‘King Kong’ article didn’t change opinion on Jagdeo

-Luncheon

Dr. Roger Luncheon yesterday said that the racial connotations contained in the article that triggered President Bharrat Jagdeo’s $10M libel suit did not change his perception of the Head of State.

Luncheon, Head of the Presidential Secretariat, continued testimony under cross examination in the case yesterday before Justice Brassington Reynolds. Jagdeo brought the libel suit against Kaieteur News and columnist Freddie Kissoon based on a June 28, 2010 article, titled ‘King Kong sent his goons to disrupt the conference.”

Luncheon, responding to questions by defence attorney Nigel Hughes, was asked if the article changed his opinion of the president. “No sir, it did not,” he replied.

He conceded that Kissoon had been a critic of Jagdeo for several years, but said that he was not a frequent reader of “Mr. Kissoon’s writings” and as a result he was unable to confirm whether the article was a usual production.

Earlier, Luncheon was asked about that the contents of a Wall Street Journal article, and he said that he could not recall being questioned by the local press about the statement, “India is alive and well in Guyana,” attributed to Jagdeo in the August 21, 2011 edition of the paper. He added that he hosted post cabinet briefings and members of the press have solicited “my recall and explanations of statements attributed to the president.” He testified too that he had no recollection of the specific statement “countries of the African continent are alive and well in Guyana.”

Meanwhile, asked if he would agree that the chairperson of the Rice Assessment Boards for regions 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, who were appointed during Jagdeo’s term, were all Indo-Guyanese, Luncheon said he could not confirm, although pointing out that he would not be in a position to deny the suggestion.

Lead lawyer for Jagdeo’s legal team, Anil Nandlall, objected when Hughes asked whether Bibi Shadick was once the Chairman of the Rice Assessment Board for Region Three. According to Nandlall, “the answers to these collateral questions are final.” He noted that the witness clearly said that he could not confirm. The judge later ruled that the suggestion was allowable.

Luncheon in his response said that he recalled Shadick being appointed as a member of the board but could not recall for which region.

He could not recall whether any person of African descent was every appointed to the Board.

‘Borderline’

Luncheon was also cross-examined by attorney Christopher Ram, during which there were a series of objections by Nandlall, who argued the irrelevance of the questioning. The judge on a few occasions warned Ram that he was very close to the “borderline” with his line of questioning and urged him to move on.

During the questioning, Luncheon dismissed suggestions that the renewal of the contract of Cheryl Miles as Ambassador to Brazil was based on her race. “I reject that contention, sir,” he said. He noted that she was given the green light to be Ambassador to Brazil by the president, after she retired as Director General in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the age of 55.

Luncheon, who acknowledged that government recognises that Brazil is very important to Guyana’s development, admitted that her contract could have been renewed by government, while pointing out that her “tenure as Ambassador was served at the discretion of the administration.”

Luncheon could not state Miles’ age in 2008 but said he knew that she was over age 55. When questioned about Miles’ qualifications, Nandlall objected, saying it had nothing to do with the case.
However Ram explained that he was merely trying to compare Miles’ qualifications with that of her successor, Harry Narine Nawbatt. Asked about the age of Nawbatt, Luncheon said he did not know. It was later put to him that Nawbatt was 63 years old, the same age at Miles.

Meanwhile, Luncheon acknowledged that some of the permanent secretaries of several ministries, including the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, were Indo-Guyanese. However, he noted that some of those identified to him were of African descent, including the Colin Croal, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs. “I have given testimony before that I recognise him as afro Guyanese,” he said. He also acknowledged that most of the 10 Regional Executive Officers are Indo-Guyanese.

Ram was, however, unable to get Luncheon to embrace a policy document which was reportedly prepared and published by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, in observance of the International Year for People of African Descent.

After looking through the document, which was provided by Ram, he told the court that it was not the document which had a budget of $32 million and which was approved by cabinet. He said that a number of submissions were made by the Ministry and the document was finally adopted.

Luncheon said that he would hesitate to confirm whether the document was shared with any African Guyanese organisation, “although I strongly believe that it has been.”

The hearing continues today.

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