Since for obvious reasons much of what was divulged in the US Embassy cables by WikiLeaks concerned individuals in government, the administration was reluctant to comment initially, although Dr Luncheon was eventually moved to dismiss the contents as “predominantly opinions,“ while PPP presidential candidate Donald Ramotar deemed them not “earth shattering” and described himself as “slightly amused” by them.
He should not have been amused – even slightly. And the fact that some of the cables might reflect the “opinions” of the mission, does not mean they do not have merit in many instances, or that a significant number of them have not been formed on the basis of observing government actions, or drawing the inevitable conclusions from what senior members of the administration have said in private to US Embassy staff. It might be noted, that given his position in the Office of the President, Dr Luncheon himself has figured quite prominently among the officials who spoke to the Ambassador or one or another Chargé d’Affaires.
That aside, the more problematic exposures in the cables from the government’s point of view, are those matters of which the embassy had direct knowledge, as opposed to second-hand information, and one of these relates to the connections between Minister of Health Leslie Ramsammy and convicted drug baron Roger Khan. When the first allegations surfaced because of testimony given in a US court during the Robert Simels trial, the Minister defended himself very aggressively, while the government gave him cover. That cover – which was already brought into question during the trial – has now been unambiguously removed as a consequence of what has emerged in one of the cables, while Dr Ramsammy’s defence such as it was, has been nullified.
As is very well known, the Minister of Health’s name arose in connection with the importation of cellular intercept equipment into Guyana, which was found together with arms in a pick-up carrying Roger Khan and two others in Good Hope at the end of 2002. It was not until Simels’ trial in 2009, however, that evidence was heard from the co-director of the company that manufactured the equipment that it had been sold to the Government of Guyana. He also said on the witness stand that an independent contractor had been dispatched to Guyana to train the persons who would use the spyware. Subsequent to that testimony a letter bearing the letterhead of the Ministry of Health and carrying what appeared to be the signature of the Minister surfaced in relation to the purchase.
Another witness, Selwyn Vaughn, had earlier testified that Roger Khan had ordered the hit on Ronald Waddell in 2006, and that following his death they went to a nightclub, and Khan had called Dr Ramsammy from there. Vaughn claimed to have met the Minister after having been introduced by Khan, and had even been to his office on one occasion on the latter’s behalf.
So now we come to the WikiLeaks cable dated July 31, 2009, when Chargé d’Affaires Karen Williams told Washington that when Khan was being pursued by US law enforcement in 2006, he had put Ramsammy’s name forward as a potential mediator between himself and the US government. Ms Williams had other things to say too, namely that a “close associate of Khan worked with Ramsammy in the Ministry of Health, and the former death squad leader himself is widely rumored to have had regular Saturday meetings with the Minister.” She also made reference to the links between the Minister and Khan being strong.
Leaving aside what is described as ‘rumour’ and the assessment that the connections between Dr Ramsammy and the drug baron were “strong,” the critical issue is the one which came directly within the experience of the mission, namely, that Roger Khan had put forward the Minister’s name as a possible mediator between himself and the Americans. No hearsay there. It is inconceivable that the leader of the Phantom squad would have named Dr Ramsammy unless he knew him personally and had confidence he would represent his (Khan’s) interests.
Furthermore, Ms Williams reinforced what the Smith Myers director had stated in court, to wit, that the spy equipment did not need a US export licence. The existence of a US licence has always been the pillar of the government’s defence that it did not authorize the purchase of the spyware, and even President Jagdeo had maintained that only the US government could authorize its sale. With reference to the evidence on this matter given in court, the Chargé wrote that the “GoG has continued to erroneously argue it could not have authorized the purchase because the equipment fell under strict U.S. export controls.” Surely the administration could not argue that embassy officials are ignorant of their own regulations, even if a British businessman by some fluke was.
Dr Ramsammy, as mentioned above, has always been quite belligerent in his own defence, and has been unequivocal in his denials, sprinkling them with such words as “absurd,” “malicious,” “nonsense,” and “No I didn’t.” In our Wednesday report we again repeated what he had said to reporters two years ago, when he insisted he did not need an attorney: “I don’t need legal assistance. The people out there will judge for themselves… I am clearing my goddamned name. I don’t need a lawyer to defend my name.”
Whether he needed a lawyer or not, he certainly has not cleared his name in the interim, and now with the WikiLeaks cables, the same questions backed by additional evidence raise their heads again. It is not just that he hasn’t cleared his name, it is that he hasn’t done any of the things which are necessary to clear his name. If it really is the case that he has been set up, as he has claimed, then he should have been very energetic about trying to track down who, for example, forged his signature on a Ministry of Health letterhead, or why Selwyn Vaughn made the statements he did about him on the witness stand. Post-WikiLeaks, he would now also have to make diligent enquiries as to why Mr Khan suggested his name as a mediator when apparently he hadn’t met the man and had never had any dealings with him. In short, is he not in the least bit curious about why Mr Khan’s organization would be going to all this elaborate trouble to frame him – a Minister of Health?
And then there is the government. Now that the export licence excuse sounds even more hollow than before, are we to assume that it has been framed too? If it has, then by whom – the Khan organization again? If it has been set up, why is it so unconcerned about which person or persons impersonated a government official in order to bring in spy equipment for Roger Khan? Any other government in the world would not just be concerned, it would be extremely alarmed, since at the very minimum this could seriously undermine any administration.
Similarly, since the government has accepted the Minister of Health’s denials and has allowed Dr Ramsammy to continue functioning in his ministerial capacity, it must be presumed that it believes his asseverations of having been framed. If so, why isn’t it acting as if it believes him by setting up an inquiry, thereby helping him to clear his name?
We are now not many months away from an election, and if after two years the government has shown no interest in getting to the bottom of this matter, it is not going to do so before the nation goes to the polls. Furthermore, it is under no pressure to do so, since many in its core constituency refuse to perceive Roger Khan as anything but a ‘saviour‘ during the crime wave of 2002-03 and would regard any actions which facilitated him at that time in a favourable light. Perhaps that is why the government is so blasé about the accusations, because those accusations have no electoral consequences. They are not going away, however, and no matter what the administration says to the contrary, leave more than a whiff of corruption lingering in the air.
If many of the ruling party’s supporters along with the government have turned a blind eye to the spy equipment issue, the same is not true of major donor nations. And it is clear from the cable of July 31, 2009, that the issue may have cost this country in terms of the PEPFAR programme. “The Ministry of Health is the largest partner of the Embassy in Guyana and has been key to the PEPFAR program’s success in country to date,” Ms Williams wrote; “Nevertheless, Post is reviewing its relationship with the Ministry in light of the recent allegations and the catastrophic fire [in the Ministry of Health].” Our Wednesday report went on to say that last May, Guyana was not among 12 Caribbean countries which benefited from US$100M aimed at HIV/AIDS.
In the end, of course, the real issue is not what the donors think, but what Guyanese think about the corruption which has penetrated the administration. A government which is not underpinned by broad ethical principles will corrode all institutions at all levels throughout the society. With the corruption comes the pretence, but unless citizens are prepared to insist on the truth, they will have to continue to live in a pretence world.