Gajraj proceeds on leave
…as ‘Death Squad’ commission members sworn in
Kaieteur News
July 3, 2004

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The Chairman of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, Justice Ian Chang and retired Major General Norman McLean took the oath of office before President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday, at the Office of the President.

Also present at the swearing in ceremony was Magistrate Brassington Reynolds.

And Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj, was to proceed on leave from yesterday to facilitate the work of the Commission of Inquiry.

Prime Minister Sam Hinds will assume the Home Affairs Ministry portfolio until Sports Minister, Gail Teixeira returns from China. Ms Teixeira would then be appointed the acting Home Affairs Minister.

President Bharrat Jagdeo, speaking to the media after the swearing ceremony and before he left for Grenada for the 28th Caricom Heads of Government summit, said that the third commission member, retired Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Keith Massiah would be sworn in next week. Justice Massiah is currently out of the country.

The President had originally appointed Chairman of the Police Service Commission, Ivan Crandon, to the Commission of Inquiry.

This was met with concerns from the opposition Parliamentary parties and organisations such as the Guyana Human Rights Association, who stated there might be some conflict of interest with Crandon’s duties on the Constitutional body.

President Jagdeo stated that he sought and received legal advice, which concluded that there would be no conflict of interest.

However, in trying to reach an acceptable level of comfort for all stakeholders, the President said his decision was to thank Crandon for his willingness to serve and to appoint Massiah instead.

The Head of State said the members of the Commission of Inquiry would decide when they would commence work and determine the procedures on how they will conduct the investigation.

“I expect that as soon as they meet as a group they will decide,” he said.

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry has been appointed to investigate Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj’s alleged links to death squads. President Jagdeo recalled that Opposition Leader Robert Corbin had indicated that he was in possession of evidence, which could assist the investigations of the Commission of Inquiry. The Head of State expressed the hope that Corbin would cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry now that it has been sworn in.

The President said the United Nations Development Programme had approached the administration with an offer for assistance with the Commission of Inquiry.

He said, however, that the letter sent by Corbin and the other Parliamentary parties to the United Nations had stated that they had wanted Secretary General Kofi Annan’s involvement in the Commission of Inquiry.

Since the Commission of Inquiry is not Annan’s, this current course of action is being taken, the President said.

On the question of witness protection for potential witnesses of the Commission of Inquiry, President Jagdeo acknowledged that it is an important issue and noted that Caribbean leaders discussed such a programme during the Clinton administration when US President Bill Clinton visited the region.

The Caribbean leaders had pointed out that the region’s population was too small to take on such a project and had declared that US support was needed.

“It was a CARICOM issue. As individual countries it is impossible to take on such a programme. The societies are too small,” the President said.

The Commission of Inquiry was named by President Jagdeo on May 14 but was rejected by the Parliamentary opposition parties, which cited limited Terms of Reference (TOR) and Crandon’s appointment as areas of concern.

The main potential witness of the Commission of Inquiry, self-confessed informant, George Bacchus, was murdered last week at his home.

It was Bacchus’s claims of the existence of death squads after his brother was shot dead by gunmen in January and subsequent calls from various sections of society that prompted President Jagdeo to appoint a Commission of Inquiry.

After the Parliamentary opposition’s rejection of the Commission of Inquiry, Justice Chang said that it would be an exercise in futility if the parties do not agree on the findings.

The TOR stated that the Commission is to advise and report on whether and to what extent there is evidence of a credible nature to support allegations that the Minister of Home Affairs has been involved in promoting, directing or otherwise engaging in activities which have involved the extra-judicial killing of persons.

The Parliamentary opposition had stated that the TOR were too limited, since they did not encompass the violence which occurred in Guyana since 2002, including the Buxton phenomenon and the 2002 Mashramani Day jail break.

When he announced the establishment of the inquiry, President Jagdeo had stated that at a subsequent time, an inquiry into the jailbreak and the plight of victims of the criminal violence will be considered.

The President had also expressed his confidence in Gajraj, a statement that attracted wide criticism with parties saying it is an attempt to influence the Commission of Inquiry.

Photos saved in server Andrew Richards as picture 1, picture 2 and picture 3.

Picture 1 – Norman Mc Lean taking the oath as a member of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry.

Picture 2 – Justice Ian Chang taking the oath as a member of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry.

Picture 3 – Newly sworn in members of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry Justice Ian Chang (left) and Norman Mc Lean (right) pose with Magistrate Brassington Reynolds after the swearing in at the Office of the President, yesterday.