September 27, 2016

A watershed moment for Guyana

By Ryhaan Shah

It is no surprise that head of Government and the PNC, President David Granger, vows to challenge the findings of the CoI into the death of WPA Leader Dr Walter Rodney. He undoubtedly has the full support of the party.
Prime Minister and President Forbes Burnham enjoyed the same unswerving party loyalty and, in a country deeply divided by race, it secured him the absolute power he needed for his descent into terrorism.
The PNC is once again in full control of the very same agencies that are named in the CoI’s report as participating in that terrorism, namely the police, the army and the civil service.
Even when the PPP/C formed the government, the PNC never lost that control. The PPP/C might have been able to buy the loyalty of a few top chiefs in order to muster some semblance of authority in those areas, but as to using them as extensions of their party and its ideology – that was always the remit of the PNC.
Its failure to professionalise the armed forces is actually a charge that the PPP/C government has to answer especially in the face of the CoI’s recommendations that such professionalism is needed to help prevent a repeat of the country’s sordid past.
Granger and his party might feel confident about mounting a challenge to the CoI’s findings since the unprofessionalism still prevails and the PNC’s institutional knowledge of fraud and forgery, as evidenced by the documents created for trigger man Gregory Smith, is intact given that some of the named conspirators in the terrorism are still around.
The commission’s assessment of the evidence implicates: former PNC leader Robert Corbin; Prime Minister and Vice President in Burnham’s government, Hamilton Green; and GDF Major General (Ret’d) Norman McLean.
It was Granger’s own move to abruptly curtail the commission’s work that prevented some evidence from being heard and, therefore, included in the final report – evidence from Asst Police Commissioner Skip Roberts, for example.
If the PNC does challenge the commission’s findings in court, this could well lead to more damning evidence coming to light. It could be a silver lining.
It is obvious to the public that Granger would have allowed the commission to complete its work if the PNC felt it had nothing to hide. The bluster about cost coming from him is also seen for the bluster it is since government spends lavishly in areas of much less national importance.
What could be more important to the nation than unearthing the truth about a contentious past? The three Caribbean justices who presided over the inquiry were most qualified to assess the evidence given and with impartiality so Granger can never impugn their good name and integrity.
As it stands, this is a watershed moment for the PNC and for Guyana. We have squandered every other watershed moment in our history. Independence, republicanism, the return to democracy in 1992 – these were all opportunities to turn the corner and claim our place as a nation where democratic values matter.
We now have another chance to do the right thing. The PNC can no longer hide its past. The party should accept the CoI’s findings and allow the country, once and for all, to come to terms with that dark period of its history.
The findings provide the clearest picture yet of our own experiences of those times – the beatings, terrorism, debasement and murders, and even though Granger has yet to officially present the report to the nation, it has quite rightly been leaked and the news has travelled.
It cannot be business as usual. The findings are too damning. Many did try, in the run-up to the last general elections, to counter the PNC/APNU/AFC Coalition campaign which was hinged on the reprehensible idea that the past does not matter. But the Coalition pushed through with its message and won.
As a result, Guyana’s future is now in the hands of people stained by a dastardly past and there are signs of creeping authoritarianism under Granger, a clear indication that his presidential style was forged by past PNC ideology.
In choosing to discredit the findings of the Rodney CoI and by proceeding with blithe disregard for public concern, he could well be flexing his muscles and showing us, once again, who holds the power.
Burnham, Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis, and Gregory Smith can never be brought to justice but it is up to us, the people, to make sure that Dr Rodney and the others who perished during that period did not die in vain.

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