I spent Sunday morning visiting friends in Lusignan and the homes attacked in the massacre there. While I was moved by the accounts of devastation and grief and the tale of horror of those who lost loved ones, I do not pretend that I can fully appreciate the damage to the community and the trauma to the surviving close relatives. To put a father, mother and child on a sofa at 1.30am and shoot them at point blank range is something associated with the Nazis, not Guyana.
No doubt it was an act of unspeakable horror for Guyana and those responsible should pay for it. But the question is where does the responsibility end?
Since 1993, when Monica Reece was murdered and her body dumped in downtown Georgetown, citizens have been calling for action by the Government to stem the rising tide of lawlessness that was enveloping Guyana. Instead, we have since witnessed cycles of unsolved murders of a Minister of Government, a prominent media and African rights activist and hundreds of others. After each wave we are treated by the Government to the same banalities about what it will and will not do and from the opposition political parties to what the Government should have done but did not do. And there the matter would end until the next major round of murders.
Various reports such as the Symonds Report and the Disciplined Forces Commission Report were swept aside to make room for indicted New Yorker Bernard Kerik and a politically controlled and ineffective National Commission of Law and Order.
For these failed initiatives the President and his Government must accept inescapable responsibility. But they are not the only ones that are culpable. On May 16, 2003, the National Assembly set up the Disciplined Forces Commission (DFC) comprising Justice Ian Chang as Chairman, recently appointed Appeals Court Judge Charles Ramson, Anil Nandlall and Mr David Granger and Ms. Maggie Bierne of Northern Ireland who was replaced on her resignation from the Commission by Professor Harold Lutchman.
The Commission was required to “examine any matter relating to public welfare, public safety, and public order, defence or security, including the structure and composition of the disciplined forces and make recommendations generally with the view to promoting their greater efficiency and giving effect to the need in the public interest that the composition of the disciplined forces take account of the ethnic composition of the population!” The Commission handed in its report on May 6, 2004, almost four years ago.
It was a comprehensive document with some one hundred and sixty-four specific recommendations, many of which were then [and now] immediately implementable. But instead of action, the response of the National Assembly was to refer the report to a Special Select Committee with heavyweights like Mr Bernard De Santos as chairman, Ms Gail Teixeira and Mr. Doodnauth Singh from the government and Mesdames Clarissa Riehl and Debbie Backer and Messrs Basil Williams and Raphael Trotman from the opposition, all attorneys-at-law. That Committee met on ten occasions but never completed its mandate or submitted a report.
Strangely, the National Assembly did not revisit the matter again until July 26, 2007 (just remember the date for one moment) when it again passed another motion appointing yet another Special Select Committee to conclude the examination of the DFC Report. In the discussions on the July 26 motion, the most vocal critics of the government were ironically the opposition members of the first Select Committee, accusing it of tarrying while Guyana was burning from the heat of the criminals.
One of the opposition members even referred to the motion as a sad indictment of the National Assembly and the people of Guyana. How a trained attorney-at-law could find the failure by that body an indictment of the people of Guyana is surely a legal stretch but in its further confusion and dilatoriness, instead of treating the matter with the urgency it deserved, the National Assembly gave the Select Committee six months to come up with its recommendations on the recommendations.
Completely oblivious of the seriousness of their mandate and the deadline, the Committee on this occasion headed by Prime Minister Hinds and comprising Messrs. Rohee, Benn, Dr. Bheri Ramsarran, Bernard De Santos and Ms. Philomena Sahoye-Shury from the government and the same four from the opposition is yet to meet! I am therefore surprised at the statement attributed to committee member Debra Backer in the media that home affairs minister Clement Rohee is the chairperson of the committee since one would expect her to know such basic information.
Now for the significance of the date of the motion: the six months expired on the day the Lusignan Massacre took place!
At a minimum the failure of the National Assembly constitutes a dereliction of duty by all our Parliamentarians and Guyanese should accept no excuse for this gross incompetence but for which so many lives including the Lusignan 11 may have been saved. Mr. Trotman of the AFC has apologized on behalf of the politicians. To the dead and those close to them, such apologies are of course meaningless and for others the question is what next. Do the opposition parties not realise that their contribution to major crime events almost mirrors the Government’s React, talk and forget – until the next episode.
The Government bears primary responsibility for the management of the country but one of the functions of the opposition is to bring effective pressure to bear on the Government when it fails to do its job. Instead, like the Government they too seem to offer only blame and excuses.
Guyana weeps not only for those who lost loved ones but for ourselves for repeatedly putting our faith and our lives in the hands of an ineffective bunch of politicians. If after all of this we still accept facile excuses from the Government about the police, and from the opposition about the misuse of the PPP/C’s majority rendering them (the opposition) impotent, we as citizens will have only ourselves to blame.