Jagdeo’s DPP snubs, speeches on ‘past’ face scrutiny in libel suit

Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon yesterday faced scrutiny over President Bharrat Jagdeo’s apparent snub of two Afro-Guyanese for appointment as Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) and his unwillingness to confirm another Afro-Guyanese as a Judge.

Luncheon, who continued to testify under cross-examination in the $10M libel case filed by Jagdeo against Kaieteur News and columnist Freddie Kissoon, admitted to defence lawyer Nigel Hughes that the appointments of two Indo-Guyanese DPPs were made, although there were Afro-Guyanese who were at the DPP’s chambers for years.

Dr Roger Luncheon

Luncheon said that the appointment of former DPP Denis Hanomansingh was made by President Jagdeo while the current DPP Shalimar Ali-Hack was appointed in accordance with constitutional provisions. Asked if the appointment of Hanomansingh was made even though there was an Afro Guyanese Deputy DPP—Yonette Cummings-Edwards—with some 15 years experience at the time, Luncheon said he could not recall. He added that the confidence or lack thereof by the President in Cummings-Edwards “is not a fact known to me.”

He did, however, recall Hanomansingh resigning after an incident and acknowledged that the substantive deputy at the time, Roxane George, was not appointed to the post. He said that Ali-Hack was recommended by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and the president confirmed the appointment after George vacated the post of deputy DPP.

Luncheon also acknowledged that since Jagdeo took office, the only recommendation made by the JSC for the appointment of a judge that required legal proceedings to compel him to confirm the judge was in the case of an Afro-Guyanese. The judge in question is Justice James Bovell-Drakes.

When asked the reason for this situation, Luncheon said that he had not seen the pleadings but was advised at a Cabinet meeting at which Jagdeo was present that this was the “first instance that I saw a nominee who was a member of the hierarchy of a political organisation to the judiciary.” He said that he took that to mean that that was the one, if not the sole, basis for reservation.

Deprived of access

Luncheon, who admitted, that the “majority” of students at the Critchlow Labour College are Afro-Guyanese, was asked about the pulling of its subvention. He explained that it was withheld, pending a request for information, which led to the subvention no longer being provided.

He was also asked if Linden, a predominantly Afro-Guyanese community, was the only town that receives one authorised licensed channel of the places permitted to receive authorised signals. This was met with an objection by lawyer for Jagdeo, Anil Nandlall, who questioned its relevance. Hughes said that he was merely seeking to show that Jagdeo was indeed a racist and practised racism – which had been denied by Luncheon during earlier testimony.

“I believe that as a defence attorney, I am entitled to challenge every aspect of the statement that the witness has made,” he noted. He explained that he was seeking to show that because Linden is a “black town,” it is deliberately being deprived of having access to licensed television stations.

Justice Brassington Reynolds later allowed the question, and Luncheon said that to the best of his knowledge, the township has one official licensed broadcaster and while he was uncertain of the channel, he knew it was the state television.

“That may be, so but I am not in a position to confirm it,” he added, when was asked if it was correct to say that the Jagdeo government had not allowed anyone else to broadcast there. He later said that he was only aware of NCN being a broadcaster in Linden.

Dr Luncheon also said that to the best of his knowledge, Indo-Guyanese communities like Rose Hall, Port Mourant, Babu John, Albion, Crabwood Creek, Mahaica, Mahaicony and islands predominantly East Indian in the Essequibo River receive other licensed channels.

Past

He was also questioned about conflicting statements made to gatherings at Babu John, which is predominantly Indo-Guyanese and Buxton, which is predominantly Afro-Guyanese.

Meanwhile, Hughes also asked Luncheon about two recent Jagdeo speeches on the subject of the past, which initially drew objections from Nandlall, which were overruled.   Hughes read an excerpt of a March 13 address by the president at Babu John. He quoted the president as saying: “So they’re counting on poor memories and they’re counting on the lack of knowledge on the part of young people to bring these white elephants, behemoths, the fossils of the past back in the political arena and I hope that you will, as I ask you, make sure that people are educated about that past.”

The attorney also presented to Luncheon, the address by the president on August 18, at Buxton, where he said: “I don’t want to go back to analysing the past and what happened, that is part of our history.”

Luncheon said he recalled the reports, but added that he was not in attendance and without the context of the messages it would be difficult for him to agree that they were different because he was not present.

He said that at Babu John, Jagdeo was speaking in an official capacity and that the comments were centred on years of denial of free and fair elections and the support provided by elements in the military to this enterprise. In Buxton, he added,  the president “as I understood it, was addressing the perception that the government saw Buxton as a home housing criminal elements and being treated in a discriminatory fashion as a consequence.”

The proceedings came to an abrupt end after about two hours, when Nandlall objected to a report by the UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues Gay McDougall, which was produced by Hughes. Luncheon, minutes before the objection, said that he was familiar with the contents of the report and had read it in its entirety.

Justice Reynolds later ruled that he would admit the document for identification purposes, while the lawyer will put forward arguments over its admissibility as evidence. The case continues tomorrow afternoon with legal arguments, after which Luncheon is expected to return to the stand.

Columnist 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 lawsuit, which was prompted by statements contained in the June 28, 2010 article, “King Kong sent his goons to disrupt the conference.” Kissoon and Lall were present in court yesterday.

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