President should request full review of Broomes incident and take action if warranted

Dear Editor,

Hon. Simona Broomes, Minister within Guyana’s Ministry of Natural Resources, is from my home town of Bartica. I’m fond of her. She is a grassroots politician who relates to the people. Her audacious work to end human trafficking in Guyana’s hinterland and other initiatives on women’s rights and empowerment is stellar. Her advocacy for workers’ rights and uncompromising demand for employers’ adherence to labour laws and regulations are worthy of commendation.  Prior to becoming minister, and as minister, Ms. Broomes stood on the hustings and in Parliament and demanded accountability from the opposition PPP for its stewardship while in government from 1992 to 2015. She is absolutely right. Some PPP ministers were lawless, corrupt and racist. They disgraced our nation and have not been held to account.  

Accountability in government is the foundation of a democratic society and the foremost principle of good governance. Ministers are elected leaders who took an oath to uphold the law. This sacred obligation is irrevocable. Conformity to that oath, the law, highest standards of ethics and exemplary conduct are not discretionary choices. These  cardinal tenets of ministerial and public responsibility are a covenant with the public who places its trust in them by exercising the franchise in their favour at elections. This is why only citizens of quality who are deemed to be qualified as well as “fit and proper,” are selected for such high office. Ordinary citizens, especially our youth, admire and emulate high office holders because their conduct and lifestyle earn much veneration. Deviation from these values, therefore, constitutes abuse of the powers of the office and violates the ministerial oath and public trust.    

Minister Broomes has acknowledged to a media publication her involvement in an incident in the New Thriving Restaurant parking lot at Providence Village, Guyana. Allegedly, upon arrival at the restaurant, her driver pulled up in what the business proprietor alleged is a no parking zone. Without authorization, he removed the barricades or signs and attempted to drive into the restricted area. Video footage shows a security guard approached and stopped the vehicle and then replaced the signs or barricades. As a second guard arrived, the driver again exited the vehicle, confronted the guards and removed the signs a second time. Subsequently, Minister Broomes exited her vehicle and tossed the sign to the ground. A confrontation between her and the guards ensued. During this time her driver drove in the direction of the guards, forced them out of the path of the vehicle and proceeded into the restricted area.  

The minister acknowledged to the publication that the guards advised her that the area was a no parking zone. She claimed that she identified herself as a government minister, but the guards were belligerent. Ms. Broomes also alleged to police that a guard threatened her or pointed his weapon at her. The guards denied threatening the minister or her driver and alleged that the driver brandished a weapon. The soundless, surveillance video ends when the parties moved outside of the range of security cameras.

The said footage does not show a gun being pointed at the minister or the driver brandishing a firearm. This does not prove that either alleged act did not occur. A number of eyewitnesses were present who will be able to corroborate the guards or minister’s account. Although their words are inaudible, nothing in the video footage shows the guards’ comportment to be inappropriate.  

Nonetheless, based on the minister’s account, Police arrested the security guards. Only the parties know what words were exchanged. If indeed the guards verbally threatened to shoot and/or pointed a gun at the minister, that action creates an aggravated circumstance that is potentially a criminal act that may warrant their arrest. Again, video footage from the scene, which was made available by management, does not appear to support a threat with a gun on either side, and does not establish a prima facie cause for the guards’ arrest. Consequently, the Guyana Police Force appears to be equally culpable in this disgraceful episode. Given the obvious inconsistencies and in the interest of total transparency, it is imperative for the Police to explain what evidence provided probable caused for the guards’ arrest and who gave such instructions. The Force’s credibility will be compromised if it allows the outrageous and injudicious comments from Crime Chief Paul Williams to contend.   

No security guard or minister of government is above the law. However, like all other customers, the minister is entitled to professional treatment as well as a safe and secure environment while conducting business on the premises. She is not entitled to special treatment at the facility by virtue of her office; unless the proprietors, exercising discretion, so offer or instruct. Therefore, without commenting on the veracity of the minister’s claim to have been threatened, her knocking down  the signs and general conduct was undoubtedly disorderly, lawless, reprehensible and unacceptable for a government minister.  Her actions brought the government and cabinet into disrepute. President David Granger should not remain silent on this matter. Minister Broomes serves at his pleasure. He should request a full review of the incident and, based on the findings, repudiate her conduct if warranted by the facts and circumstances.    

We must hold ministers of government to the highest standards of ethics. If the minister was threatened she should have politely called the police and let them address the matter. Engaging in a brawl with security guards is unbecoming and beneath the dignity of her office.  We’ve come to expect such lawlessness from the PPP. The APNU+AFC coalition government was elected on a commitment to high standards of good governance and thus should not tolerate such conduct. 

The minister made an obvious mistake and exercised bad judgement.  This matter should have ended the next day with her revisiting the facility to meet privately with management and the guards, then all parties could announce that the matter was resolved. Her apparent misrepresentations and denials have given further currency to an otherwise insignificant incident. She should quickly and unhesitatingly apologize to the public, meet with the guards privately for an honest conversation to clear up all misunderstandings, and move on. She will earn the respect and admiration of the nation for doing so.  

On the other hand, calls for her to resign are equally deplorable. Did she endanger the republic? No! Moreover, it is laughable and ironic that Stabroek News has been leading the attack and lecturing the minister about ethics and moral conduct. This same entity remained silent or tolerated corruption, racism, “gangsterism” and utter lawlessness from PPP government ministers. Its hypocrisy is suffocating. The editors should spare us their sanctimonious, false moral pontifications until such time when they can be fair and balanced.

Yours faithfully,

Rickford Burke

President

Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID)

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