Dr Roger Luncheon yesterday said he could not verify that President Bharrat Jagdeo’s failure to set up an appeals tribunal to offer redress to aggrieved public servants most affected Afro-Guyanese, who make up the majority of the workers.
Luncheon, who is Head of the Presidential Secretariat, was at the time facing cross-examination by attorney Khemraj Ramjattan in the libel case brought by Jagdeo against Kaieteur News and columnist Freddie Kissoon.
Jagdeo’s chief witness, Luncheon admitted that the majority of public servants are of African descent. He also noted that public servants aggrieved by decisions or rulings by the Public Service Commission (PSC) could seek redress through the Public Service Appellate Tribunal, but said that a chairman has not been appointed for several years.
He was asked specifically whether the president had not appointed a chairman of the tribunal since 2004. “I know it has been several years,” he said, but added that he could not confirm the date. He also would not concede that the majority of people affected by the non-appointment of the chairman were Afro-Guyanese.
Like with the appeals tribunal chairman, Luncheon acknowledged that an Ombudsman has not been appointed for several years. Luncheon, however, dismissed a suggestion by Ramjattan that the Ombudsman could offer redress to public servants who have grievances against a government department. “That sir is not my understanding,” he said as Jagdeo lawyer Anil Nandlall objected to the question, saying that all the functions of the Ombudsman are listed in the constitution. “I object on the basis that counsel has the constitution in his hand,” he added.
When Luncheon was asked if a person can go to the Ombudsman if there is a report of racial discrimination against a government department, Nandlall again objected, stating that the functions of the Ombudsman were enshrined in the constitution.
Meanwhile, he dismissed suggestions by Ramjattan that more than 70% of government scholarship awardees were Indo-Guyanese. He said that he was aware that the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) conducted investigations into the awarding of the scholarships. He earlier said that that the Public Services Ministry is one of the ministries that are responsible for the scholarships.
Luncheon also testified that Guyana signed on to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). He, however, added that Guyana’s constitutional Human Rights Commission was yet to be established since the leader of the opposition is still to make his nominations.
The case was yesterday adjourned to next Wednesday, to allow the legal teams to prepare arguments on the admissibility of the 2008 report prepared by UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues Gay McDougall.
A second attempt was made by the defence to have the report, which was rejected by government, tendered as evidence.
McDougall had noted that a serious concern was the stigmatisation of young Afro-Guyanese males and entire communities, which reported feelings of being excluded, discriminated against and victimised.
On the part of Afro-Guyanese, McDougall said, there is a widely held belief that they are discriminated against by an Indian-dominated and supported government that puts Indian interests to the fore, particularly in resource allocation, government contracts and employment. At the same time, she said Indo-Guyanese believe that an Afro-centric political opposition, if in power, would settle political scores and work solely in the interests of Afro-Guyanese.
According to the previous testimony heard by Justice Brassington Reynolds, the government found, the report to be inaccurate as it was one that predominantly dealt with Afro Guyanese.
The libel suit was sparked by a June 28 Kissoon column, which paints the president as an ideological racist heading a government that practices racism. The defence team wants to use to report to establish that this is so.
Ramjattan during his cross examination sought to ask Luncheon about the report but was met with objections from Nandlall, who accused the defence lawyer of trying to “get inadmissible evidence through the back door.” He then requested that he submit his objections in writing. Ramjattan was urged by the judge to also put his submissions in writing. That also with oral arguments will be the basis on which the judge would decide whether or not to allow the report.
The morning session of the hearing was adjourned yesterday after bomb scare affected operations at the High Court. Court reconvened in the afternoon with the continued cross examinations of Luncheon by attorney Christopher Ram. However on the advice of the court, Ram’s cross examination was cut short over repeated concerns over his line of questioning.
He later declined to proceed further.