The week before last a recording was released purporting to implicate a public official in impropriety, namely, the solicitation of a minor. The allegation is that the voice of the adult in the recorded telephone conversation is that of Mr Kwame McCoy from the Office of the President, although he has strenuously denied this. While the recording itself has now received wide public exposure, it is still not absolutely clear under what circumstances it was obtained, and what the larger context of the conversation on it was.
In the first place, while the recording itself was said to have been made on September 9, it was not released until September 18, which hardly suggests any great urgency for a case of this kind. Was this the only conversation recorded, or were there others – perhaps made subsequently – or was there some other reason for the time lag? If there were other recordings made after this one, it would have disturbing implications in terms of context.
Secondly, where exactly was this telephone conversation recorded? As evidence that it took place phone records were made available to which we made reference in our September 22 and 23 editions. These indicated a call had been made to the Press and Publicity Office of the Office of the President lasting twenty minutes – approximately the length of the recording. According to the log, however, the call itself originated from a Georgetown landline number. Other media houses have reported that the boy came from Linden and was based there, and at the beginning of the conversation he tells the adult he is probably coming to town soon, clearly implying he is not in Georgetown at the time. At the end of the exchange the adult asks the boy whether he is calling from his cell phone, and he is told no, it is not working properly. He does not clarify, however, exactly whose phone it is that he is using.
At an earlier stage in the recording what sounds like the ring-tone of a cell phone can be heard in the background, so was the boy not being entirely frank about his cell not working, or was that someone else’s phone and he was not alone in the room?
Then there is the matter of the assignation. The boy mentions a house in Georgetown owned by a family member, and suggests meeting the adult there in the daytime. He says it can’t be the night-time because relatives might come to sleep there. The adult, however, demurs because he has to work then. Is there some significance in the insistence on a daytime meeting? Is there any possibility that this was intended as a trap, and the phone conversation had the purpose of enticing the adult there?
It might be added that there seem to be several pauses in the conversation, and that generally it is the boy who breaks the silence. In a larger sense too, and with a major exception, he appears more in control of the exchange than does the adult. All of this raises the question of entrapment.
If there was entrapment, did it apply to just this single telephone conversation, or was it originally conceived of as something with a longer time-frame? Is this a case of initial grooming, for which those responsible for the boy then sought to acquire evidence in a single telephone conversation, or did they want more than one conversation, or an assignation to prove their case? Alternatively, is this an instance of the adult being set up from the outset?
The context matters, because in this case a minor is involved who should not under any circumstances be a party to an entrapment scheme, particularly one of this nature. There is a difference, for example, between parents or guardians discovering a boy is being groomed and then secretly recording his conversation, and them coaching him for the purposes of entrapment. Whether it could be argued that parents, having found out about the grooming are then justified in asking the boy to have one single recorded conversation with the adult concerned so that evidence could be gathered is perhaps an open question. Even if it were acceptable and that was indeed what happened, one would have expected the recording to take a different route into the public domain from the one it did. Initially it was played hourly online at Benschop radio, and it was from here it was made available to media houses, although with no pedigree, so to speak, making it difficult for them to make informed judgements. While it is admittedly not a palatable proposition for a parent or guardian, once the circumstances are bona fide, a copy of the recording at some stage should have been given to the police. As it is, a potentially very serious issue has been milked for sensationalism.
Having said all of that, and no matter what the context, the recording is what it is. Mr McCoy, as said above, has denied that his is the voice of the adult involved. With the technology currently available, the matter of identity can easily be established, and that should definitely be done in the first instance. In fact, the police are not in a position to do very much – follow up an investigation into soliciting a minor and one possibly, of entrapment, or one of fabricating a telephone conversation (which is what Mr McCoy claims has happened), unless it is first scientifically determined whose voice is actually on the recording and whether it represents a single unedited conversation.
In the meantime, Mr McCoy should step down as a commissioner on the Rights of the Child Commission, to allow an investigation into this case to proceed. It will be recalled that at the time of his appointment strong objections were raised by the opposition parties and by the Guyana Human Rights Association about his independence and impartiality, among other things. (The constitution requires the commission to be independent and impartial, and to discharge its functions fairly.) As they pointed out, Mr McCoy was an elected party representative of the Region Four Council – a political appointee, in other words, which disqualified him. Furthermore, his highly partisan performance in the past as a talk-show host and his tendentiousness made him unsuitable for appointment to a commission concerned with the welfare of children. Those objections still hold, and for these reasons too it would be appropriate if Mr McCoy took the opportunity to withdraw from the commission at this point.