President ought to have shown better judgement in appointment of Slowe commission of inquiry

Dear Editor,

A couple of days after Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan said some kind words to the media about Crime Chief Wendell Blanhum, the Prime Minister-controlled, state-owned Guyana Chronicle sought to discredit the Crime Chief. It did so by serialising extracts pulled from the confidential report to President Granger by his hand-picked Mr. Paul Slowe to carry out a one-man Commission of Inquiry (COI). Only the President, those very close to him, and Mr. Slowe himself would know the source of the leak. But make no mistake, if Prime Minister Nagamootoo wanted to shut down the drip, drip series by the Guyana Chronicle, all he needed to do was to pass on the instruction through one of his many mouthpieces.

With the extensive but selective disclosure by the State media, it would be irrational for the President to delay the tabling of the report in the National Assembly, and releasing it to the public. What the public will learn, and which explains why the Chronicle was so selective, is that Slowe himself found the allegation of a plot by an opportunistic and possibly unhinged complainant “unsubstantiated and therefore tenuous”. Mind you, these are the exact words used by Police Legal Adviser Justice Claudette Singh in her first note to the Police and repeated at the Commission of Inquiry, and by Blanhum at the COI. As the Americans would say, there was simply nothing there.

The press report of the first day’s hearing of the COI pointed strongly in the direction that the terms of reference, the choice of Commissioner, and the deadline were poorly conceptualised. It was known from day one that a lawyer with strong Government connections was engaged in the reporting, if not the fabrication of the “plot”. Mr. Slowe refused to call him to testify. Among others, Mr. Slowe refused an application that Mr. Ramjattan be called as a witness; denied Mr. Blanhum’s request to give further evidence to rebut allegations made against him, and refused a request by the main person implicated, for other vital witnesses to be called. On the other hand when one witness gave evidence which did not fit the Commission’s playbook, it sought out the witness’s father to give evidence to contradict the witness. Thankfully, that effort did not succeed.

The President ought to have shown better judgement in the appointment of a commission of inquiry into the investigation of a report that was only a few months old. It required careful consideration as it has implications for a constitutional office holder, a constitutional commission and a statutory law enforcement body. Such an inquiry has to be conducted under clearly defined rules and is subject to judicial review. The appointment of a person without any relevant training, experience or competence in a COI, without a properly appointed Secretary, and with no legal counsel to advise on the conduct of the inquiry, the terms of reference, the calling of witnesses etc., may yet come back to haunt the President.

Many of Mr. Slowe’s recommendations reflect that lack of understanding, depth and enforceability because they violate basic principles of the Constitution and the law and will not withstand judicial scrutiny. What we are left with of the report are recommendations which are purely ad hominem on which no direct evidence was sought or taken. They are based solely on rebuttable inferences if they are ever tested.

While I did not find Mr. Slowe’s attitude offensive, as I did the Prison Deaths COI, that does not mitigate the fact that his conduct was far too often sanctimonious and self-serving with gratuitous comments into his record and second-guessing the Police administration and the CID, despite his own lack of training in criminal investigations. He recommends discipline against someone for a type-written wrong date! I do not recall such perfection when he served as Traffic Chief and as top brass in Berbice!

Mr. Slowe may have intended to please President Granger. In over-delivering, he may yet embarrass him. For one thing, he cannot say he was not warned: on a number of occasions during the COI, I expressed my disquiet at the manner in which it was being conducted.

This may also be a good occasion to remind the President that he promised to have a Commission of Inquiry into the Camp Street Prison fire when Mr. Slowe had completed his Inquiry. Mr. Ramjattan will not be able to run from that one.

Yours faithfully,

Christopher Ram

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