In the past week or so many Guyanese have gone out of their way to express their opinions on some aspects of my years of activity in public affairs. I am grateful to them for their generosity and thank those who thought it fit to organize events around this theme, and in all cases, without my expecting them. I also thank those who declined to join the panel, or, were no longer present when called upon to speak. In particular, I am very excited about the idea of planting food trees as a practice to celebrate birthdays of those we know closely. Today, I wish to discuss a very old-fashioned theme or principle which is less and less evident in the public expressions of the most articulate of us. It is the old but very important principle of “fairness.” It seems to me that as an old fogey, some will say lacking in vigour, that fairness is no longer a consideration. Since March 6, 2020 I have heard no one question the use of deadly force by the police against the young man of Cotton Tree in what was reported as a confrontation. He was Indian. There seems to be a general impression that he deserved to die, and I have heard no hint of an inquest as required by law. The investigation of the murder of the young men of the Henry family was so mishandled by the political directorate that it backfired. There is total silence about Haresh Singh, the young Indian male, whose body was later found in the same area. Only the opposition forces have demanded justice for him.
The highest authorities in the land have quite a lot to say and suggested that there was an element of instigation by political actors. Officially gathered misinformation caused His Excellency, the President, I believe with the best intentions, to accuse non-specific persons of rape, including the rape of children. News and police reports could not justify these allegations but no one has withdrawn them on behalf of the President. These, to me, are serious miscarriages undermining the entitlement of every person known or unknown, famous or not, to fairness. The trouble is that these blemishes on our humanity seem to escape the attention of people, of writers, and commentators with daily access to the media. This old man has more than once referred to the statement by an activist who became the attorney general of Guyana, “The victory of the PPP represents the triumph of good over evil.” It never ceases to amaze me that in a country well supplied with sensitive and experienced human rights advocates, there has been a dumb silence, almost amounting to acceptance, of Mr. Nandlall’s proclamation. I am not finished with it. And despite my perceived lack of vigour, I hope I will not be blamed when I make a direct response to it in a higher-toned register that none can pretend to miss.
As is well known, I suddenly became a wanted felon for alleged misdeeds committed before my name change in 1968, because in a letter published on March 10, 2020, I raised in a very low-keyed manner the idea of a tribunal to document attacks of “humans against humans” which we all suspected to be an expression of hostility by persons of one political faction against another. In all my political experience in Guyana, I have personally taken part in the documentation of such events regardless of the parties involved. The accusation against me became my failure to join the chorus of those poll watchers who from their being present knew what was taking place during the counting process, spoke out against it, raised hell, attracted international attention, swiftly obtained judicial reviews, attracted the help of centers of power, and eventually “triumphed.” Although, I had no role in the process, my refusal to join the chorus of condemnation was interpreted as “racial solidarity.” My explanation that I would on no account in a conflicted situation dismiss the complaints of the losers against the winners only made my critics angrier. They may swell and burst with anger if they please. Their pretense that my silence means support for illegalities on either side makes no sense, and I believe has something to do with discrediting persons able to detect and explain what one of them has called their “strategy” for Guyana.
Most recently, I hinted that an explanation was required for the withdrawal of the charges against the Minister of Finance, Mr. Ashni Singh, and Mr. Brassington, after the Chief Justice had ruled that they should stand trial. A columnist in another section of the press, seeing my question, declared that I had “race on the brain;” this columnist named me but hid behind a pen name. So, our standards of journalism allow us to abuse individuals by name while hiding behind the mask of a pen name. Very good ethics for those in power! This leads me to the judicial epidemic in our system. The previous Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Chief Justice were both forced to remain “acting” until their curtains fell, one by death and the other by retirement. They were respectively succeeded by jurists, both women, still “acting” in their important roles. During the electoral “impasse,” beginning March 2, 2020, we heard a lot from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Guyana’s apex court. I wonder whether the Honorable Judges sitting at the apex are not a little concerned about the foundation on which they are perched. After all of that had been written we learned from the news that the Court of Appeal (“acting”) had acted decisively in a unanimous decision to satisfy Donald Rodney’s 1982 conviction on the charge of being in possession of an explosive. The Chancellor has promised a written decision “shortly.” This decision should open a conversation on the administration of justice since the 1980s. To continue the theme of fairness running through this letter I turn now to the National Assembly. We have as one benefit of the Burnham years the best written laws in the Caribbean on male/female equality. The laws are there, have been admitted from all sides, and may be invoked. Since they were written new issues may have rendered them inadequate. However, it is a shame that with that kind of reputation women in Guyana lack equal recognition.
Recently, the public was galvanized by a report that the independent woman MP, after causing the government unease by questioning detailed provisions under the Guyana Elections Commission vote, alleged that an Honorable Minister, a male, had angrily moved toward her after the sitting with language and gestures that she interpreted as a breach of law. Did this woman’s complaints give rise to a wave of indignation? No. Readers say that her complaints received little space in the media and that much space was given to denials of the alleged offender. Many onlookers, including me, were encouraged by reports that the woman MP had sought a medical examination and that two guards on duty at the scene of the incident had given statements to the police. The MP announced that she would file a private prosecution against the alleged offender. Days later, it was reported that a Constitutional official, the DPP, had entered the matter with a recommendation that the Speaker of the House should consider the issues involved in the incident.
The DPP’s Constitutional powers are very clear and rest on that official’s discretion. I say this as one who, on two occasions, had my private prosecutions for police killings taken from the court by previous DPPs. However, the DPP’s powers do not extend to matters of the Speaker’s control and authority. I cannot think of a time in the past when the DPP ventured into the arena of a law-making body or reason to address the Speaker. And therefore, I am almost certain that the only reason that would move the DPP to address the Speaker is that the DPP has found that something not allowed by law may have taken place giving rise to a complaint by the woman MP. Let us hope that consideration of the incident involving the woman MP and the Honorable Minister came to the DPP’s attention through the normal channels and that she is acting within her Constitutional mandate. I once had to correct former Attorney General, Mr. Ramson, publicly when he told the media that although prosecution was the DPP’s exclusive province, the Attorney General could discreetly give advice.