Former Chancellor on `Death Squad’ Commission of Inquiry
Guyana Chronicle
July 3, 2004

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TWO members of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of involvement by Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Ronald Gajraj in a `death squad’, were sworn in yesterday by President Bharrat Jagdeo.

The ceremony took pace at the Office of the President shortly before Mr. Jagdeo left for the CARICOM Heads of Government summit which begins in Grenada tomorrow.

The two who took the oath yesterday were Senior Counsel, Mr. Ian Chang and former Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Mr. Norman McLean.

The third member is Senior Counsel, Mr. Keith Massiah, who would be sworn in next week when he is expected to return from abroad, President Jagdeo announced.

Massiah, a former Chancellor of the Judiciary and Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs under the previous People’s National Congress government, replaces Mr. Ivan Crandon, Chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), earlier named by the President to serve on the commission.

Explaining his decision to replace Crandon, Mr. Jagdeo said there were some reservations by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) and several other organisations, including the main Opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) that Crandon’s functioning on the commission would conflict with his duties as Chairman of the PSC.

The President told reporters the legal advice he received rejected that position, but he conceded to the change in order to provide a “level of comfort” to the groups.

However, he expressed pessimism as to whether a sufficient level of comfort could be provided to the PNCR.

He also indicated that the members of the commission are to determine the procedures of the investigation when they meet collectively, which is anticipated to be soon.

Touching on a witness protection programme, the President reiterated its importance and recalled that Caribbean governments had requested support for such a scheme from the U.S. Government when former U.S. President Bill Clinton met regional leaders in Barbados. However, he said no support has been received as yet.

Explaining the constraints faced in the Caribbean as regards a witness protection scheme, the President said one was the small size of the population which is a major difficulty in protecting witnesses.

Mr. Jagdeo on May 14 this year announced the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of misconduct by Gajraj.

He said then: “having regard to the request by the Minister of Home Affairs to me several weeks ago and contained in his public statement of May 7, 2004, and having considered the merits of a timely intervention on my part, I have decided to put in place mechanisms for the conduct of an inquiry into the allegations of criminal misconduct against him.”

The President also gave the assurance that he has full confidence that the minister conducted himself lawfully and within the legal powers of his office.

However, he said it was necessary to have the inquiry to stop the trial by the media and political organisations surrounding the issue.

Self-confessed `Death Squad’ informant, George Bacchus, who was shot dead in his bed early last week Thursday morning, claimed that Gajraj was linked to a `Phantom Gang’ that targeted known and dangerous criminals responsible for a crime spree in 2002-2003.

The minister has denied the allegations.