Gajraj probe commission
Jagdeo willing to rethink Crandon Will not 'pander' to PNCR
Stabroek News
May 23, 2004

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President Bharrat Jagdeo is willing to reconsider the appointment of Ivan Crandon to the commission set up to investigate the Home Affairs Minister's alleged involvement in organised killings.

But he maintains that he has no obligation to consult with opposition or other groups on the commission's composition and says his only concern is the credibility of his appointments.

The Government information Agency (GINA) yesterday released an excerpt of an interview that Jagdeo did with NCN's Dwayne Fowler. Jagdeo is quoted as saying that he didn't need to consult, though he is prepared to make changes if there is a conflict of interest. "There is no requirement that the President consults," GINA quoted Jagdeo as saying.

"My only concern is that I name credible people. I wonder if I had named three PNC members and didn't consult, whether they would have had a problem with that..."

Parliamentary opposition parties and some civil society groups have rejected the commission of inquiry. They say it does not meet their minimum standards and have objections to the unilateral action on the part of the President. Some groups have however welcomed the commission, like the Bar Association, the Council of Churches and the Private Sector Commission, though they too have reservations.

Jagdeo said he has met the donor community and indicated that the government took this approach to bring closure to the issue. He added that the donor community is concerned about the lack of participation in parliament, although it respects that the issue is a sovereign one.

"The [PNCR] has chosen this as their path for political agitation. 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."

The Commission is to be chaired by Justice of Appeal Ian Chang SC and also includes former army Chief-of-Staff Norman McLean and ex-Deputy Commissioner of Police Ivan Crandon. Crandon is currently Chairman of the Police Service Commission. This has led to concerns that his inclusion may be a conflict of interest. Such fears were ventilated prominently by Amnesty International and the Guyana Human Rights Association.

The President said he is still willing to discuss the issue further with these groups and if there is a conflict of interest, he is prepared to make changes. But regardless of this position, he ruled out ideas that consultation would have brought added credibility to the process.

"We pander too much to the PNCR 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 become relevant," Jagdeo said.

He also addressed concerns about the commission's limited Terms of Reference, which says it will try to determine if there is any credible evidence to support the allegations against Home Minister Ronald Gajraj.

Jagdeo said the inquiry had to be very specific because it is not a human rights issue but rather criminal allegations against the minister.

It is with this in mind that the president also selected the panel. "I took time to select these people carefully be-cause I knew that they would be scrutinised by the Guya-nese public and I think everyone would agree with me that the three people are impartial and very competent."

Chang, who is a former director of public prosecutions, was also the Chairman of the Disciplined Forces Commission which had the mandate to investigate allegations of unlawful police force killings. PNCR and Opposition leader Robert Corbin had approved his appointment.

Chang has said he is reconsidering his role on the Commission and there have been rumours that he has reneged on his commitment to serve but the President said he received no such indication.

The Commission is still to be formally appointed so no resignation can be handed in. However, Jagdeo did say as soon as Chang says that the Commission is ready to start its work, the instruments of office will be conferred.

The minister, as he has undertaken, will then go on leave at which time his place will be filled by another member of the Cabinet.

Meanwhile, Jagdeo describes McLean and Crandon as individuals who have contributed immensely to the development of Guyana and who bring the experience of the police to the commission. While he said the option of appointing international commissioners was examined, he noted that the availability of these persons would not allow for the short-term functioning of the Commission.

Prior to its creation, the government was unwavering on the issue of an independent investigation, saying that any investigation should have been done by the police. The President maintained that the Commission was not established to undermine the force, but was necessary to address the concerns of the PNCR, which had said that the agency could not properly investigate its functional head who could interfere in its work.

"I feel 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... Mr. Corbin would then be required to submit what he has said he has - the report and evidence he wrote [to] me about. But I suspect 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 from the inquiry," Jagdeo said.