Public inquiries

November 10, 2006

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Will the wave of violent crimes against isolated homesteads in the countryside and targets in the towns and city ever come to an end? Perhaps, but by holding public inquiries into the causes and conditions that give rise to such serious social problems a start can be made to taking corrective action.

Expectations that exactly this would be done were shattered over the past two and a half years. In May 2004, President Bharrat Jagdeo promised to consider conducting a commission of inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the Mashramani 2002 Georgetown Prison escape, the plight of victims of the criminal violence and political linkages to the 2002-2003. He said that it may be time for what he referred to as the "mother of all inquiries" to get to the source of criminal violence "in the past 30 to 40 years."

Was this promise a placebo to mollify victims of crimes and bereaved relatives or was it a sincere effort to ascertain the causes of violence, uproot crime and restore some semblance of normalcy to the economy and society?

It has long been thought that criminal violence in Guyana was linked to social, political and economic conditions and ethnic relations. It is also linked to more recent economic activities in the criminal underworld such as narco-trafficking, money-laundering and gun-running. These activities, it is also well known, are enforced and protected by armed gangs.

It is to be recalled that Shaheed 'Roger' Khan boasted as much in a whole-page 'Statement' published in the newspapers in May, for example. He claimed that he "worked closely with the crime-fighting sections of the Guyana Police Force," providing them with "assistance" and information at his own expense and taking responsibility for being instrumental in curbing what he called "crime." Look where he is now!

During this bloody period, both African and Indian families were attacked; dozens of men were shot to death; several persons disappeared never to be seen again; there were executions, including that of the Deputy Head of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit; the Director of Public Prosecutions survived an attempt to kill him; phantom gangs roamed the countryside; and this year, a Minister of the Government was assassinated. While memories are fresh and witnesses are still alive, a major commission of inquiry should be held; these atrocities should not be allowed to remain unexplained; unsolved and uninvestigated.

Although from time to time there have been departmental investigations into allegations of malfeasance in the Guyana Wildlife Division, the Guyana Defence Force, the Ministry of Finance and other Government departments, there has been none into the loss of life in the massive catastrophe of the great flood of 2005 or the violence of 2002-2005.

Public inquiries into these and similar cases of serious crime and misconduct are important instruments of public administration. They are more useful than departmental investigations because they are usually heard in a public environment and evidential submissions are invited from interested individuals and institutions. Their conclusions are presented in the form of written reports which are made available to the public. Most important, their recommendations should guide the Administration in making improvements or preventing a recurrence of the problems.

In the pre-Independence period, for example, the 'Wynn-Parry' Commission of Inquiry into the February 1962 disturbances became an important landmark in public safety. The President was right; there should be a public inquiry to study the sources of criminal violence. For the public good, he must keep his word.