Gajraj inquiry
No consultation = poor governance - PNCR
Stabroek News
May 28, 2004

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Refusal to consult on the creation of the commission to investigate the Home Affairs Minister shows the government's lack of commitment to good governance, the PNCR says.

"The position of the government is instructive as an illustration of the lack of sincerity of its participation in consultation and dialogue and a true reflection of its lack of commitment to provide good governance," PNCR executive member Lance Carberry told reporters yesterday at the party's weekly press conference.

Carberry said it appears there is a new self-serving interpretation of good governance which holds that the head of government should avoid consultation with stakeholders and opposition parties unless it is strictly commanded by the law.

The commission was unilaterally set up by President Bharrat Jagdeo to investigate allegations against Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj, who has been accused of being connected with organised killings.

Support for the commission has come from several groups, including the Guyana Council of Churches, the Guyana Bar Association, the Guyana Human Rights Association and Amnesty International, which have urged support for the process. More recently, US Ambassador to Guyana Roland Bullen said the commission should be given a chance to work.

PNCR Leader Robert Corbin, nevertheless, says the position of the parliamentary opposition groups and coalition group the People's Movement for Justice remains unchanged, as they will not support an irresponsible exercise.

One day after President Jagdeo announced plans for the commission, opposition parliamentary groups met at the Georgetown Club where they agreed to reject the commission, saying it did not meet the minimum standards they had outlined earlier. They also said they would not support its functioning or recognise its findings.

George Bacchus

Corbin was asked about recent statements made by Gajraj's primary accuser George Bacchus in some sections of the media, suggesting that he was now willing to give a statement to police.

Though cautious on the issue, the opposition leader pointed out that the self-confessed ex-death squad informant had given a statement to the police after the death of his brother, which should have formed the basis of an investigation.

He said it was a good thing if Bacchus did want to give more information, but he felt the issue might be irrelevant now, in the light of Police Commissioner Winston Felix's point that the force might not be the best agency to conduct an inquiry, given the perceptions of police complicity.

Corbin said, in any case, the nature of the inquiry goes beyond the scope of a police investigation and necessitates a proper commission of inquiry and an environment where people would feel free to give information.

He said it was with great concern that he noted recent killings in Buxton that have reportedly been linked to the victims giving information about crimes.

He reiterated the need for a witness protection programme as well as an amnesty/immunity for special witnesses, saying an environment must be created where persons can feel secure giving information.

Similarly, Carberry said conditions that will encourage all persons or organisations with relevant information to come forward must be created. "If it requires legislative changes or even constitutional amendments to pave the way for a truly independent and impartial inquiry the PNCR reaffirms its commitment to assist in every way to expedite the parliamentary process," Carberry said.

It is in this context that he outlined what the party said were the obvious failings of the announced commission:

"The most important of which is that it palpably fails to meet the requirement that the conduct of the inquiry should be effective, impartial, transparent and independent so that it could ferret out the truth in the eyes of those families and communities which have been the victims..." he said.

UN letter

Opposition parties, upset at the government's handling of the issue have dispatched two letters to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, outlining both their concerns and the minimum requirements for an inquiry.

Corbin admitted there has been no response, save for the statement that was issued by the local UNDP office, which had urged that the issue be transparently resolved by a commonly-accepted approach.

Instead, he noted that there has only been the unilateral move to set up a commission under a law from the 1930s in an environment where the government boasts about constitutional reforms.

He described it as a retrogressive step in the development of the country's political landscape and environment.