Death and Death by Violent Means1889 30 Jul, 2012
Mr. Greenidge: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. I stand to support the motion before us in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and would like to start by reminding the House about the essential Resolved Clauses of the motion.
First of all, the first of the Clauses condemns the killing. I think it is very important that we focus upon what it is that we are supposed to be discussing, a condemnation of the killing and, of course, the question of condolences. I take the opportunity, at this point, to extend condolences, as per the motion, to the family, friends and those who were at the event and were either injured or traumatised by it.
In addition, the resolution Clause seeks to censure and express no confidence in the
Minister of Home Affairs, Minister Clement Rohee, as regards his inability to discharge his responsibility for public security. I think it is important to stress those and in contradistinction to the points being made by both distinguished Members, Bishop Edghill and Mr. Manzoor Nadir, that it is not about whether the Minister is nice, whether the Minister was good in providing or managing projects to do with youths, whether he had a ball together on foreign visits or anything like that. It is about actions, policy directions given by the Minister, that may have contributed to the unnecessary loss of life and that may be termed irresponsible or poor abuse of power by the Minister himself.
Police behaviour, wrong turns of leaders or the role of religious leaders, all of this may be relevant in a general examination of the issues, but they are not relevant in the circumstances of an examination of whether the Minister should be censured by the House because they are neutrally exclusive. The investigation may show that a particular police officer acted wrongly, but there are more general issues pertaining to policies. Did the Minister give policy direction that caused other problems which may have subsequently led to the unnecessary deaths? That is the issue. We have to separate them. The attempt to say that we have to wait on the investigation, I am sorry Mr. Speaker, is absolutely irrelevant. The House has a responsibility to look, approve, find funds for and to censure Ministers for policy responsibilities and that applies to Ministers and actions that may be perceived by the public as being undesirable and that is the context in which the motion has been cast. The excesses which took place on the McKenzie Bridge on 18th July, 2012 in Linden were a disgrace. Under the United Nations’ (UN’s) definition, the shooting of unarmed individuals without proper warning as to the intent to use lethal force constitutes a crime against humanity. That is the seriousness of the issue that we are facing. Therefore, we must not be carried away by being diverted by odd or funny stories about foreign visits and so forth.
The question is: why did this occur? In the face of no threat to property of life, why would the police shoot to kill? You know it seems, Mr. Speaker and colleagues that the team, as our distinguished colleague indicated, had neither batons nor shields, so there could not have an intention to use the normal rules of engagement by escalation. There could not have been intent to use a range of, if you like, measures if most of the non-lethal measures were not available to the policemen. I mean the mode of approaching crowds, therefore, seemed to have been intentional. I would like to emphasise that the Hon. Mr. Nadir’s observation about whether there was an intent... it is not a trial of an individual act of murder, but the issue of intent is important here. If one did not intend to shoot a crowd, why would one have assault rifles and not have available other non-lethal weapons?
This has to be the strangest jurisdiction in the world. The only jurisdiction in which the Administration takes the trouble to buy a water cannon and send troops or policemen to deal with crowds with assault rifles and revolvers and then send the water cannon afterwards. In every other jurisdiction I know, they start with shields and then eventually they get to water cannons somewhere along the line. What is really going on? That is a policy problem. I will remind the House that on 6th December, 2011 unarmed civilians were shot again without cause. On that occasion, bullets were not used, but what I think it suggests is that shooting at protestors seems to be the PPP’s first response to our rights, whether it is civil disobedience or demonstration and so forth. It cannot be that one is shooting at demonstrators, many of them in the back, some of those who were killed were shot in the back and clearly there was no attempt to shoot them with the aim of maiming them. When one shoots at someone, there is quite a significant area to aim at and when one shoots people and shoots them through the heart; it clearly is an intent to kill. Clearly it is an intent to kill. If it is the case that the pattern that we are seeing in terms of shooting at demonstrators who are not rioting reflects or revises our new rules by the Government, then the Cabinet Members must take responsibility and, in fact, they should resign. If the Minister, as the English would say, did this off his own back, that is changing the rules of engagement, then he should resign and if he does not resign then we should call upon him to resign and have the President make him resign.
What makes this question of the rules of engagement pertinent and realistic is the behaviour of the Minister himself. If I might just cite my colleague and some of the expressions that the Minister has been reputed to make, he seems to be trying to relive his youth in some ways by...you know what we used to call “play, play”. You now have the opportunity to be a policeman and you find yourself in the buildings next to the police compound and you start giving instructions to the Commissioner; you start giving directions that are really the Commissioner’s directions, and we seem to be in this play dough, “play, play” type era. It is serious business. If you change rules and regulations and you are instructing people to issue firearms as happened to his predecessor and was so carefully tabulated by the Commissioner, then you are playing with trouble and you deserve anything that you get by way of censure. I am saying that this is wrong before I am accused of being unreasonable as to rules of engagement.
Let me just remind you that the Minister’s former colleague and our former President, Mr. Jagdeo, did at one stage instruct the armed forces that was looking for men who had robbed the bank, to shoot to kill. It is not a farfetched assumption that somewhere along the line the Minister may have been in this Rambo-style policy or giving instruction to come out with all guns blazing. I do not believe that was Mr. Jagdeo’s expression; I believe that originated somewhere in Eve Leary when the Minister was present. At least that is what the papers reported.
Therefore, one has also to conclude that illusions are taking place here. The Minister does not, as far as I am aware, wield a weapon himself, but he seems to be seeking to carry out these functions, vicariously. Lethal force is not to be used likely; these are lives that are involved. When there is an intention to constrain a crowd I find it difficult to understand why you would equip the policemen with assault weapons. If, therefore, the Minister has given instructions against which the officers could properly act by shooting in the first instance without any other attempts to constraint then he should take the responsibility and we should not be left to spend time seeking to find out whether the police officers where by themselves acting as mavericks.
The question here is that the Parliament has a right for a Minister to be censured if he takes action in that way which is not consistent with our general understanding of how he is supposed to carry out his work. Let me go on to say that we are to establish it here, it is not a court matter; I am saying that it is policy matter and that the House is capable of analyzing policy. We do not have to have the Court inform us about that. It is not an interpretation of the Law; it is policy. We seem not to understand the difference between the two.
May I also go on to say that for all the messages of sympathy which the Government, Ministers and speakers have articulated tonight the President has not visited Linden until today. Indeed, and I would like to emphasise this, that he only met the Chairman of the Region as a result of the crisis. Dialogue for the Government is a last resort or a device for diversion, not for policy making or any attempt of collective or cooperative decision making. That, I think, is where the essence of the problem lies. If for the purpose of the exercise the Government wants to solve this problem in Linden then they have to acknowledge that dialogue has to take place and they have to speak both to the other side of the House and to those who are responsible in Linden. We have to move away from this attempt and this constant resort to confrontation at every point. Without dialogue you are going to end up in confrontation and in the face of confrontation brute force is a very easy resort.
We have also a Government that has a tendency to look at policies, and having decided to implement the policies, any objections to the policy is regarded as illegitimate, unreasonable, unwarranted and unacceptable. We had discussions with the President, which is true, on Linden and at that time it was clearly drawn to the team’s attention that Linden had difficulties in the sense that it did not accept the credibility of the Government and promises that it makes. A lot of the discussion took place around that. I do not have to go back and cite the House on the occasion on which President Jagdeo, together with a Minister of this House promised Linden a list of things that they would do to deal with the difficulties which Linden face. I have a list of about ten. I have cited it publicly before. I know we are short of time so I would not cite the list, but I have it here. It is in the face of the failure of the Government to implement a single one of these promises that you have difficulty persuading Lindeners to believe any promise or pledge which the Government makes. That is what has to be understood.
When it is explained to the President that these people are facing difficulties he does not seem to understand that a bauxite company supplying 500 jobs in 2012 cannot be substitute for a bauxite company which a decade or less ago employed 6,500 or more persons. No specific institution provides...
Mr. Hinds: Mr. Speaker, I would like to raise a point of accuracy here. It was at 1983 that the bauxite company had 6,500 persons and implemented a programme to lay off one-third of them and did so.
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, there is a big difference between 500 employees and 2,500, that is what I am saying. If you pretend that there are no problems after 2000 people have been employed then you are going to have difficulties. You have to recognise that unemployment is an issue and it is problem here to the extent that people are attempting to make contrast with the rest of the community.
Let me just make this point clear, it is an economic one, whether an increase carries a consumer or an income earner to the same price bill as somebody else is irrelevant. If you have been earning ten dollars a year for 50 years and you suddenly find yourself required to pay out of that ten dollars an additional three dollars, it requires and adjustment that usually cannot be effectively made overnight. There is a whole thesis in economics about so-called permanent income hypothesis and the implications it has for savings income and so forth. That is what has to be taken into account.
The fact that somebody else is paying something different from you for a particular item is completely irrelevant as regards your adjustment o price changes. We must not use that as a bogie, it is irregularly and it is irrelevant, just as the idea that tariffs across the country economy are required to be the same. If you are driving a Prado – I believe this is a vehicle that our colleagues are fond of on the other side – or a Porsche, although I would recommend the Porsche because the petrol consumption is not as extravagant notwithstanding the power, the fact is that the cost of running the vehicle is completely different from if you were running a Morris Oxford or a Tapir or perhaps a more current vehicle. The costs are different. The plant in Linden is a separate plant from GPL’s. They are not on the same grid or system. Therefore, to be constantly speaking about aligning tariffs on the coast and in Linden is not satisfactory.
On top of that let me just remind you that we have been given a document today, a document which we have punished so long to get the Minister to admit was not with us. You remember one claimed that it was already with us. This is the document of National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL)’s 2005 annual report which was just prepared. Can I refer you to two pages in it, pages 40 which is the consolidated financial statements and the notes in the statements which has an entity at the top called the Linden Electricity Company Inc., place of incorporation being Guyana; it has the portion of ownership and the interest set at 100%. The portion of voting power held is 100% that is by the state. So, it is a fully owned state company. The interesting thing about this is that it is part of one of the entities that has powers to hold on to resources that are state resources. It holds on to billions of dollars worth of resources. In this particular year, whilst it is showing a profit of $199 million, it transferred resources to the state of over $1 billion. It is making money and yet we have a system, here I am speaking of NICIL and its resources. If you have an entity it is a holding company, it has a set of entities, and you do not see it fit to hand over resources to the state as we have been demanding, then you should not be requiring subsidies for individual elements of the holding company. I hope that is clear. The argument of the need for subsidy because of this or that is to be unacceptable. The process by which the electricity operation runs also needs to be looked at. I believe that Bosai itself supplies electricity at a negotiated price. That also provides scope for varying the cost for electricity to the consumer. We are in a situation where we are told a whole set of stories that facilitate a particular line. That is not often sufficient to give us a full picture of what is actually taking place. The bogie put out by the other side about the need for standardising tariffs and so forth, I find completely unacceptable.
Also unacceptable are the issues raised about protestors rights. I do not understand this. You are saying that your citizens have a right to protest. When the PPP speaks to this matter they tell you how badly treated they were, how much of their rights were denied, and how brutalised they were, but when Lindener protest on a bridge and they have not burnt the bridge you shoot them. When in 1976 in the 135 day strike and other times sugar workers burnt the national assets or blocked roads they did not somehow infringe other people’s rights and once seen as problem. I do not want to say that they do not have those rights; I am saying that if citizens protest, it is almost inevitable that their protest is going to have an impact on the rest of the community, because that is part of the object of the exercise. To tell us about Region No. 7 and Region No. 8 is hogwash, of want of a better word.
What I am saying is that the shooting of demonstrators in the circumstances that we understand, whether or not warning was given three or four times, it was not given in respect of lethal force, it was premeditated. You could have used the water tender of something else. It was unjustified and it is crime to all intents and purposes, that is what I am saying. That is why the Minister must answer for it. If his policy caused the policemen to act in that way, for innocent people to lose their lives, he has to be responsible and not cower behind somebody else’s uniform.
As far as I am concerned we need also to see the Minister’s performance in a wider context. Policy making needs to be seen in a wider context. Under the Minister’s domain or suzerainty, we have had a number of things. Part of his tenure included the unexplained or the end of the era of an unexplained judicial killings, collaboration with self-confessed narcotic traffickers, you had problems on the East Coast; there had been fresh allegations of torture. Coercive arms of the state have been carrying out acts of torture. In spite of widespread complaints of all of that, the administration has failed to put in place investigations what will give us satisfactory explanations of what is going on and secondly, the means to deal with these things and stop them in the future. This is an important part of policy. You do not wake in the morning and decide that you are Rambo and send a note to the Commission of Police, hand a gun to this person or give a gun licence. The idea is for him to manage a policy team. The team would look at the issues and make recommendations as to how to fix them. That is the challenge for any Minister. This one is involved in other activities other than that.
Mr. Speaker, if you think I am being melodramatic, let me just remind you that when the Minister was asked questions about torture he gave responses that were almost flippant. We had comments about roughing-up and so forth. Let me also say something else, the Minister have himself been accused, and I do not want to seem to be singling out the Minster, but we are looking at a policy area and the way the security system and the police system is being managed from the top. You have to look both at the Ministers own activities and the instructions he have given to those that carry out his activities. There have been allegations in February of 2009 by a certain Mr. Balwant Persaud. Do I need to say more on that? It is alleged that he made charges against the Minster. These are charges to do with criminal activities. I am not making a pronouncement upon it, but can I say to that they were also complaints about harassment by the police on behalf of the Minister in 2011. We had at the same time, while all of this was going on, a teenager jailed for no good reason, an actor arrested and jailed under completely spurious and unacceptable circumstance. As regards the matter I mentioned just now, in sworn testimony accepted by a Canadian Judge on September 9th, 2009, a man claimed that he was asked to bring down a number of websites. When he refused to continue this, which is not a consensual and legal exercise he was subjected to a number of things. He listed a number of people whose websites and emails were supposed to have been hacked into, Robert Corbin, Kemraj Ramjattan, Raphael Trotman. I am sorry Mr. Speaker do you want me to continue with the list?
Mr. Speaker: I think Guyanese need to know about that list, as it was evidence in the Court in Canada.
Mr. Greenidge: Even Mr. Freddie Kissoon’s name appears on this list. There was request to actually see the emails. You almost seem to be having voyeurism as well. These are serious matters. The matter gets even a little salacious. The man claims that his wife was kidnapped and taken to a certain resort called “Celena’s”. This was alleged by the man, and he told this to the Court that the wife was stripped and threatened and so forth. It might get our colleagues too excited so I would not read the rest. Judge Walters on March 31st 2011 ruled that the refugee protection division believed the story from two independent witnesses and they granted them refugee protection status.
I am inviting the House to support the Motion and to do so for a number of reasons, firstly to support the motion in its own right rather than depending or believe that it has to be related to a separate investigation. We are looking here at the Minister’s management of policy, at his influence on policy, at the consequences and impact of his influence. In that regard we see the security situation not improving, we see growing instances of torture, we see narcotic trafficking and links between the administration and narcotic trafficking. In all of these, whatever the Minister wants to say about them, the investigation which the President has agreed to has only been acceded to under pressure. The Minister himself seems not willing to do anything unless it is under pressure. Unless you do the investigation you are not going to be able to deal with the Police, improve their capability, deal with some of the problems that we see highlighted for the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and elsewhere or to bring a better life and a more secure life to the citizens of Guyana and the stop the tremendous flight of persons out of this country which my colleague who is not here likes to refer to when he is talking about how wonderful life is and that it has never been better. In fact, the reality is that on many counts, certainly on the security front, it has never been worse. Thank you.
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