Ultimately, this article is about the Commission of Inquiry (COI) in Guyana – the investigative body so frequently assembled that it is viewed with mistrust, cynicism and as a vehicle of opportunity for a chosen few.
There is, unquestionably, a jaundiced view about this fact finding tool- this Commission of Inquiry- but there is an, almost, involuntary feeling of empathy for those with this sentiment, who question the frequency and purpose of these things.
We can relate to the fierce curiosity, the distrust of the process, the questioning amongst themselves about the people who are selected to run these Commissions and the communal conclusion about the lopsided military influence on a government they feel is way too partial to using former military personnel.
For many, it’s like word association – a recall that fuels their repugnance with politics; a term that invokes memories of injustice and provokes desires to seek fair play their way.
And we can understand.
They’ve been steeped in Commissions of Inquiry for decades which have left very palpable lesions because they have not produced comparative results, tangible or else. These Inquiries, they feel, were mere distractions to give the appearance of due diligence, never quite meeting the standards of rigor or professionalism and never particularly including them on what the recommendations were and how they would impact their well-being.
The term takes them back to the wanton killings of three protesters in Linden by the Police on July 18th 2012, the ensuing Commission of Inquiry that concluded there was no direct evidence that individual ranks shot these protesters but deemed the police culpable since there was no evidence that anyone else had firearms…which in their minds should have translated to a finding higher than culpability. In their estimation, the decision a delicate dance …done to give the appearance of due diligence.
They associate the Commission of Inquiry with the Jagdeo Presidential Inquiry into, then, Home Affairs Minister Gajraj’s association with the killer squads that took hundreds of lives in Guyana, supposedly to protect narco turf and narco dollars; an Inquiry that concluded that there was no “credible evidence” that the Minister was involved…yet, way across the pond, the European Union issued a statement against President Jagdeo saying that it “criticises him (Gajraj) for intruding “unlawfully” in the issue of gun licenses and for an “unhealthy” association with a known murderer…and that it wished to “ inform the Government of Guyana of its disappointment and disquiet that, in spite of these criticisms, Mr Gajraj has been reinstated and has resumed responsibility for the Guyana Police Force.”…. while then Court of Appeal Justice Ian Chang, ex Chancellor of the Judiciary/ex Attorney General Keith Massiah and retired Brigadier Norman McLean, the expert members of the Commission, came to none of these conclusions.
They recall the Mash Day jail break on February 23rd 2002, the five escapees who reigned terror on the nation… and the Commission of Inquiry into that jail break that never was; as was the Inquiry into the journalist Wadell, activist Crum-Ewing; all gunned down, slaughtered by gun men during the Administration of the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) that never saw it fit to convene Inquiries to look into these murders, especially since these were uncontained, recurring issues, the kind of problems that, according to the Comissions of Inquiries Act 2(1), would be the type of issue that should be, in the opinion of a President, in the public’s interest and could, therefore, use the recommendations of a Commission of Inquiry to seek after and punish the perpetrators.
And, on top of all these unresolved issues with the COI, amidst all this disenchantment with the process, the lack of clarity on why Commissions are necessary, why they are convened after agencies like the Customs Anti Narcotic Unit, Criminal Investigations Department, Guyana Civil Aviation Authority have done their investigations, the role the Police play in investigations, why the Commissions are almost invariably headed by former military personnel, and, particularly, how the information is being used for improvement going forward, another Commission Of Inquiry has been convened to investigate the mysterious Cessna found poorly camouflaged in Yapukari, near the Guyana /Brazil border.
Some may say that the Administration isn’t aware of these concerns expressed by Guyanese because they aren’t listening but even if the government hasn’t heard these concerns it should be routine for them, a policy protocol, to keep people informed about all aspects of the Inquiry. The people need to know that retired military personnel are used, largely because they have some measure of expertise and experience having conducted the very similar military Board of Inquiry, which would address the charges of nepotism; as would informing the tax payer how much each commissioner is being paid to conduct the inquiry, since common opinion is that they make a small fortune.
It would be to the Administration’s benefit to inform the public that part of the purpose of a COI is to bring to light evidence and information that may not be gathered by a routine police or other agency investigation, that the Commissioner of a COI has the power of a Judge in the High Court to summon useful documents or other pertinent evidence to help formulate reasons for occurrences and recommendations for improvement.
Especially since the convening of an inquiry is predicated upon the President’s determination that it would be in the interest of public welfare, it is important for the public to understand that the COI is not for the purpose of trial or for conviction but expressly for gathering the facts of the matter to be inquired in to. It is important to inform them that, unlike the trial court where evidence is restricted to the parameters of the law, evidence and witnesses summoned at a COI are at the discretion of the Commissioner, once deemed to be relevant and it is not just an arbitrary hunt for people or is it a meaningless gathering of information. And, since the COI is only to be convened in the interest of public welfare, the public is entitled to full knowledge of what has been achieved by the Inquiry so that the remedial measures recommended against offending persons or institutions can be known by the public; so they can know what to look for to measure its effectiveness.
If these inquiries actually end up in the Administration’s policy roll out we don’t know because we are not told what the outcome of any of the Inquiries are. And we are not asking for surgical accounts, granular details or specifics of complicity in wrong doing but especially since the Inquiry is convened in the name of public welfare we need to get a general sense of what was done and what remedial measures will be taken.
As Guyanese, we pride ourselves in not being a banana republic, in having a government by the people, for the people, so we would expect activities spear headed by government to fall within the ambit of fundamental transparency. If the people are to be included, if they are salient to the outcome of government effort, then they, of necessity, need political knowledge – not intricate expert knowledge but enough for them to understand what is being done in their name and for them to make an informed decision as to whether they agree with what is being done or not.
There is a caveat to that, though – if the people know little or nothing about government, it becomes difficult to hold leaders accountable for their performance. We’re not accusing the government of strategic opacity but they must know that the general conversation screams for them to be more transparent, participatory and collaborative.
And this request should be considered without hitting the default button of comparison of governance to the previous administration. To make a comparison to a government that steered Guyana to rank in the lower percentile of Transparency International Index, be labeled the most corrupt country in the English speaking Caribbean amongst other unflattering rankings on global indices is absurd on its face and is indicative of a politics that is stale, centralized and vision-less.
When the government announces that it will withhold the findings of a Commission of Inquiry because of the sensitivity of the information contained therein and after that proclamation the key witness, the person known to be most indictable, flees the country in spite of confiscation of his passport, that helps to convert skepticism to contempt and opens doors for mockery and malignment that could otherwise be avoided if more information is available for citizens to draw conclusions from.
Political somersaults, purposeful semantics and not-so-coincidental divagations from policy tend to discomfit citizens who feel that the sovereignty that is constitutionally theirs is perpetually usurped by governments with shifting promises.
It was not Utopian to think that an Administration with a melding of ideologies would have been the one to change the practices of the past and uproot the insulation of entrenched ideas. Given the progressive nature of the Manifesto presented, it was an expectation, an anticipation, the accelerant needed to effect change.
Adopting a more functional approach, reshaping those formal, conventional practices for more practical application to the people’s expectations would be a more democratically pathological approach to issues that have ginned up so much discontent, so much lack of faith in government, so many opinions that that all politicians, irrespective of Party, are cut from one cloth, that there is no marked difference in their governance, that they forget the people once they ascend to office.
But we can’t say much. Our politicians tend to take sentiment as disruption, analysis as dissension, an alternate view as opposition and dismiss us as being vitriolic and vicious… an alliteration of V’s that fall well short of the invitations to participate in the country’s development in any and every way we could.
Nevertheless, we will not be discouraged by comments that are off handed and defensive, hollow and nonspecific, unsavory and unprofessional, vacuous and reminiscent of a time when politics was discussed at this level. We just won’t.
We chuckle at the circling of the wagons but lament that so many have retreated to that place of play along, much like that cautionary tale The Emperor’s New Clothes on a naked King; invisible to those who are stupid, or incompetent, unfit for their positions -conversely visible to those who are not.
Like in the fable, the inner circle is so committed to the imperial pomp, they watch the Administration as it sashays, noting its nakedness but reaches back to the practices of the past where erring on the side of hypocrisy is preferable and safe, convincing themselves that the emperor (Administration) is bedecked in resplendence, convincing themselves that it is doing all that it could .
To keep the clothes metaphor alive – strictly as metaphor and not as a pejorative to any group- we are seeing too much political cross dressing here. We look to the Manifesto for wardrobe tips and are constantly disappointed when lines of fashion have been pulled without our knowledge.
Verbal assaults and below the line responses aside, we’ll continue to be vigilant, vocal, and as far as possible veriloquent (note this alliteration of V’s) and will never be too intimidated to opine on matters that can be improved for the benefit of all.
We’re calling on this Administration to put on it’s political clothes.
We’re hoping, of course, that it has some.