Commissions of Inquiry


POLITICIANS are a special breed—they never fail to amaze you. There is a kind of barefacedness about their utterances and actions that makes you wonder if they should be leading people and nations. As a student of politics, I make allowances for tactics and strategies or for unavoidable ignorance when I read or listen to what politicians say.

Take the PPP’s response to the recent announcement of the Commission of Inquiry into the violence that almost destroyed this country in the years 2002-2008. After declaring that it would welcome the inquiry because it has lots of dirt on its opponent, it changed its tune as soon as the government announced the CoI. Some may argue that this is typical politicking, but the reasons given by the PPP boggle the mind.

The party contended that the CoI was set up by the government without input from the opposition PPP. On the face of things, this sounds like a good enough reason for threatening not to participate. Just a few short years ago, this very PPP set up a CoI into the murder of Dr. Walter Rodney without consulting the opposition, including Rodney’s party, the WPA. No amount of pleading by the opposition could get the PPP President, Donald Ramotar, to change his mind.

He contended that he was instructed by Rodney’s widow not to consult with the opposition. The government proceeded to mount the inquiry, whose findings were promptly rejected by the PNC which is now the major party in the coalition government.

For its part, the PNC didn’t bother to protest its exclusion from the process—it simply didn’t want an inquiry. It however argued that the PPP wanted to use the CoI to embarrass and slander the party. This did not budge the PPP, which made no secret of its desire to do just that. The PNC initially decided not to participate in the CoI, but later changed its mind and entered an appearance in the person of the current attorney general.

Now the PPP is making the very same threat—it says its members may not give evidence before the commission. This is the same party which didn’t budge when the PNC threatened not to participate in the Rodney CoI. And the PNC is now heading the government, which did not consult with the PPP before setting up the current CoI and which does not seem to care whether the PPP participates or not. Further, from the comments of the government spokespersons, there is little doubt that it has already found the PPP guilty, even before the first witness has testified.

Sounds familiar? Back in 2005, the PPP abstained from its own motion in parliament to set up the Rodney CoI, because the said motion was amended to substitute the word “death” for “assassination”. The argument by the then opposition was that the main objective of the CoI was to determine whether Rodney was assassinated or not. The more we change and rearrange, nothing changes.

The PPP objects to the naming of Justice Trotman as the sole commissioner, because he is the father of Minister Trotman. The government isn’t budging on that either. But the PPP cannot forget that the PNC and WPA had objected to one of the commissioners of the Rodney CoI, claiming he was connected to the PPP. Of course, the PPP did not remove him.
One does not know whether to cry or laugh when confronted with these instances of political dishonesty.

Of course, in a functional democracy, the objections of the PPP would have lots of merit. But the PPP has no moral standing, because the very things about which it now complains, it did when it was in charge. Why do you expect that now you are out of power your opponent should be impartial, when you showed no respect for impartiality when you held power? And why did you object to partisan partiality when you were in opposition, but now you are in power, you practise the very partiality?

The answer is simple—Guyana’s elite political culture is dysfunctional. I predict that the current CoI or CoIs into that bloody period in our recent life would suffer the very fate of the Rodney CoI. One side would claim victory and the other side would reject the findings. We are what we are and that’s the way it is.

The Formal Leader vs The De Facto Leader
The long knives are out for GAWU leader Komal Chand, because he dared to do something Guyanese elite political culture does not embrace—he decided to act independently of his party. He chose the union’s interests over the party’s interest and in the process, angered the leader. You see, Dr. Jagan was leader of both GAWU and the PPP, so he could not be ousted. Jagdeo has been acting as leader of both organisations on the sugar issue, but formally he is leader of the PPP only.

So, when Chand decided to talk to the government, he was showing Jagdeo who is formally GAWU’s leader. For now, the formal leader always gets his way, but the de-facto leader, Mr. Jagdeo, always prevails within the PPP. Ask Donald, Clement, Moses and Khemraj.