Budget debates should address redress for those who bore the brunt of the act of June 13, 1980

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Dear Editor,
The State regardless of the political party in power, has as one of its attributes “perpetual succession.” Its duties and obligations as well as its entitlements normally remain unchanged.

During the post no-confidence period 2019-2020 I engaged in a brief public exchange in the newspapers with former President, Mr. Donald Ramotar. He disagreed with my argument that his proroguing of parliament after a no-confidence motion had been tabled was against the spirit of the constitution. However, he readily agreed that it was an omission on his part not to include in the Terms of Reference of the Walter Rodney COI the issue of redress once it was found that state inflicted violence had been established. We reached this agreement after I had pointed out that in the Terms of Reference for the Commission of Inquiry in the Linden shooting of 2012, he had correctly included the issue of redress for victims of established and unlawful state-inflicted violence. A welcome precedent had been established.

The Walter Rodney COI report was tabled In the National Assembly and was subject to a debate which left essential issues in the whole episode where they had been before. As I argued in the exchanges referred to above, the debate opened to any member of the National Assembly from any party to introduce a motion committing the government, in fact instructing the government to act in accordance with the terms of such a motion. During that debate the Prime Minister Mr Nagamootoo expressed the opinion that in spite of the enquiry no one knew who killed Walter Rodney. Such debates are open, like the enquiry itself, to adversarial positions sometime resting on mere semantics. The Prime Minister would recall that in spite of arguable issues that could be raised, the enquiry unquestionably established that the State was a prime accomplice certainly after the fact of the suspect, Gregory Smith, whose existence it had sought to deny. An accomplice ranks equally in the eyes of the law with the felon.

Parliament could for example order the executive to compensate the dependents of the victim Walter Rodney, aged thirty-eight years, by referring the issue of the quantity of compensation to a committee fittingly composed of persons expert in those matters.

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After the new government was sworn on August 2, 2020 it brought to the National Assembly an emergency budget with a stated object of filling gaps and correcting defaults that had occurred and piled up during the impasse. Understandably, that was not the time to address the issue raised in this letter. That issue, however, falls naturally and by timely succession into the recently presented budget for 2020 -2021, presented to the National Assembly last Friday.

It is not necessary for me to say much more on this matter. Both sides of the National Assembly in my opinion are bound by the guarantees of the constitution and the conventions to which Guyana is a signatory. The issue is no longer a partisan one. I fully understand the reservations of those parties which, although they voted in the National Assembly for an International Committee of Inquiry were not consulted by President Ramotar whose party had abstained for stated reasons at the time when the motion for the inquiry was put to the vote.
I am not claiming that the issue specified in this letter is the only one of its kind staining our human rights record. However, it is the only one that has been the subject of a Commission of Inquiry authorized by a unanimous parliamentary vote and subject to public hearings at which various interests had the right to be represented by counsel.

In the light of what has been said above it seems to me that budget 2020-2021, not yet debated by the National Assembly is the occasion for bringing to a head and conclusion the matter of redress for those who bore the brunt of the act of June 13, 1980. Such a step indeed will not bring to an end outstanding issues of this nature of which both sides have in their time been held suspect. It will however open the way to continue the investigation and resolution of outstanding issues affecting citizens at all levels of the social scale.

For readers of a new generation, I state that this is not my first raising of this issue. Apart from being one of those who testified for several days at the hearings of the COI in 2014 I am on record as filing in 1987 a private prosecution for murder against Gregory Smith, only to have it thrown out by the sitting magistrate. The evidence I relied on was the well published statement made by survivor Donald Rodney on his recovery from the shock after recovering from injuries sustained in the explosion of June 13, 1980.

Yours sincerely,
Eusi Kwayana



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