Death and Death by Violent Means2565 30 Jul, 2012
Mr. Nagamootoo: Mr. Speaker, we have all been looking at the mini crime series featuring Jessica Fletcher entitled “Murder She Wrote”. Today, as we remember the fallen martyrs of Linden I am sure the question on the lips of every man, woman and child of conscience is who wrote the murder at Linden. I say murder because I stand here as an elected Member of this Parliament with full knowledge of my rights and privileges. I have unqualified privilege and absolute privilege to say what is my opinion and give my views within the rules of this National Assembly and not to be obstructed along the way by unsolicited advice as to how I should conduct my address to this Assembly.
Much of what I just heard from the Hon. Indra Chandarpal, my good friend and the Hon. Minister Ganga Persaud, I would think was a very feeble attempt firstly to demonise the victims of the atrocities of 18th July, 2012 and secondly, to shift the focus of this debate and the content of this motion to the issue of electricity. When the time comes we should be willing and ready to debate all the ramifications of this horrendous hike in the electricity for a section of the people of this country. In one swoop, a 300 % increase in the basic average in the electricity rate for a service that is not provided by Guyana Power and Light (GPL) and as an oppressive economic imposition to help bail GPL of an estimated $27 billion dollars debt in order to satisfy the requirement of the International Development Bank (IDB) with regards to Amaila Falls. When the time comes we hope the Hon. Prime Minister will give us the reality as to why there is the haphazard imposition of the economic hardship on Linden which we all recognise was the immediate causal effect for the unrest. Shemroy Bouyea, Ivan Lewis, and Ron Somerset have entered history as the Linden martyrs. The dozens of wounded are victims of the cold blooded shooting of unarmed, peaceful, protesters.
We all seem to remember that the people have a basic right to peaceful protest. It was not a gift, it was fought for and it was won by all the peoples of this country. We do not condone the use of violence against peaceful protestors because we believe it is an inalienable right of our people to give self expression as part of the struggle for self emancipation. I have been a part of that long struggle against the British colonialists. I remember riding in the 1960s – “Free Detainee Ride” - before we became independent. I was not shot at. I remember participating in the country-wide marches for free and fair elections, dating back to 1968, against overseas and proxy voting. I was not shot at. I stood by the side of Dr. Jagan on the Corentyne when blockades were put up and guns were drawn, but not a bullet was fired. And that was in the “dark days” as they are saying; the difficult days, as we seem to be saying, of dictatorship, but the dictatorship behaved with the quality that I see the dissent to authoritarianism on this side has failed to live up to. I have marched and participated with the people of Corentyne against economic hardship by way of the three toll stations which had become oppressive, particularly on rice farmers. We protested, but not a bullet was fired; not a protestor was killed. So the people of Corentyne understood that it was out of their struggles that the toll gates came down. They won. Do we now, today, deny the right of Lindeners to protest against economic hardships? Do we greet them with a hail of deadly fire and cold blooded murder because they dare take to the street in defence of their economic livelihood and against economic oppression? [Mr. Neendkumar: You forget the Ballot Box Martyrs.] When the Ballot Box Martyrs were cut down for free and fair elections, I was one of those who stood solidly in condemnation of the use of excessive force on peaceful protestors fighting for their rights. It was wrong then and it is wrong today. It is even more wrong today that we see those who claim to be defenders of freedom infracting the same freedom for which they claim they have fought. It is not their god given right over there to decide on the right to life or who should remain whole, free from injuries. My learned friend has said enough; that in the forays in Linden Minister Rohee admitted that non-lethal force could have been used. The use of live rounds is not allowed in the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). That is an admission. We are not now here inventing a situation. We are not saying that the Lindeners called this upon themselves. We are saying a situation had arisen and the people who were sent there to so-called protect lives and limb, to ensure also that people protest peacefully and inviolate with regards to their lives, opened fire and did acts that were contrary to the Standard Operating Procedures.
They are in violation of procedures and this is incontestable. No one should try to invent and use as comparisons events of history. We should not go back there. Anytime we do that it shows the falsity of all or some of the concerns - the breast beating, the crocodile tears that have shed - of solicitude for the people of Linden, the victims and the survivors of the dead. Anytime we try to justify the use of force in other events we are trying to, as one member said, invent a kind of karmic vengeance to visit upon Linden because of some other events that happened years ago in an Indian community. This descent to racism is the most heinous of all the inventions. The moment we harp on ballot box martyrs…
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, can I please ask that you caution the Member on the floor. The Member has a habit of referring and making and deducing things that are racial which nobody has said in this House. I am asking you to caution him.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Nagamootoo, you are cautioned not to take a racist route in this debate bearing in mind that indeed there has been no direct statement made that is racial, neither have you made one, but I just saying you bear that in mind.
Mr. Nagamootoo: Your Honour, the innuendoes, the inferences that could be drawn are unmistakably clear. Among the things that have been told to me by people from the People’s Progressive Party/Civic is that I should keep out of this. I am not inventing this thing about karmic vengeance. I am not.
Sir, this motion is straightforward. It deals with the killings in Linden and it also calls for this National Assembly to express no confidence in the Minister of Home Affairs over his inability to discharge his responsibility for public safety and calls for the immediate revocation for his appointment as a Minister of the Government and for his dismissal from office. It has been canvassed here that this Assembly can do no such thing. We are not disputing the concept he who hires fires or he who appoints disappoints. We are not threading on the jurisdiction of the President. We are saying that Cabinet once appointed is collectively responsible to this Parliament and this Parliament has the power of censure over any Member of the Cabinet once that Member is a Member of this House. We are only doing what in our belief and strong view, un-rebuttable that is, are the powers of this House. We have the right to pass a no-confidence motion and it for the President to direct, if he so wishes, that the Minister resign. There is the constitutional convention, whether or not we have a written constitution - and we seem to have a hybrid of written and unwritten constitution –that says this Parliament can move a vote of no confidence against the entire Government. If the motion is passed by a majority then constitutionally there is a requirement of the President to have the Cabinet resign and to call elections within three months or such other period as this Parliament shall dictate. So let us be clear about this. There is collective responsibility, but we have chosen at this time not to go there. We have chosen instead to deal with the concept of individual ministerial responsibility.
We are saying that if a particular Minister puts the Government at risk then one does not seek to remove the entire Government, one seeks to remove the Minister. That is the basis of this doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility. This is why it has been canvassed here by many speakers. We have seen examples of where people resign. I have just read the Catholic Standard of Friday 27th July, 2012 a letter constitutional propriety where the letter writer says:
“When Lal Bahadur Shastri was the Railway Minister in 1956, 144 passengers died in an accident. It was recognised by all that Mr. Shastri was in no way responsible for this accident. However, he felt he could not escape the moral and constitutional responsibility for them. So strong was his sense of responsibility he submitted his resignation letter to Prime Minister Pandit Nehru.”
While speaking in Parliament on the incident Nehru stated he was accepting the resignation because it would set an example in constitutional propriety and not because Shastri was in any way responsible for the accident.
This concept of individual ministerial responsibility has to be seen in context. It is not that we say Minister Rohee is at fault, but if the people feel that he is at fault then he has a moral obligation to tender his resignation in order to save the Government from the wrath of the people. If the wrath of one community is replicated throughout Guyana, then it would become an indictment for the Government and the call for the Minister to go to will be elevated to a call for the Government to go. This has nothing to do with risk because it was the risk that they took on 28th November, 2011 that got them there in a minority. It is a calculated and reckless risk. Try again to do that. That is the concept. People try to explain this away. I want to be understood that it is not I who say Minister Rohee is guilty.
One Member says that we must have due process. Well, due process is facilitated when people have strong feelings of some miscalculation, misjudgment, even an error or mistake in someone. If many people feel that way they will come to the conclusion that holding onto a portfolio at a time when they want to investigate wrongdoings and killings by Members of the police force that is in fact an interference with due process. The withdrawal of a Minister in these circumstances will facilitate due process and will remove the finger of indictment upon him and upon the Government. That is what we say should happen here.
In 1982, in England Lord Carrington, the Home Secretary, then said to the Parliament that he did not anticipate there would be an invasion by Argentina of the Falklands. Within days Argentina invaded the Falklands and renamed it Las Malvinas and Lord Carrington tendered his resignation - of course under pressure - because the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said it was not the fault or mistake of her Government; it was a departmental failure. It was a failure of someone who was in charge of protecting the security interest of England, someone who had misinformed them. Therefore, rather than placing the Government at risk, rather than allowing the Government to fall, they persuaded the Minister to resign and he did. This is not a matter now of circling the wagon; this is not a matter as one member stood up here to say that the Opposition is trying to come through the back door to power. This is not about closing doors and opening doors. This is about a fundamental issue, the quality and nature of a democracy, of our civilisation. If someone feels that he is liable to be faulted then that person has one obligation, and that is to go. If not, the President has that responsibility after a no-confidence motion would have been served on him to abide by the wishes of the majority of the House. When the Hon. Member Mr. Felix was speaking saying that he thought the right thing to do was to resign, he was given an option that was more generous, an option that was a way out. Therefore, we feel that would have been pursued.
I will tell you why, Mr. Speaker; there is a precedent or an antecedent for what happened in Linden. Minister Rohee was questioned in this National Assembly by the Hon. Member Felix on 23rd June, 2012. He was quoted in Demerara Waves as announcing a reduction in leave for senior police officers. He then had the foresight in asking that the leave be cut to see what he described as a potentially delicate period of national security. That was the antecedent. He knew; he had foreseeability. How did he get it? On 27th June, 2012 the Hon. Member Felix asked in this House what did the Minister mean by potentially delicate period of national security. [Mr. Neendkumar: What you think?] I am not on trial here. Minister Rohee in an unabashed and unrestrained manner announced he was on a nation watch on behalf of the Guyanese people. At no time should we be found wanting because if we are then the consequences, I believe, could be disastrous. He did not want to be found wanting. What did he do? He made a foray into “advisement” (that is his word –“advisement”). He was being advised by certain citizens made by some Hon. Members of this House and all citizens including my dear brother and Hon. Colleague Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan, the AFC Chairman, who made specific reference to Linden. Then Minister Rohee quoted him as saying, if there is an increase in the electricity rates it could create a crisis in Linden, it could create demonstrations in Linden. So there was Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan warning of consequences that could flow. Take Warning is the song by Eddie Hooper. Then Hon. Member Vanessa Kissoon’s remarks along with those of Hon. Member Catherine Hughes have really opened the wounds and the hurt of Linden in the narrative in this National Assembly. It is horrendous to think that a Member of this House on her own two feet, one of the Members on the rampart fighting oppression, that an attempt was made to assassinate her because she is a Member of this Parliament. She told this House, “A bullet was fired at me”. Someone aimed a gun and fired it at her. That is what deserves condemnation in this House; that a colleague of ours there with her people was fired upon. [Interruption] She said. On the 25th April she had warned and the Minister was quoting her from the Hansard, that demonstrations will continue against electricity rates and each person must walk along with ten persons.
Well, others were talking about picketing, demonstrating, protesting. However, the Hon. Minister did not recognise in those words cherished values of human rights and the right to freedom of assembly, freedom of association and the right to protest peacefully. He said those were serious statements which have implications for public safety and security. It is in that context - we were doing the budget cuts - he decided to borrow the scissors to do a mischief and that is to cut the leave for senior police officers, because they had to be rehearsed for combat. Then we saw the riot policemen with SLRs in full battle gear coming up behind one water cannon or water can, or may I say the armada of one water cannon.
They were armed to the teeth and rehearsing under the watch of the Hon. Minister to deal with the serious statements that were made. So we know that that was the antecedent for the deployment for a pre-emptive strike in Linden. It was nothing else than a pre-emptive strike and it was, sadly, against peaceful unarmed protestors. [Interruption]
On June 20th 2012, I gave an interview after I heard the Minister. I said that the police were being rehearsed and that it appeared as if the statement made by the Minister was, I construe, as stirring up instability because you are stimulating a false sense of unrest in the country, [Mr. Ramjattan: And insecurity.] thereby creating instability and insecurity. I said then that he was exhibiting a barrack mentality. When I was in the plane - and he quoted me, I will show you, Sir, I have the clippings here - he said, I further warn and these were my words:
“The administration is preparing for some kind of offensive against the people and that the administration is tilting in the direction of authoritarianism and the creation of a police state.”
On July 13th, just two weeks before the faithful event in Linden, Minister Rohee fired back - literally fired back at me -and he accused me of scaremongering and I had no evidence to validate my claim, which he said were outlandish and spurious. He ended up by saying these faithful words that I was suffering from political hallucinations and delusions of grandeur, which he described as red carpet or Potomac Fever. [Interruption] What self prophecy, the type I have never ever witness anywhere else in any Parliament and anywhere in the world and from any politician, who claim to be a politician, in charge of National Security - Potomac Fever- because when the bullet started and people ran helter skelter, even now he could not visit the victims, he could not visit the scene, he got red carpet and Potomac Fever even on to now. That is what here, is tragic about this whole situation.
I say that Minister Rohee had reasonable forcibility of unrest, he was prepared for it and in the same way he had given post facto instructions and directions, to the police to remove ranks from Linden, if he had use his forcibility he could have avoided the tragedy. If then he had done what he ought to have done which was to give the right direction and supervision, that force should not be used against innocent victims. That is one, you cannot have a post facto to do a post facto what you could not do before and that is what is tragic about this, that this is a failure of responsibility.
In law and I am threading on dangerous waters, a pedestrian in the profession, we often talk about Mens rea, the requisite intention.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, your time is time up.
Mr. Ramjattan: Could I ask that the Member be given 15 minutes to continue?
Mr. Speaker: Proceed Hon. Member.
Mr. Nagamootoo: I am not going to go there in terms of the requisite intention. All I want to say is that Mr. Rohee had a responsible and he did not live up to that responsibility.
This is not talking about culpability. We all know he was not there, he did not pull the triggers, but in all the preparation, the circumstances of the preparation and the deployment to deal with the Linden situation, it was, to use his own words, “It is like throwing a lighted match at a leaking gas bottle.” To send people there armed to the teeth with live rounds and much more, Sir, they have not sent the famous or infamous or still untested, water cannon. [Mr. Speaker: No, it did go yesterday apparently.] No, they had not deployed it then. It was not there at that time. It went post facto; it went to pour water.
You honour, I said before that it is part of the tragedy that we try to filibuster over this important motion that is trying to bond our feeling with the people of Linden, particularly the victims and also to deal with the issue of the responsibility of a Minister. All kind of attempts have been made here. You have heard I said about the “Circling of the Walden”, the so called Cordon Sanitaire wrapping around the embattled Minister out of fear of the domino effect. I was hearten this afternoon to hear my good friend and colleague, Robert Persaud, the Hon. Minister, standing up there in defence of his embattled brother. They say, “When your mattie house on fire you throw water pon your own.” That is what they are afraid of, the domino effect; today for you tomorrow for me and so they are all literally. This has nothing to do with the issue at hand it is what is coming from the lips, “Who is next.” That is the reason for what might be an apparent filibuster. But we are not afraid of that, we will debate here until the cock crows, because the longest rope has an end. At the end we will reject the amendment and we will affirm this motion, because we believe that: One, we should identify with people Linden and condemn the atrocity and the murder - the killings and secondly, we should express our view and vote on a no-confidence.
More important what reminds me here, is that I want to say this, the People Progressive Party, with which I had laboured for so many years of my life, has found itself at a dipping point where it can no longer rule in old way, because it recognises that the people are unwilling to be governed in the old way. This is part of the dialectics that they ought to have learnt that there comes a time when you cannot rule in the same old mamaguying way and think people would accept it. So they have to now resort to some of the very practices against which they fought, and we fought, when I was on that side, against the force and fear.
In this regard, the PPP has departed - the post-Jagan - from its revolutionary tradition that prohibits it from turning its gun on its own people. Revolutionaries do not turn their guns on their people. In this regard it has surrendered its creditability and its revolutionary legitimacy.
One Minister over there described Minister Rohee as an internationalist. Well if Minister Rohee were in fact an internationalist he would well understand the agony of Nicholas Gian, the Cuban poet laureate, after Che Guevara was murdered in cool blood in the jungles of Bolivia in1968.When he wrote his poem that his guitar was draped in mourning major. Why? Because he has always believed that one does not kill a brother. Even if it had been soldiers in Bolivia killing an Argentinean/Cuban revolutionary, he still believed one does not kill a brother. We have three brothers killed in Linden and it is the same rage that I wish to invoke, Nicholas Gian, that one never kills a brother and retain the appellation of an internationalist or a revolutionary. Internationalist lay down the lives; they own lives, for a cause, a similar cause as that for which the lives of Linden three were taken.
He would have remembered when Victor Hammer, the famous Chilean folklorist, was assassinated and then after the Salvador Allende, the President of Chile in 1973.It was Pablo Neruda poet laureate who spoke about those who had committed the heinous crime, describing them as satraps, as jackals, as a pack of wolves and he said:
“I demand the punishment right here in this square, I do not want them to be sent away as ambassadors overseas and sent to foreign postings. I want punishment aqui en esta playa, now, I want it right here and now.”
So we must understand when we decide to shelter under the umbrella of being internationalist that we have to conform to international standards of behaviour or morality or else we would earn the same trepidation and condemnation as others who have violated those standards had earn.
Our own Martin Carter, my sister had quoted Martin Carter, “This is the Dark Time My Love”, where he wrote about the British Jack-Booting in our territory. What were they doing? They are watching us sleep and aiming at our dreams. Bouyea, Somerset and Lewis will never dream again, they were cut down.
I wish to say here that the attempt outside of this House to paint a picture that this motion is all about bringing down the Government and all about entering power through the back door. I want to caution against that line, because it would further infuriate people. Right now the front door is shaky; the front door to power is shaky and those who are in the house, if it is decided to lock the back door they will have only themselves to blame; if the front door, the electoral door itself is shut to them. They should not talk that way that is scaremongering and fear-mongering that we come here to get Government through the back door.
This is a legitimate peoples’ protest, this is a Linden protest. Anytime you try to transpose responsibility for the peoples’ struggles to others you are trying to invent an enemy, because you do not want to solve the problem, the real problem, hence, why no visit by the President, even up to now I’m told, to the troubled area.
We do not want any arrogance to be displayed here. All it takes as the Hon. Minister has said is a clear conscience to douse the flame of anger over the killing. This arrogance of power should not be allowed to run wild. I read today in the Kaieteur News on page 3, the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Secretary to the Cabinet, Dr. Luncheon, attempted to emasculate, some people in the street may said castrate, the Parliament, by saying that even if we pass this motion there is no way that it could be put into action, so that we are labouring infertility. This kind of arrogance of power cannot resolve conflicts in Guyana, it will not do that, so that you stand up against the entire Parliament; the entire people. In the Peeping Tom article, again, on page 19, it said that all the Minister should do in Parliament is answer questions about his department and take remedial actions to correct any deficiencies. Here again, we are being delimited, others outside are peeping in at us. The peepers are telling us that we do not have more powers than death simply asking questions. Well I do not know if they could correct the deficiency of life, if you simply give an answer or what remedial action you think the Minister would take to restore a life. What remedial action if we ask the question: “Who killed the Linden three?” What answers do we take back to the mothers and wives and the sisters and the relatives of these dead men? It cannot bring a remedy and therefore the remedy lies in insisting that the Minister has a ministerial responsibility and not only to answer the questions, but he has that responsibility to us to tell us that I believe that I am somewhere implicated for omission or commission and therefore I could step aside, if not I will have to go to the vote and you know how the vote will be taken at that point in time.
I wish to conclude here on this note that if we are saying that the Minister, as the second part of the motion speaks, that they could be miss judgment. The Minister could still insist as I said before that he is not at fault, that the preparation and the way he did it and the way he announced it and the way he packaged and PR it, was a monumental folly. He never intended to display the might of the State to be deployed against innocent peaceful citizens, doing their legitimate right to protest. Even if it were a blunder, for which he feels he should not be held individually responsible, I believe he should do the right thing, he should vacate office or alternatively we will have to pass the motion asking the President to replace him.
We of the AFC support this motion, we condemn the fatal shooting in Linden and we in expressing a no-confidence in Mr. Clement James Rohee... [Members: James?] Yes, James. In expressing no-confidence we say that we cannot agree with the amendment and that we are in support of this motion as printed and circulated thank you.
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