The Leader of the Opposition has laid a motion in the National Assembly for an inquiry to be held into the criminal violence that took place in Guyana between 2004 and 2010. According to him, this violence involved members of the security forces and unidentified criminal gangs. If only to remind us of an existing more or less universal perception of the criminal relationships that existed at that time, Stabroek News reported that: “While not named, Granger is likely referring to the rampage of the Roger Khan-led phantom gang, which has been accused of killing dozens in a campaign to help the police force rein in the unprecedented crime wave engineered by five prison escapees in 2002.”
Most Guyanese believe that either the government or important elements within the government of the day actively supported the security service/Roger Khan interventions, even if the differing communities have constructed that nexus in different ways. To Mr. Granger’s largely African constituency, that relationship is viewed not only as being highly illegal and unprofessional but also as being responsible for the death of or injury to many of their loved ones, friends and neighbours and they are most aggrieved that no positive action has been taken to ascertain the veracity of their belief and the culpability of those involved. These persons are demanding some kind of closure and must have been tormenting the Opposition Leader about opposition inactivity in this area. As such, it is understandable that he has concluded that a motion calling for an inquiry would be politically useful.
This attempt to link the regime with a phantom squad and Roger Khan is not new; neither is the demand for an inquiry into the events. The PPP/C has previously rejected all similar calls on the sure ground that while many opposition supporters may view the above nexus negatively, many in its camp have constructed it positively. Though most of them would accept that cooperation between Khan and elements of the security forces did exist, they tend to believe that it was a necessary if regrettable effort to provide for their security. Armed bandits which appeared to be targeting their community were roaming the country and the security services were unable to prevent them and possibly even complicit in their doing so. The regime, even if through its own previous incompetence at reorganising the security services into an effective national force, had to find some immediate response. The above nexus was immediately at hand and got the job done.
If these kinds of inquiries are to be useful in pointing to errors, incompetency and culpability sufficient to provide closure to the various communities involved, they must be done in an environment in which all parties – the government, the opposition, organisations and individuals – feel relatively safe in being open and truthful. Anyone who believes that such an environment exists in Guyana must be from some other planet!
Further, it is well accepted that: “…no government wishing to stay in power and in international favour would impartially research its own atrocities” (Ming M. Zhu – 2008 -“Power and cooperation: understanding the road towards a truth commission,” ExpressO). Therefore, notwithstanding the irregularities and atrocities Mr. Granger and his constituency might believe to have occurred, the government is unlikely to agree to the type of open inquiry that that is likely to put these events to rest. Thus, even if some kind of inquiry is done at this stage it will more likely than not exacerbate the existing resentment.
Ming Zhu was investigating truth commissions and in my view the type of inquiry that would be most useful in our condition if not actually a truth commission must be something very much like it. A few weeks ago, in relation to the inquiry into the events that took place at Linden, I argued that more consideration needs to be given to what we desire from such processes before they are initiated or structured and the same point applies here. Unless the opposition, and particularly APNU, is just passing a motion to give its constituency the impression that it is making every effort to address its concerns, if they are to have any prospect of success, these types of investigation require genuine broad-based agreement and cooperation.
Yet it is all but certain that even if the government now agrees to an investigation, it will attempt to frame it in such a fashion that will both initially and finally point more to opposition culpability. As such, even before the investigation begins the call in itself presents an opportunity for the type of ethnic mobilisation that, at this stage, can only benefit the PPP/C. Thus, the demand for an inquiry of this sort at this point, without prior agreement with all parties, is doing for the PPP/C what it is finding harder and harder to do for itself, namely dredging up a vision of Indian insecurity and the need for the PPP as a bulwark against it.
Zhu also argued that: “… few scholars have analyzed the requirements for the initial establishment of a truth commission. In our eagerness to evaluate the track record of this abnormal player in the field of transitional justice, we have overlooked the question of when it gets to come off of the bench. Though theories and evaluations of the effectiveness and impact of truth commissions are interesting, they are, practically speaking, completely useless if the truth commission cannot be implemented in the first place.” I take him to mean successfully implemented as it is always possible to establish some kind of arrangement and there have been many failed attempts at truth commissions.
It is my view that no proper investigation (truth commission or not) of the events referred to by Mr. Granger can be successfully completed in the present acrimonious political environment. It is instructive for all of us, but more so for the PPP/C, that Zhu also suggested that in this area policy choice tends away from trials as governments become stronger and towards trials as they become weaker: truth commissions become relevant when “the relative strength of the conflicting demands is roughly equal.”