We are only in the second month of 2018 and another is Commission of Inquiry (CoI) is upon us. The suddenness with which this one has emerged and the alacrity with which it was established have baffled many. I recall the newspapers of January 27, 2018 bearing the headlines that Minister of State Joseph Harmon “hinted at the possibility” of the establishment of a CoI into the killings which took place between 2002-2009. Immediately, the government spin-doctors began to work and did irreversible damage to the credibility of any such CoI which was to be established. In both the conventional and social media, they began to peddle the notion that this was going to be an exercise to inquire into killings which took place under the PPP government and more specifically, during the “Jagdeo era”. Quickly a nexus was established between the PPP administration and what were described as the “killing gangs” or “phantom squads” of that era. Expectedly, the race card was introduced. The impression conveyed was that some of these deaths were racially inspired. The ethnicity of some who perished was highlighted. Police officers killed by bandits, ordinary Guyanese killed by bandits, bandits who died in crossfire with the police, or killed in gang related shootouts and even persons who died of natural causes – were all included in the death toll by the raging propaganda. These prejudicial outpourings were condemned by the Leader of the Opposition who welcomed such an inquiry but demanded that it be carried out by international jurists.
Speaking for myself, initially, I found it difficult to rationalize a reason for a CoI in the first place. The material facts of what transpired during this period are known to most Guyanese. In any event, this saga of violence did not originate from the jailbreak of 2002. I agree with former Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, who puts the beginning of this violent spree immediately after the 1997 elections. I will readily concede that the jailbreak of 2002 gave it a great impetus. Almost every one of the massacres which occurred during this period, including Lusignan, Bartica and even Minister Sash Sawh’s murder, were investigated and criminal charges instituted. Some of these cases are still pending in the legal system. Of course, I am unable to pronounce on the quality of the investigations conducted. I hope someone is considering the impact, if any, that any proposed CoI would have on the criminal charges pending in our legal system.
In any event, the CoI is here already. On my Facebook page, I questioned why confine any such inquiry to 2002-2009. I requested that it be extended to include the death of Courtney Crum-Ewing. His killing was shrouded in controversy equal to any. However, it is clear to me that this government is not interested in truly investigating these killings. Based on the outpourings of their propagandists, the main objective is a political one: to implicate the PPP government in criminality during this period. I surmise that this is being done to accumulate political ammunition for the local government elections later this year and the 2020 general elections. I am fortified in this view by the modus operandi of the government in moving forward on this issue.
The average Guyanese, I am sure, expected a little more information about this impending CoI. Having regard to the volume of work which ought to have been anticipated and the political sensitivities surrounding this matter, one would have expected a responsible and serious government to engage in some modicum of consultation, if not with civil society, at least with the political opposition. Such an approach would have silenced critics such as myself. I draw parallel with the two CoIs which were done in the 2011-2015 government of which I was a part. Those are, the CoI into the shootings at Linden, 2012, and the Walter Rodney CoI. In both, the Terms of Reference (ToRs) as well as the Commissioners who sat on those inquiries received the consultative input of the then opposition. In relation to the Linden CoI, there were five Commissioners, two from Guyana, two from Jamaica and one from Trinidad. In fact, Commissioner Dana Seetahal from Trinidad was nominated by the opposition. All three Commissioners on the Walter Rodney CoI were from the Caribbean. These commissions took months to be established with their ToRs published long before their establishment.
Compare the above with what is happening now. Within a mere few days after Minister Harmon’s disclosure, the nation was confronted with the swearing-in of former Justice Donald Trotman to head a one-man CoI, only into the Lindo Creek killings. Personally, I have no reason to doubt Justice Trotman’s credibility, nor competence. However, a one-man commission is simply unacceptable. That his son is the leader of the second largest party in the government, compounds the problem. However, most fundamentally, the nation was told of a singular inquiry into killings, which occurred between 2002-2009. How this massive proposed undertaking was miniaturized to a one-man inquiry into a singular incident which occurred in 2008, virtually at the end of the proposed timeframe, remains most mindboggling. The President’s explanation that the inquiry into Lindo Creek deaths would, “lead to the unravelling of the criminal network” is equally bewildering.
The nation is still at loss to know whether an investigation into the killings which took place between the period 2002-2009, will still take place. If so, how will it manifest itself: an inquiry into one incident at a time? Or was Lindo Creek plucked out for special treatment? If so, why? Does the President have some peculiar knowledge of the Lindo Creek incident which has caused him to catapult its inquiry to the commencement? As far as the public record goes, I recall the Guyana Police Force issuing a detailed public statement on the Lindo Creek incident. The statement informed the public that a thorough investigation was concluded by the police and the findings of that investigation were disclosed in the statement. Is the President now challenging that statement and will he now be investigating the investigators? Why not start from the beginning, 1997, or even with the jailbreak of 2002? Is Mr Justice Trotman going to be the single Commissioner into all the various inquiries? Or will there, at some point in time, be a broad-based commission staffed with international jurists?
I can go on, but it is clear that the CoI established has raised more questions than it was possibly established to answer. It is equally clear, that the government is not prepared to make a full and frank disclosure on these matters. Instead, its propaganda arm continues to peddle politically prejudiced information. By so doing, the government is undermining itself, its own credibility and the CoI itself. I predict that this will turn out to be another CoI that will be lacking in credibility and whose report will be left on a shelf in some office, where it will gather dust. In the meanwhile, millions of scarce taxpayers’ dollars would go down the drain, once again. It is a fact of public notoriety that CoIs are not cheap.
Anil Nandlall, MP