PNCR unmoved over death squad probe team change
'We will do nothing to disrupt the Commission of Inquiry' - Corbin
Stabroek News
July 8, 2004

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Leader of the Opposition Robert Corbin says that the recent pronouncements and actions by President Bharrat Jagdeo on the Commission of Inquiry into the death squad allegations are insufficient to change the PNCR's reservations.

Speaking at a specially convened press conference yesterday, Corbin said that the swearing in of two of the originally-named members of the commission and the naming of a new member Keith Massiah, "have not altered the fact of their unilateral app-ointment and the President's refusal either to consult with major stakeholders or to consider the position of the opposition political parties with respect to the criteria to be used in identifying members of the Commission, the prerequisite necessary to facilitate a proper inquiry, such as witness protection, and the enlargement of the Terms of Reference."

Corbin said yesterday that despite the party's reservations, "we will do nothing to disrupt the Commission of Inquiry."

Speaking at his post-Cabinet press briefing held yesterday at the Office of the President, Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon said that the PNCR "led the campaign of rejection (of the probe team) characterised by public dismissals, expressed intention of non-cooperation and a wilful campaign of denigration and slander of the Commissioners."

Corbin said that he found reprehensible the President's attempt to "deceive the nation" during a press conference at which he announced the swearing in of the two Commissioners.

"The President also deceived the nation about the contents of the Opposition Parties communication with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, [Kofi Annan]," he said.

Corbin said that the mixed signals sent at that press conference would serve to deter potential witnesses from testifying when the Commission meets.

According to Corbin, the President first informed the nation that the delay in appointing the Commission was due to his attempts to consult with the Opposition Parties to ensure a comfort level. Corbin said that no such consultations took place with the PNCR and as far as he knows, any other Parliamen-tary Opposition Party.

He called it "mind boggling" that the President would expect to achieve such a comfort level without consultation with the Opposition Parties.

Corbin added that the Terms of Reference should include the incidences of criminal activity on the lower East Coast of Demerara and that this was communicated to the President through the diplomatic community as well as during the visit of Sir Paul Reeves.

He said also that the willingness of the Opposition Parties to engage in consultation, including participating in any Parliamentary process to facilitate its recommendations was also communicated to President Jagdeo.

But he said that there was no effort on the President's part to engage the Opposition on any of these matters. "For the President therefore to state in his press conference that the delay in the appointment of his Commission was out of a desire to bring the Opposition on board is a gross misrepresentation of the facts".

Corbin said that despite the personal qualities of the retired Chancellor of the Judiciary and former Attorney-General Keith Massiah - Ivor Crandon's replacement on the Presiden-tial Commission - his work and those of the other Commissioners would be "seriously handicapped" by the limited Terms of Reference and the absence of mechanisms and structures to make such an inquiry effective.

Crandon, the Chairman of the Police Service Commis-sion, was replaced since groups cited his being on the Presidential Commission of Inquiry as a conflict of interest scenario.

Corbin said that the PNCR assumes that the members of the Commission would be aware of the challenges and difficulties they would have to face once they accepted their appointment.

He said also that the public could therefore justifiably conclude that the Commiss-ioners believe that they can properly and effectively fulfil their obligation, and that they would not knowingly engage in an exercise in futility.

He said that the public must be able to expect that should the Commissioners see the need, they may propose to the President suitable changes to the Terms of Reference or to the legislation to allow them to do "meaningful work."

He added that the Commissioners might find it useful to examine the position of the Opposition Parties on the matter.

The President on May 14 this year established the Commission to examine whether there is any credible evidence to support the allegations against Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj that he was involved in the operations of a death squad.