PRESS STATEMENT By the People’s National Congress Reform To the Press Conference on Thursday, May 6, 2004 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia.
• The Gajraj affair: What The People Expect From An Inquiry
• Parliamentary Opposition Parties to write UN Secretary General
• Commemoration of Indian Arrival Day: The PNCR’s Track Record.
• The Ethnic Relations Commission: The Danger Of Being Driven Off-Track.
THE GAJRAJ AFFAIR: What The People Expect From An Inquiry:
The PNCR is wholly persuaded that its determined campaign on the Gajraj Affair is, from any angle of scrutiny, fully justified. Our Party has repeatedly pointed out that State-sponsored terrorism hits at the very core of good governance. It represents the ultimate and most alarming manifestation of the breakdown in the Rule of Law in our country. It is, therefore not surprising that a broad and solid consensus has emerged, among local organizations, the international community and foreign governments, which have condemned the appearance of this scourge in our society and joined in the collective call for a thorough, independent and impartial public inquiry.
All decent-minded people have recognized that state-sponsored terrorism could quickly wreak untold havoc to the political and social fabric of our society and seriously negate any possibility for the creation of an environment that is conducive for needed development in Guyana. Far from being a “tiny issue”, as misguidedly proferred by President Jagdeo, state terrorism is a matter that cannot be left to fester if Guyana is to realize any prospect of moving forward.
The PNCR repeats, however, that it will not allow an investigation into the Gajraj Affair to be a mere token exercise to fool the people that the government is acting. An investigation into the Gajraj Affair cannot be a mere PR smokescreen or one for mere political posturing. Guyanese have seen too many “investigations” in the past (such as into the Mon Repos Sea Defence Scam, the Stone Scam, the law books scandal and the recent re-migrant duty-free car scandal), to know that such exercises have normally exposed little or brought about any discernable change in the behaviour of the Government and its acolytes.
The PNCR, therefore, repeats publicly its position that any independent and impartial inquiry into the Gajraj affair must:
• be conducted by highly-regarded and respected persons of unblemished integrity;
• be accompanied by a credible and secure witness protection program;
• allow a role for Caricom and other international organizations;
• have the power to take evidence in camera as well as in public;
• have the authority and resources to take evidence both inside and outside of Guyana as necessary;
These constitute necessary requirements for an inquiry consistent with internationally acceptable standards. The PNCR holds the view that anything less would make the exercise a sham. Anything less would fail to heal the deep and gaping wound the country has suffered over this affair. For the PNCR, however, an inquiry is not about settling scores or seeking revenge. An inquiry provides the opportunity for the country to take stock of itself, to try to cleanse its soul and to discover how to prevent such horrors from ever happening again. Throughout this process, the PNCR will continue to listen to the views of all stakeholders as regards finding the best options for taking Guyana and the Guyanese people out of the morass which this inflicted national crisis has created.
PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION PARTIES TO WRITE UN SECRETARY GENERAL
The issue of State-sponsored death squads has been festering since the revelations of George Bacchus. The PNCR Leader, not only informally raised the matter with President Jagdeo, but formally wrote him on January 15, 2004. The Leader of the Opposition also wrote to CARICOM asking that this matter be placed on the agenda of the Caribbean Community. Now after nearly four months President Jagdeo has given no public indication that he proposes to hold a public inquiry in keeping with the request of Guyanese.
Recognizing the magnitude of this matter, however, the Opposition political Parties at a recent meeting authorized the Leader of the Opposition to write the UN Secretary General inviting his assistance to ensure the country benefits from the enormous experience and resources of the UN for the expeditious holding of the required independent inquiry. The PNCR is convinced that such involvement would serve the national good and would serve to persuade the Guyanese people that they should have confidence in the seriousness, independence, impartiality and thoroughness of any inquiry.
Our invitation to the UN is yet another manifestation of the responsible manner in which the Party has conducted its campaign over the Gajraj Affair from the very inception. The pressures have been great on the Party to exercise less patience and discipline. Thus far, the Party has been able to argue successfully that its chosen course of action best serves the interests of all Guyanese and the cause of justice and liberation. It is evident; such an argument cannot be won unless there is timely, concrete and nationally accepted results!
COMMEMORATION OF INDIAN ARRIVAL DAY: The PNCR’s Track Record:
The PNCR notes the institution of a national holiday to mark the celebration of Arrival Day on Wednesday May 5, 2004. Our Party in government had pioneered the public and state celebration of this event. Arrival day was celebrated as a holiday in Guyana in 1988 on the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indians in Guyana by the Hoyte Administration.
That celebration was a spectacular affair made more splendid by the contribution of the Government of India which facilitated the visit of a 250 member cultural troupe headed by the then Vice President of India, Sri Shankar Sharma. The National Park was converted to a spectacular theatre as well as stages in Berbice and Essequibo. Guyanese were thrilled by the variety of Indian cultural performance ranging from a haute couture (high quality) fashion show, visits by reigning film stars, every conceivable form of vocalization, dance and instrumentation. There was also a ceremonial pouring of water from the Ganges into the Demerara River.
The PNCR is, therefore, somewhat saddened and disappointed, though not surprised, by the continued partisanship and divisiveness of the PPP/C’s attempt to rewrite and distort history and to use front organizations for political objectives rather than promoting a truly national celebration of this event. The government may have lost another opportunity to promote national unity in Guyana. The PNCR again salutes all Guyanese of East Indian ancestry for their significant contribution to the development of our country. We hope that the celebration of this event will promote better understanding and cohesiveness of the people of Guyana and accelerate the goal of national unity.
THE ETHNIC RELATIONS COMMISSION: The Danger of Being Driven Off-Track:
The PNCR believes it is necessary to remind the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) of the high expectations Guyanese have for its role and impact. In the public hearings, held in various communities during the constitution reform process in 1999, a wide cross-section of ordinary citizens had expressed the strong desire for such a Commission to be established and to be given constitutional powers.
It was, and still remains, the clear expectation that an Ethnic Relations Commission can play a substantial role in addressing many of the inequities, prejudices and distortions in our multi-ethnic society. This public expectation is reflected fully in the long list of functions the constitution has mandated for the Commission. In addition, public demand also led to the legislation establishing the ERC to be fast tracked - since 2000 December in the expectation that it would have been made fully functional before the 2001 National Elections - and given priority over the other constitution reforms.
It should be noted that it was not until 2003 May 2 that the Government initiated the swearing in of the ERC Commissioners!
Although the Government has not yet honoured its obligation to fully endow the ERC with the accommodation, budgetary resources and technical expertise that is so vital if it is to effectively discharge its constitutional functions, the ERC Commissioners, nevertheless, began meeting from 2003 September.
While the PNCR appreciates that the Commission is, still trying to find its footing, we wish nevertheless to urge it to focus on issues that can bring concrete results to the lives of ordinary citizens. We strongly recommend that the ERC begins to urgently tackle the perception and reality of racial discrimination in contract awards, in house-lot and land distribution, in employment practices, in award of academic scholarships, in the business sector and in other well-known areas. These issues generate much racial discord and antagonism in this country and the ERC must act in full accordance with its mandate to confront these matters. The PNCR will however make a full presentation on these matters to the ERC at a soon to be convened meeting.
The Commission is, however, not short on advice on how to proceed and must seek to benefit from the experience of similar organizations in other countries, such as Britain’s Commission for Race Equality.
The PNCR is concerned that the issue, of how budgetary resources are allocated and disbursed for funding the ERC and other Constitution Commissions, has not yet been properly instituted by the Government as envisaged in the Constitution. Clearly, the Government is determined to stymie the work of these Commissions by restricting their easy access to budgetary resources. The Government must respect and honour the provisions of the Constitution for the funding and operation of the ERC and other Constitutional Commissions.
The PPP/C’s inaction on this matter is yet further evidence of its unwillingness to ensure the effective implementation of the all of the agreed and enshrined constitutional reforms.
People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia
Thursday, May 6, 2004
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