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The Presidential Commission Of Inquiry (COI) into the events of the March 2, 2020, General and Regional elections has officially begun public hearings today between 09:00 to 11: 00 hrs and 13:00 and 16:00hrs and will be live streamed. Hearings are expected to be completed by the end of January 2023 and a report estimated to be submitted by the end of March 2023.
On Thursday, Chairman of the Commission, Retired Justice of Appeal, Stanley John, said the COI is tasked with uncovering what occurred during the March 2020 elections, why it happened, and what could be done to prevent or reduce the chance of a recurrence of those events.
“This inquiry has no ‘case’ to prove; it is interested in the truth and in fair conclusions based on the evidence properly analysed,” he said.
Justice John is supported by former Chancellor of the Judiciary, Carl Singh, and High Court Judge (Belize) and former Justice of Appeal (ag) in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Godfrey Smith, SC.
The commission informed that their responsibility is a ‘serious and heavy’ which they intend to discharge carefully, with professionalism, efficiency, thoroughness, fairness, objectivity, and impartiality.
However, shadow Minister of Legal Affairs, Roysdale Forde SC differs with the timing and intent of the commission. In an October 9 Op-Ed in this publication, Forde stated that both the timing and context of the COI, as announced by President Irfaan Ali have cast more than a shadow of doubt on the real intention.
According to him, “even if the President’s intentions were sincere his judgement on timing was very poor. There are active election petitions before the Guyana’s Court of Appeal (COA), and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). In addition, there are several other elections- related matters before the Courts. Instead of allowing those matters due process, the President rushed to announce, appoint and swear Commissioners for the COI. This is poor political leadership and administration.”
There are many other imponderables about this COI he contended, including the president not being serious about getting to the truth of what transpired on Election Day.
Were the president serious, said the senior counsel, he “could have used a broad- based approach to set up the COI. That approach would have done three things:
“(1) prevent the impact, of wide- spread perception that PPP/C party affiliates could have a free hand to covertly indulge in actions inimical to other opposition and minority parties, on the effectiveness of the work of the Commission;
“(2) heightened confidence and create trust in the process; and
“(3) allow the President to treat the establishment of the Commission as a part of a continuum that could have ultimately improved collaboration between the government and other political parties and stakeholders to design systems to better the lives of all Guyanese.”
Forde argued, the President squandered the opportunity to show strong leadership and to be inclusive in his approach on a significant national issue. He noted when one thinks that both the form and formulation of the Terms of Reference (TOR) were decided on, and drafted by this same party- PPP/C- it is clear the party has given itself an unfair advantage against all other parties that contested the elections.
“I suspect that the PPP/C has done so because it can. But in doing so it has committed a serious error, fatal to public trust, which is absolutely necessary for good cooperation and acceptance of the work, and findings of the Commission.”
Drawing attention that the TOR usually defines a Commission’s investigatory powers, limit or strengthen its investigative reach, set the time lines and geographic scope of the Commission ’s investigation, Forde stated: “In the instant case, all of that was done by [the PPP]. No other party was consulted or given the opportunity to participate at any stage of the formulation of the TOR of the Commission. This would backfire.”
Further, according to the shadow minister, “it must be assumed that whether an inquiry body will have an impact rests with the quality or credibility of its factual findings, analysis and policy and other recommendations. However, if the PPP/C as a single party, with its history of discrimination and unfairness, hogged this Commission to itself then how can people who believe in good governance and democracy trust the process? They cannot.”
The Member of Parliament declared the PPP’s actions clearly show the party appears unconcerned about this crisis of trust.