFC.

“So if he was acceptable for the DFC as Chairperson…and had the confidence at that time, he couldn’t lose it immediately,” the President reasoned.

The President said Mr. Crandon and Mr. McLean are Guyanese who have contributed immensely to the development of Guyana and bring Police experience to the Commission.

“I took time to select the people carefully because I knew that they would be scrutinised by the Guyanese public and I think everyone would agree with me that the three people are impartial and very competent,” he said.

The Opposition has called for the Inquiry to be extended to include what happened in Buxton and the Police Force. The DFC investigated the Police Force, but President Jagdeo did not rule out the option of an inquiry at a later date into Buxton.

“I though that if this Inquiry included that, then it would go on for a very long time and become political,” he said.

The President noted that the Presidential Commission was appointed also because the PNCR had said that the Police could not investigate Minister Gajraj because he is the functional political head of the Ministry and that would interfere with the outcome of any inquiry. The President said that the Presidential Commission was not established to undermine the Police Force’s authority.

“I feel that the PNC does not really want an inquiry. The PNC wants to make this a political issue. They argued for an inquiry, they got an inquiry. The inquiry would be conducted in public transparently. Mr. Corbin would then be required to submit what he said he has - the report and evidence that he wrote me about. But I suspect that there is no such information. It would be a huge credibility problem for the PNC after they said they had all of these intelligence reports, not to be able to submit anything to the Commission. So they are just backing away again from the Inquiry,” he said.

The President said he cannot ‘pander’ to the PNC, as he has a responsibility to all Guyanese and will continue to manage the affairs of this country in the interest of its people, rather than a small group.

Responding to the concerns of Amnesty International and the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), about whether or not Crandon’s appointment is a conflict of interest since he already sits on a Constitutional Commission – the Police Service Commission, the President said he is willing to discuss this further with the bodies and if that is the case, he is prepared to make changes.

Rumours have also surfaced that Chang has not accepted the Chairmanship of the Commission. The President said he has not received indication that such is the case. The Commission has not been appointed, so no resignation can be handed in. The President said as soon as Chang indicates that the Commission is ready to start work, the instruments of Commission will be conferred. Minister Gajraj would then proceed on leave and the fort will be held by another Minister, which the President did not name during the interview.

President Jagdeo said the option of appointing international commissioners was examined, but the availability of these persons would not allow for short-term functioning of the Commission.

From his meeting with the donor community, the President said their concerns are about the lack of participation at Parliament, but they respect the matter as a sovereign one.

President Jagdeo ruled out speculations that evidence would be swept under the carpet and maintained that it would be a public inquiry.

He said the PNCR’s action is reflective of the leadership they have to offer Guyanese. He noted that venom and hatred are embedded on the faces of the PNCR-organised protesters and “and that is the leadership they are likely to offer to the country if they get into power. That is the alternative…I urge people across the country to recognise this,” he said.

The President also called on Guyanese not to be ‘sucked into the PNC’s agenda which is to make propaganda around this one issue.” (GINA)