PNCR reiterates call for witness protection
Guyana Chronicle
July 30, 2004

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THE main Opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) has reiterated its call for proper witness protection as the presidential Commission of Inquiry prepares to begin investigations into claims that Home Affairs Minister, Mr Ronald Gajraj was implicated in the operations of a `death squad’.

PNCR Leader, Mr Robert Corbin, in a statement at the party’s weekly press conference, said the commission has to do this as a matter of urgency to fulfill its mandate in a transparent manner.

This will assure potential witnesses that their identities will not be disclosed and that protection will be as a matter of course and not discretion offered, he said.

The commission last weekend published a full statement in the newspapers on the terms of reference of how it would be proceeding with its work.

Based on some sections of the publication, the party, Corbin said, believes that it is counter-productive and perhaps naïve for the commission to request written statements to be submitted by potential witnesses and moreover to request the names and addresses of those persons.

“The commission needs to be reminded that this is not an inquiry about a floating wharf, or a breached conservancy dam or a duty-free vehicle scam or the export of dolphins, but one that carries a possible death sentence for those involved”, he said.

Corbin argued that the commission cannot on one hand, recognise the danger of the potential witnesses with the promise of protection while on the other hand ask the same witnesses to provide their names and addresses before a guarantee of protection.

Additionally, he noted with interest that these statements will be forwarded to Gajraj before the witnesses are summoned to testify.

He said the PNCR is of the considered opinion that the requirements for fairness will become unbalanced if the commission proposes to provide the minister with statements that would have the witnesses’ identities.

Police Commissioner Winston Felix, in a statement earlier this year, said the Police Force would have difficulties in providing witness protection in Guyana, and Corbin said his party was not aware that this situation had improved.

It was against this backdrop the PNCR was continuing its call for witness protection to be taken as a key and integral component in support of the commission to effectively carry on with its work, he said.

Gajraj has denied the allegations and has gone on leave to allow an impartial investigation into the claims against him.

The death squad has been blamed for the killing of several known and dangerous criminals during the crime wave in the country between 2002 and 2003.

Justice Ian Chang heads the commission and the other members are former Chancellor, Attorney General and Justice Minister, Mr Keith Massiah and former Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Mr Norman McLean.