The proceedings in the $10 million libel suit filed by President Bharrat Jagdeo against Kaieteur News and its columnist Freddie Kissoon got underway yesterday, with Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr. Roger Luncheon testifying that he has never seen any evidence of the president practising racism or the government pursuing any racial policies.
Kissoon, Kaieteur News Editor Adam Harris and the National Media and Publishing Company Ltd, the publishers of Kaieteur News are named as defendants in the action, which was prompted by statements contained in the June 28, 2010 article, “King Kong sent his goons to disrupt the conference.”
Only Kissoon was present for yesterday’s proceedings, which were heard by Justice Brassington Reynolds. One of the defence lawyers, while asking for Harris to be excused, said that the owner of the newspaper Glen Lall would be arriving later. He never showed up.
The trio is being represented by attorneys Nigel Hughes, Khemraj Ramjattan and Christopher Ram, while Anil Nandlall is representing Jagdeo.
The proceedings got underway around 10 am, with Dr. Luncheon being called to the stand. Nandlall requested that the witness be allowed to sit while giving his evidence as a result of some medical issues.
According to Dr. Luncheon he first met Jagdeo at a meeting in 1992. He said that Jagdeo also served in an executive capacity as Minister of Finance as well as a Member of Parliament and in 1999 he was appointed president, when the then president, Mrs Janet Jagan demitted office.
Dr. Luncheon said that during his close relations with the president, he has seen no evidence that he is a racist. He said that the article in question left him with the impression that the aim was to confuse the readers on the position that the president held with regards to Afro- Guyanese and that members of the cabinet and government officials allegedly practiced racism against Afro-Guyanese.
After the article was tendered, Dr. Luncheon said that the author clearly intended to convey the impression that Jagdeo and the government are racists.
He later said that in his opinion, the ‘King Kong’ mentioned in the article was a reference to the president and that in his opinion the term had a negative connotation.
“In my opinion, not only is the writer seeking to establish that President Jagdeo is an ideological racist but additionally extended the term/practise to members of the cabinet,” he said.
Dr. Luncheon was later asked to list the number of non-Indians who hold Cabinet posts. He called about nine names.
Hughes, during cross-examination, quizzed him on at least 37 State agencies which are headed by persons of East Indian descent.
These departments included the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA), GuySuCo, GINA, the National Communications Network (NCN), CANU and the Georgetown Hospital.
Dr. Luncheon was also asked to list the ambassadors and he agreed that almost all were of Indian descent.
He later said that more than 50% of these persons have been appointed to State agency posts since Jagdeo took office. All of the appointments have to first be taken to Cabinet, he said, before pointing out that Jagdeo is the head of Cabinet. Hughes then asked who signs the appointment letters. That question was met with an objection by Nandlall. Nandlall objected on the grounds that that line of questioning sought to establish a defence of justification and that on the pleadings filed, justification is not pleaded in accordance with the relevant rules and laws governing pleadings and how justification should be pleaded.
He submitted therefore that that line of questioning ought not to be permitted. He later submitted a number of authorities in support of his position.
The case was adjourned and later the defence lawyers responded, saying that they have pleaded justification in the proper way.
Also present in the packed courtroom were ministers Robert Persaud and Irfaan Ali, who are to testify on Jagdeo’s behalf.
Asked by the media about the presence of Dr. Luncheon rather than Jagdeo, Nandlall said that Dr. Luncheon is one of his witnesses and “that is how I decided to conduct my case. I am in charge of the case.”
He said that he is unable to say when the president will be in the witness box, pointing out that Jagdeo had international commitments, among others.
The case continues next Wednesday.