Gajraj panel 'needs reconstituting'
Stabroek News
May 21, 2004

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The commission set up to investigate the Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj is overdue, but it needs to be reconstituted in a transparent and democratic way,

This is according to the Caribbean-Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID) and Indian rights group, GIHA.

CGID President Rickford Burke says the president's intervention is long overdue, but his refusal to consult with stakeholders before unilaterally empanelling the commission is high handed as it defies the advice of civil society, political opposition, the UN and other international partners.

Similarly, the Guyana Indian Heritage Association (GIHA) laments the hasty creation of the commission and urges Jagdeo to consult with the opposition to set up a panel that is acceptable to all stakeholders.

"It appears as if government acted in a high-handed manner to create controversy in order that the inquiry should never get underway. Since government had to be cornered and forced over four months to set up a commission... it can be readily concluded that government is still hoping that an inquiry will never be conducted," GIHA notes in a press statement.

Burke says the President has an obligation to consult with the stakeholders and to seek agreement on the panel's composition and Terms of Reference.

"President Jagdeo cannot arrogate to himself and that of his ruling party, the singular responsibility of selecting the members of this commission..." he points out.

The scope of the inquiry is also addressed by Burke, who says the Terms of Reference are narrowly tailored to limit and restrict the investigation by merely determining if there is credible evidence of the minister's involvement in extra-legal killings.

He says the commission is therefore restricted from looking into the existence, the financing and the composition of death squads as well as any involvement of government or police figures.

GIHA also feels the Terms of Reference have limited scope and wants the government to extend it to include the violence that started with the February 2002 jailbreak or even the January 1998 violence as these are related.

Justice of Appeal Ian Chang has reluctantly agreed to serve as Chairman of the commission, which will also include retired Major General Norman McLean and Chairman of the Police Service Commission Ivan Crandon.

The CGID says it has confidence in the competence, skill and impartiality of Justice Chang, but questions the partiality of the other two selections, citing their current or former association with the Home Affairs Ministry and the police force.

It is in this context that the organisation calls for Justice Chang to recuse himself until there is a non-partisan mechanism to set up the commission and expand its mandate.

It says there should be an international as well as a Caricom presence on the commission as the allegations constitute serious violations of local and international laws.