Chapter IV of Guyana’s Constitution, Paragraph 41 under Sub Heading Citizenship, defines, with clarity and simplicity, what constitutes the definition of a Guyanese Citizen.
For ease of reference it says, ‘Every person who, immediately before the commencement of this constitution is a citizen of Guyana shall continue to be a citizen’. It then goes on to say that even after death a person who met this criterion would still be known as a citizen, albeit deceased.
This comes in response to the concerns being raised by the PPP over the passage of the Coroner’s Amendment Bill 11 2015, which sought to authorize the appointment of several additional coroners to clean up the scores of unsolved “unnatural deaths” that went uninvestigated or under-investigated over the course of their Administration, particularly during the Bharaat Jagdeo tenure.
There is crime-line of murders and parallel complaints that linked the killings to, then, Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj and the Guyana Police Force, which has ineradicably coloured the country’s politcs.
It was in his Cabinet briefing on November 27th 2002, Secretary of the Cabinet, Roger Luncheon, concurred that there was “reasonable and plausible” evidence of the existence of a “phantom body” which was not “the escapees”. Mr. Luncheon was alluding to the ‘Five for Freedom’ escaped criminals, headed by former police officer Andrew Douglas, who, purportedly, had begun a murder spree, killing several Indo Guyanese and top police officials in the name of defending the rights of Afro Guyanese.
In October 26th 2003, as reported by Associated Press in their November 3, 2003 issue, Crime Chief Leon Trim declared that his agency was as baffled as everyone else was about the “people who were being bundled in to cars and ending up dead on the streets”.
In 2004, there was a slew of events; a sort of domino effect precipitated by the January 3rd 2004 Kaieture News’ publication of details of recorded telephone conversations between Minister Gajraj and Axel Williams, a reputed ‘Death Squad’ member and prominent executioner.
On January 5th 2004, after the release of the recorded conversations, a Shafeek Bacchus was gunned down at his home on Hadfield Street Lodge.
On January 6th 2004, his brother, George Bacchus, accompanied by Attorney Nigel Hughes, went to the American Embassy and made allegations about the existence of a death squad which had already killed hundreds of people. A complaint was lodged with the Guyana police force and Amnesty International, as well.
On January 7th 2004, Kaieture news published another article stating that Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj knew of the existence of the death squad.
On January 9th and 13th 2004, police arrested Ashton King, funeral home director and Mark Thomas of police ‘black clothes squad’ for questioning.
Those were some key cards.
In the wee hours of the morning on June 24th 2004, turned informant George Bacchus, brother of murdered Shafeek, was shot in the head, murdered, while asleep in his bed in his home. This came after Mark Thomas, a suspect in the slaying of Shafeek Bacchus died from poisoning while in the Public Hospital, Georgetown, presumably undergoing well care, for this is what these institutions are for.
An inquiry was subsequently launched into Gajraj’s association with the phantom squad killings while holding the office of chief law enforcer, Minister of Home Affairs, mostly because the international diplomatic community, particularly the US, threatened to withdraw programs.
Gajraj, ostensibly, resigned from office and President Jagdeo immediately appointed him High Commissioner to India, amidst the allegations that he ran a death squad. Ian Chang, Court of Appeals Justice, eventually found that Gajraj was guilty, merely of procedural irregularities and the Ramotar Administration extended Gajraj’s diplomatic assignment to that of nonresident High Commissioner to Bangladesh.
On May 11th 2015, Guyana went to elections and the Administration that appointed Ronald Gajraj to represent the nation, though he was found guilty of “procedural misconduct”, lost to the Coalition Government. Gajraj resigned from his diplomatic assignments and returned to Guyana.
The newly appointed Attorney General, Basil Williams, introduced the Coroner’s Amendment Bill 11 of 2015 seeking to increase the staff needed to address the hundreds of unsolved murders that are, allegedly, the work of squads that were, conceivably, under the instruction of Former top security official Ronald Gajraj.
Notwithstanding the fact that Guyana, during the twenty three year tenure by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), was labeled a murder capital with killings that had strong ties to a government operation, the PPP has now chosen to fight the parts of the bill that are relatively inconsequential, more to filibuster than to facilitate.
Their contention that there is no need for extra coroners since some sitting Magistrates are also coroners need only be responded to with the question – why, during the years of these wanton killings, if there were adequate numbers on staff, there was no completion of the hundreds of investigations into murders that catapulted the country into the realm of murder capital?
And, their concern about language, though somewhat valid, is not enough to derail the implementation of a bill that seeks to investigate past murders. Asiatic may have degenerated into a pejorative but could well have been used, in 1887, to specifically identify people from the continent of Asia as opposed to those from Africa, which makes it’s dissection after twenty three years of tolerance and acceptance by the very PPP, nothing more than some dramatic buffoonery.
The Opposition seems to be in possession of an antipathy for national reconciliation that is surpassed only by its commitment to its no honey-moon strategy for all out resistance to anything that comes from the coalition government.
This time it means discrediting an attempt to uphold the constitutional right to due process – shamefully.