WE welcome the government’s decision to launch the long-awaited Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the violence that had bedeviled Guyana between 2002 and 2008. It was one of the most frightening periods in the modern history of our country — the country had not witnessed that level of violence since the ethnic disturbances of the 1960s.
In any functioning democracy, such violence should not pass without official investigation into its origins and scope. The government owes that to the citizens who have a right to know what happened, including the extent to which state and para-state actors were involved.
Those who lived through that period, especially the citizens of Buxton and surrounding villages, know firsthand the physical and psychological damage the violence did to their communities. The scars are still very fresh. But while Buxton was the epicentre of the violent activities, as is the case with such mayhem, the effects were felt throughout the country. In fact, there were many violent incidents in communities far away from Buxton, such as Lindo Creek.
It is apparent that the violence was part of a larger network of destabilisation that was grounded in the politics of the day. Who were the masterminds? Was the government of the day involved? If so, to what extent? What were their political motives? These and other questions we hope the CoI would be able to answer. Towards this end, we hope that political actors and others with information would come forward with their stories. This is a critical area of the work of the CoI, because history has taught us that often persons with valuable information are usually reluctant to give evidence in the absence of some form of witness-protection.
We note the hesitancy of the now opposition PPP to cooperate with the CoI. Their claims of exclusion from the planning of the inquiry to their objection to the commissioner chosen for the Lindo Creek inquiry as a partisan player, are being challenged by the government and other independent commentators. Some have pointed to the fact that not so long ago when the then PPP government launched the CoI into the death of Dr. Walter Rodney, they went to great length to exclude others, including Rodney’s party.
In an ideal world, it would be nice to have all the political forces cooperate on these matters, but experience has taught us that this is not the case with Guyana. How can the government involve the opposition PPP when the latter by word and deed has consistently refused to cooperate with the government on anything? Just recently, the opposition leader publicly berated the leaders of the sugar unions, who are members of his party, for meeting with the government to find an amicable solution to the impasse in the industry. The PPP cannot want it both ways—it cannot refuse to cooperate with the government as a matter of policy, yet complain when the government presses forward with the nation’s business on its own, as it is mandated to do by law and practice.
We also note the resurfacing of old arguments over the period that should be covered by the CoI. Most of these arguments are partisan in nature. We recognise that all parties have their favourite periods, but in the end a judgement must be made about which periods capture the essence of the problem at hand. Charges and counter charges of ethnic violence have been plentiful since 1964. Some of these have been addressed in one form or the other. The violence in the wake of the 1997 election was addressed by the Herdmanston Accord, out of which came constitutional reform, among other recommendations. To ask to include that period in the current CoI is tantamount to asking to remove the focus from the events of 2002-2008.
We support the selection of Justice Donald Trotman as a credible and able candidate for the task of commissioner. The PPP claims that he is disqualified because he happens to be the father of a government minister. We feel such an objection stretches the principle of conflict of interest. Justice Trotman is not presiding over a personal matter involving his son. Further, observers have again pointed to the PPP’s double-standard on this issue. In the case of the Rodney CoI, it had adamantly refused to entertain the many objections to the partisan connections of one of the commissioners.
We are not arguing that because the PPP did something, this government should be given a pass for doing the same thing. As we have pointed out, the circumstances and facts are different. We raise the matter to draw attention to the party’s double standards and possible dishonesty which are not good examples of political morality. Such political behaviour cannot be held up as good examples for younger politicians.
So, let the CoI go forward. The government, thankfully, has honoured another campaign promise—this time on an issue that is fraught with political sensitivities, but one that is most important. Our hope is that the PPP and the other political parties, organisations and operatives cooperate fully, so that we can get to the truth.