Stabroek News January 2005
Shafeek and George Bacchus
The story which was to rock the society began with a killing, the style of which had almost become commonplace in Georgetown and environs during 2003. Princes Street cattle farmer, Shafeek Bacchus, became the victim of a drive-by shooting on January 5, the sole abnormal feature of which was the fact that one of the perpetrators was heard shouting "Wrong man!" from the car after the shots had rung out. (January 6, 20)
On January 8, the full context of that particular remark was revealed when George Bacchus, the brother of the dead man was reported as saying that he had been the intended target of the gunmen and that he knew at least two of the men who had been involved in the shooting.
More significantly, however, he confessed to being an informant for the death squad which he said had been formed in response to the spiralling crime wave in 2002, and had been responsible for numerous 'executions' during the course of the following year.
Allegation of official involvement
Bacchus's bombshell allegation, however, was that a senior administration official was involved with the operations of the squad. Bacchus said that he himself had left the group after the death of Shawn Brown, but that the killings had continued nevertheless, because the members had turned to 'executions' for hire. He had reported this to the official, and quoted the man as responding that he would "look into it." However, all that happened, said Bacchus, was that his concerns were filtered back to the squad and he became a target himself.
The self-confessed informant also told this newspaper that the death squad had ties to several businessmen in the city, including an undertaker and people associated with the currency exchange and entertainment industries, who funded its activities. Members of the police force, he alleged, were also implicated in its operations.
In the same report we said that Bacchus had visited the United States Embassy, where he had provided officials with a detailed statement, and had identified a spot in the city where those abducted by the squad were tortured. He was subsequently to allege that the "torture house" was Auby's Wine Bar at the corner of Norton and George Streets. (January 16)
Bacchus was also to reveal that some of the bodies of those executed which had not yet been located, had been dumped in the swamp behind the Botanical Gardens, where the skeletal remains of Andre Ettiena had been found in November 2003. (January 10)
On January 9, Minister Gajraj, who had not been named by this newspaper as the government official allegedly implicated in death squad activities, dismissed as speculation and politicking the claims which had been made in other sections of the media linking him with the group's operations. He also specifically denied a report appearing elsewhere, that Bacchus had made him an offer to establish a "killing squad." (January 10)
Bacchus continued with his revelations in the edition of January 11, with a version of Andrew Douglas's death, and the claim that members of the death squad were present at the killing of Shawn Brown in June 2003. The last surviving member of the five escapees, Troy Dick, he said, had not played a major role in the criminal activity which had followed the jailbreak.
He expanded further too on the recruits for the squad, most of whom he said were ex-policemen.
After reports on ID parades, and men being held in custody, among other things, three people were charged with the murder of Shafeek Bacchus on January 16, namely, Ashton King, the owner of A&D Funeral Parlour; Mark Thomas, called 'Kerzorkee' of Auby's Wine Bar; and Shawn Hinds of the East Bank. The last two, it was reported, were ex-policemen. Hinds, visibly upset over his detention, regaled a hostile crowd after leaving the court with his philosophy of life, to wit, that he would rather drink "milk" under the PPP, than "black tea" under the PNC. (January 9,11,12,13,14,16,17)
Only two of the men actually appeared in court, since the third, Mark Thomas, had collapsed earlier at the Brickdam Police Station from where he had been conveyed to the Georgetown hospital. He was never to emerge from his hospital bed, and was reported from time to time as suffering from various complaints. He finally died on February 1, and following an autopsy whose results with regard to the cause of death were inconclusive, samples were eventually sent by the police to the United States for analysis. In April we were to report the Dade County Medical Examiner's Office in Florida as being unable to ascertain the cause of death, although poison was not ruled out. Traces of certain drugs were found in the samples, although the details were not made public.
During the preliminary inqiry into the murder, Chief Magistrate Juliet Holder-Allen withdrew from the case following claims by George Bacchus that her name was on a hit list. (January 17,18,19,20; February 2,3,5,8,19; April 21; June 24)
In the midst of the allegations swirling around the Minister of Home Affairs, the case of Axel Williams reared its head again. Williams had been killed in a hit operation in Bel Air Park on December 10, 2003, and even before that year had concluded, Minister Gajraj had admitted to the media that he had met both Williams and Shawn Hinds - the first-named after he had applied for a gun licence. (December 11,19, 2003)
In the initial month of this year a senior police officer told this newspaper that the Bel Air hit was a mystery. The police, however, confirmed that Williams had been implicated in the death of food vendor Rodwell Ogle on August 8, 2002.
Ogle was shot by Williams after he had protested about being given short money for food the latter had purchased. The same report mentioned that more recently he had been accused of involvement in the abduction and deaths of men living in the East and South Georgetown areas. (January 3)
Seven days later we were to make reference to telephone records we had seen, indicating that Williams had made several calls to the Ministry of Home Affairs and to the residence of a ministry official. At a later point we were to report that over a twelve-day period late last year during which six murders and one abduction had occurred, Axel Williams had made at least 118 calls to a mobile phone which was used to call an official of the Home Affairs Ministry. Telephone records also logged several calls the official made to a cell phone owned by Williams. In addition, the official used his home telephone to call Williams twice on November 25. (January 10; March 15)
On January 19 we reported that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had recommended to the police that Williams be charged with the murder of Rodwell Ogle, but that nothing had happened. At the beginning of February, however, we carried an update saying that after the DPP had sent their recommendation, it was changed to a coroner's inquest, which up to that point had still not been held.
Acting DPP Roxanne George told this newspaper that the records in her office only reflected the initial advice given to the police, namely, that Williams be charged with murder. The case file at the Brickdam Police Station, on the other hand, recorded that the murder charge advice had been recalled and substituted with a recommendation for an inquest to be held. We were not aware of whose signature was on the second recommendation. The DPP (ag) had requested the file after the police at a press conference had said that the DPP's office had recommended an inquest and not a murder charge. (January 19; February 1,10)
The documentation in relation to Axel Williams, however, did not end there. Some days later we were to report that a letter signed by Commissioner of Police (ag) McDonald and issued almost ten months after the police had been required to hold an inquest into Ogle's death, authorized a gun upgrade for Williams. McDonald declined comment on the matter, and Gajraj, when asked if he had instructed that Williams be given an upgraded licence responded that he did not recall doing so. However, the following month we were to report that he had indeed approved the upgrade, which was written on the top of Williams's application letter dated May 23, 2003. (February 10,17; March 5)
In April, the police confirmed that they had Axel Williams's gun in custody, and the month after that, that ballistics tests on the 9mm weapon had been inconclusive. (April 19; May 9)
We carried an account of a woman's late-night encounter with Williams, who had gone into her area looking for her brother - he was not at home at the time - as well as one claiming that the alleged death-squad member had been gunned down by one of his own cohorts. (See also 'Death squad accounts' below)
This newspaper was told by individuals who declined to have their identities revealed, that Williams had been assigned to kill a known drug lord who had earlier had his men work with the death squad hunting the wanted criminals of the 2002-03 crime wave. It was not known why the man became the target of those he had once assisted, but in any case Williams was reported to have warned him of the assassination plot. The drug lord then confronted the man who had ordered his 'execution.' The latter denied it, saying there would be a meeting between the three men to establish exactly what had been said. Within days, Williams was dead. George Bacchus confirmed the plot to kill the drug lord. (March 14; June 13)
Death squad accounts
Over an extended period informants who elected to remain anonymous out of fear for their lives gave this newspaper insights into the operations of the death squad. Some of them identified certain members of the gang whom they recognized as ex-policemen, and sometimes they claimed that they had told the police at the time their relatives were abducted what they knew, but that the officers had done nothing.
In several instances witnesses thought the abductors were, in fact, policemen, and in the case of Sherwin Manohar they had declared themselves to be such. We were told that Manohar had been visited by Axel Williams the day before he was forced into a car, and we were subsequently to hear of other cases which had involved this particular suspected death squad member. We also carried a report which said there may have been a link between certain of Guyana's most wanted fugitives, and some alleged members of the death squad set up to eliminate them.
Various witnesses described how certain areas of Georgetown had been terrorized by the group, and how people had locked themselves in their homes when darkness fell. There were also claims that those who sold marijuana were being targeted, and in the case of the abduction and murder of Clive McLean and Clive Savoury, that cocaine was invovlved.
Stabroek News was also informed that the death squad, including Axel Williams, was behind the Diwali Night bloodbath, when five men were gunned down at the corner of Robb and Light Streets in November 2002, and on another occasion that the members of the squad used to go partying after a hit. One witness to a drive-by killing carried out by the death squad claimed that he was paid off to keep quiet. (February 8,22,29; March 1,7,28; April 11,19; June 17)
As fast as he had catapulted to public notice, George Bacchus plummeted from view, prompting this newspaper to ask, 'Where is George Bacchus?' Even the police, it was reported, claimed to be unable to contact him, his relatives explaining that he was keeping a low profile out of fear. (January 23; March 22,26)
When he did finally resurface, it was in the full blaze of publicity. In June he contacted this newspaper to say that a video on which he was recorded as recanting his allegations against Minister Gajraj had only been made because he had been offered a bribe of $10M and safe passage out of the country. This was denied by PPP/C MP Shirley Edwards, who was Bacchus's neighbour, and in whose house the video had been made. She claimed that Bacchus had told her that he had made his original statements implicating the Minister of Home Affairs in death squad activities because he was angry that Gajraj had not acted promptly after Shafeek Bacchus's murder. She had contacted Michael Gordon of the Government Information Agency, she said, who had conducted the interview in his personal capacity. (June 16)
On June 24, however, videos were temporarily forgotten when the nation learned that George Bacchus had been shot dead in his bed at his Princes Street home. We reported in a special edition of that day that Bacchus had told this newspaper that he had been informed that a man with a rifle and a telescopic lens was after him.
While the nation was consumed with theories about who killed George Bacchus, the police assembled what they described as a high-level probe team, which in July produced arrests. (June 24 (Special Edition), 25,26,27,28,29)
George Bacchus's reach was found to extend from beyond the grave, when three days after his murder, we reported on the statements he had made in two sworn affidavits, dated June 11, drawn up by attorney Basil Williams. One of the statements dealt with his involvement with the death squad, while the second concerned the matter of his retractions and the alleged attempt to bribe him.
Among other things, the first affidavit said that he had told police he had been invited to Mr Gajraj's home, where the Minister had asked him to supply Axel Williams and two men whom he identified as policemen with information. He claimed that subsequently he called the Minister regularly, and visited his home about three times a week.
Bacchus went on to state that at a particular location which he identified, he also saw many pump-action guns, AK-47s and bullet-proof vests. These, he said, were used by Williams and others. He also claimed to have seen a Sterling automatic, and that he later saw Williams with a similar weapon. In his affidavit Bacchus named nine men apart from Williams associated with the group.
In addition he made reference to 'hit lists' in the possession of Axel Williams and another man, stating that he later discovered that the men named there were being killed. After most of the February 23 escapees were dead, however, the killings continued, and he was again shown a list which this time included the names of law-abiding citizens as well.
In a later report, we carried Bacchus's claim in the affidavit that he had been a witness to the murder of Shelton Bacchus in which he said two policemen had been complicit. (June 27,29)
The story of the two videos in the second affidavit was also carried in our June 27 edition, where we reported Bacchus as expanding on the topic of the bribe offer. He alleged that someone had undertaken to pull off the gunmen and pay him $10M if he would record a video rescinding his allegations against Minister Gajraj, and then leave the country. After the first video had been completed, he said he was asked to make a second because the initial one was unsatisfactory. Bacchus related that he went to Mrs Edwards's house again where he was asked to read two typewritten sheets, absorb the contents, and then relay them in his own words in front of the camera. Later, he claimed to have been contacted by someone who wanted to clarify whether the amount he had been offered was $10M or $5M.
Information contained in transcripts of the two videos which were released by Edwards was carried in our edition of June 29, and confirmed what she had said earlier about Bacchus's declared motive. This was that anger had prompted him to implicate Minister Gajraj in the activities of a death squad. In the recordings he also accused the media of blowing everything out of proportion. (June 27,29)
On June 4, afraid for his life, Bacchus went to Congress Place, where he was interviewed by PNCR Leader Robert Corbin whom he allowed to video-tape the conversation. In that interview Bacchus was reported as saying that the night his brother was killed, one of the men in the car involved in the drive-by shooting raised his weapon and aimed it at him, but didn't fire. Bacchus also said that he had contacted Minister Gajraj after the killing, and alleged that on the first occasion he had put down the phone on him, and on the second, had promised to investigate.
During the interview, too, he linked a high-ranking police officer to a local businessman who was believed to have close ties to the death squad. He said that the officer would give the businessman a list containing the names of criminal suspects. He also claimed that the businessman had at least twenty persons whom he described as "active soldiers." We had reported that in his affidavit Bacchus had also implicated four other serving officers. (June 28,29)
The road to an inquiry
After Acting President Samuel Hinds had observed that the allegations had been seen and noted, Dr Luncheon, speaking in suitably guarded terms was the next to make an official comment on the subject. He let it be known that if the claims were "properly presented to the competent authorites," an examination of their "basis" could be pursued. (January 8,10) (See also Politics below)
The PNCR was quick to demand an inquiry into the allegations at its press conference on January 8, and a few days thereafter various other organizations joined them including the WPA/GAP, the GTUC and ACDA. (January 9,13)
The Guyana Human Rights Association and the Bar Association lent their voices to the chorus for an independent investigation, to be joined by the Guyana Indian Heritage Association some days later. The Guyana Council of Churches and Amnesty International were the next to indicate their support for such an approach, while the diplomatic missions of the US, UK and Canada let it be known publicly that they were concerned about the death squad allegations (January 13,16,24,25,29,31; February 5,7).
Eventually, the reluctance of the Government to set up an independent probe led to the formation of the People's Movement for Justice (PMJ), which described itself as a broad-based coalition, encompassing a wide range of organizations and individuals. (March 1. See also Politics)
The Government resisted the clamour for a few months, Dr Luncheon saying that credible evidence was required for an inquiry, and then that a formal report was needed in order for the police to act. (January 15,21) His comments were echoed by the President who declared that the police were the ones to investigate the issue, despite the fact that Commissioner Felix had already expressed the opinion that there was no role for the force in a death squad probe given the public's perception of police involvement. (March 1; April 3)
Finally, in May it was reported that Gajraj had asked Jagdeo for an "impartial" inquiry, and had declared himself willing to proceed on leave in order to facilitate it. (May 8,11)
The local UN office, speaking on behalf of the international community urged Guyana's political leaders to use the occasion to set up a transparent, impartial and independent inquiry, and to "re-engage in the institutions of governance." (May 13)
Two days later, Jagdeo announced that a Presidential Commission of Inquiry was to be set up to investigate whether there was any credible evidence to support allegations of criminal misconduct on the part of Minister Gajraj. It was to be chaired by Justice Ian Chang, and its other two members were named as Norman McLean and Ivan Crandon. (May 15)
Opposition parties responded that the inquiry was a "farce" and a public relations exercise. The unilateralism of the Government's approach was poorly received by them, in addition to which they criticized the terms of reference as being too narrow, and raised issues of witness protection. Amnesty International, while welcoming the commission, said that questions about its mandate and powers should be answered soon. However, US Ambassador Roland Bullen expressed a different view, saying the commission should be given a chance, while the GHRA thought that the opposition had been too hasty in its criticism. The organization did, however, have a reservation about the appointment of Crandon, as he was Chairman of the Police Service Commission, something which might impinge on a public perception of impartiality. (May 16,18,19,20,21,24,25)
While the opposition declared itself amenable to talks on the terms of reference, etc, of the investigation, Jagdeo held firm. He did, however, indicate that he was disposed to display flexibility in the matter of Crandon's appointment, on which the Government subsequently sought legal advice. On June 24, George Bacchus was murdered, which brought the issue of witness protection to the fore again, and caused Amnesty International to issue another statement on the subject. (May 23,25,29; June 6,26)
Fr Andrew Morrison (January 28,30)
Dennis Craig (March 2)
Sydney Murdoch (March 28)
Frederick Ramprashad (March 30)
Dr Frank Long (March 30)
Ivan Fraser (April 1)
It was the death squad issue which set the parameters for the political exchanges in the first half of 2004. In addition to making public statements on the issue, the PNCR launched a signature campaign for Gajraj's removal in mid-January, and began small-scale protests, mostly outside the Ministry of Home Affairs. Similarly small-scale marches in the capital's streets were held later under the aegis of the PMJ, and in March, Ravi Dev was the lead speaker at a 'Rule of Law' rally organized by the group at the Square of the Revolution. The protests were peaceful until Bacchus's death in June, when demonstrators forced some Regent Street stores to close by intimidating their proprietors.
The government's position for some months was distilled in Jagdeo's response by way of a letter to Corbin that he should mobilize people to make formal reports to the police on the allegations. Some days later he was also to insist that there was not a shred of evidence against Gajraj, a claim he was to hold fast to even after the setting up of an inquiry. In his response to the President's letter, the PNCR leader replied that there was already enough evidence to justify setting up a probe. (January 10,16,22,23,24,26,28,30; March 21,24; April 9,25; May 7; June 26)
The situation continued in this vein until June, except that the governing party took its procedural message about formal submissions to the police beyond the borders of Guyana; Dr Luncheon in the company of Ministers Teixeira and Bisnauth travelled north in February to explain the PPP/C's standpoint to expatriate Guyanese in Canada and the US. (February 7)
Protests aside, the other PNCR response to the government was non-co-operation in various areas. Corbin set the tone by storming out of the swearing-in ceremony for the Police Service Commission on January 9 on account of Gajraj's presence there.
At the end of January the party indicated that it would be re-examining the dialogue process if the government maintained its stand on the death squad issue, and at the end of March it did in fact withdraw from 'constructive engagement.' Corbin also went on record as saying that discussion on matters of critical national importance should encompass the entire parliamentary opposition, as well as civil society organizations.
The government's primary response to the PNCR's position was that the main opposition party was holding talks hostage in an attempt to secure power by the back door, while the President was later to say that dialogue could not be switched on and off. An attempt by the donor community at the end of April to resurrect the constructive engagement process did not bear fruit.
In March the PNCR walked out of the year's first parliamentary sitting after its motion for an urgent debate on the death squad was denied. Its second attempt to introduce the same motion was similarly disallowed. Instead it took its protest outside the National Assembly, its members donning aprons bearing slogans relating to its position on the matter. (January 10; February 1; March 15,16,19,20; April1,2; May 1,27)
However, not all disturbances in the political firmament involved the opposition. On the last day of January Mr Khemraj Ramjattan, a Central Committee (CC) member of the PPP left a meeting of the party following severe criticism of his conduct. A release from the party accused him of "consistently and unjustifiably [attacking] the Party Congress, the Party, members of the Leadership and the Government."
A week later we quoted Ramjattan as saying that a disciplinary meeting of the party before which he had been summoned to appear had gone "very well." The meeting had been held because of remarks he had made in a January 31 column in this newspaper on the PPP's handling of the allegations against Gajraj.
In the same report we said that President Jagdeo had accused Ramjattan at the earlier-mentioned CC meeting of passing information to the US, Canadian and British missions here, something which Jagdeo denied two days later. The exchange did not end there, however, as Central Committe Member Moses Nagamootoo lent support to Ramjattan's account, which in turn prompted 29 members of the CC to issue a signed statement endorsing Jagdeo's version of events.
On February 14, the PPP expelled Ramjattan from the party over his insistence that the President had indeed said what he accused him of saying. He was asked to relinquish his parliamentary seat, which he declined to do on the grounds that he had been elected to it. The party based its expulsion on a breach of commitment by Ramjattan to cease public attacks on government and party leaders, a commitment he denied having made. He said that nowhere in the party constitution was it written that a member could not criticize the party openly.
On April 2 we published a brief statement saying that President Jagdeo was suing Stabroek News for remarks contained in our report of February 7. This was the report where it had been initially stated that Jagdeo had accused Ramjattan of revealing information to certain foreign missions here. (February 1,7,9,12,13,15,16,29; April 2)
In the middle of the contretemps, the Guyana Bar Association of which Ramjattan was President, reaffirmed its trust in him, while in March at a meeting in New York, Moses Nagamootoo criticized Ramjattan's expulsion and outlined his own aspirations to become president. (February 21; March 28)
Two new parties announced their entry into the political arena, although little was heard of them thereafter. The first was Mr Eddie da Silva's All Races Congress, while the second was the Guyana Patriotic Alliance led by Mr Vic Puran. (January 20; March 23)
The report of Mr Doudou Diene, the UN Special Rapporteur who had visited Guyana in 2003 was made public in March; it said that political will on the part of all party leaders was essential to deal with the problem of ethnic polarization. (March 25)
In June, the National Democratic Party of Suriname and the PNCR signed a Memorandum of Understanding resolving to work for the peaceful settlement of the border dispute, and calling on both governments to resist the temptation to manipulate the issue for narrow political ends. (June 18)
Maritime border issues were strongly to the fore in the first half of the year. Where Suriname was concerned, the tone was low key at the outset, with Foreign Minister Insanally saying in early January that Guyana would try and re-engage Paramaribo in talks to resolve the frontier dispute. Two weeks later, he assured the nation that both this country and Suriname were convinced of the value of the bilateral mechanism for the resolution of the maritime border controversy. (January 9,25)
However, the following month it was announced that Guyana had moved to have its maritime boundary with its eastern neighbour settled under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It also sought provisional relief under Article 287 of that convention so it could exploit hydrocarbon and other resources in the disputed area pending a decision, and in order that Guyanese fishermen would cease to be harassed in the Corentyne River. After various reports on the aftermath of this decision, including one stating that CGX was to assist Guyana in paying the legal bills, the five-member tribunal was established in June. (February 26,27; March 4,7,25,30,31; April 1,3,25; May 3,21,30; June 5,12)
On the western maritime frontier, what began as a fishing dispute between Trinidad and Barbados, evolved into a boundary question which touched Guyana as well. Following Barbados's challenge at UNCLOS to the 1990 maritime delimitation treaty between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago - a treaty which also impinges on Guyana's territorial waters - Minister of Foreign Affairs Rudy Insanally gave notice that this country would be taking steps to safeguard its interests. (February 18,19,21,22)
A week later it was announced that Guyana and Barbados had signed a maritime pact in London on December 2, 2003, for co-operation in the area where their Exclusive Economic Zones overlapped. It was ratified by the House of Assembly on March 19. Early the same month President Jagdeo went to Trinidad for maritime talks, during which time he announced that Guyana would be making a formal claim to part of the disputed area encompassed by the 1990 treaty. (February 25; March 2,3,20)
Maritime issues notwithstanding, President Chavez breezed into Georgetown on February 19, to inaugurate what he called a "love process." After patting children, inviting students to Caracas and forgiving Guyana's debt to Venezuela, he said that his government would be pursuing closer social and economic ties with this country. He recalled his days as a young military officer, poring over maps seeking the best routes for invading Guyana. Now, he said, he pored over maps to establish the best road link. The two neighbours reiterated their commitment to pursuing a resolution of the border controversy through the UN Good Officer process. (February 20,21)
Following the visit, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jesus Arnaldo Perez clarified some of his President's remarks made while here, explaining that when he said Caracas would not oppose any projects in Essequibo, he was referring to projects involving education, potable water and agricultural production. However, he said, the Venezuelan government would not recognize any Essequibo concession granted by Guyana to a transnational company, including an oil company. (February 29)
Certain officials experienced visa problems in 2004, beginning with Minister of Foreign Trade Clement Rohee whose US visa was 'delayed' in early January. He was eventually given a three-month visa in March. In the first month too, Canada revoked Minister Gajraj's visa, and in the following month it was revealed that the US had done likewise. We reported high- level sources as saying that the allegations against him had led to the US revocation. Some two months later, Commissioner (ag) McDonald found himself in the same predicament as Gajraj. (January 1,9,28,29,30; February 4,6; March 25,31; April 11)
On January 6 we reported that the Foreign Ministry was moving to relieve its cash-strapped missions; this was two days before a report by the Auditor-General appeared, saying that the overseas missions were starved for cash. (January 6,8)
In May, Parliament ratified the agreement to exempt US servicemen from prosecution by the International Criminal Court. (May 19) On the following day we reported that a road link with Venezuela was being explored. (May 20) Beginning on June 3, Guyana played host to a two-day ministerial meeting of the G-90 grouping. (June 4,5)
Buxton was never far out of the news in the first half of 2004, with a resurgence of attacks by youth gangs from the village on neighbouring communities such as BV, Triumph, Golden Grove, Coldingen, Victoria, Vigilance, Non Pareil and Lusignan. Several people were shot dead in Buxton itself and elsewhere, mini-buses and cars were held up, ordinary people were terrorized in their homes, and even the national footballers encamped in the troubled community were robbed. One of the men shot dead was Mervin Archer, suspected of involvement in several violent crimes during the 2002-03 crime wave, but who was said to have fallen out with his former comrades. (January 10,12,21,23,31; February 1,9,11,13,14,25; March 8,12,15,21,22,24,29,31; April 1,3,28; May 1,5,7,20; June 11)
Bandits were also active in other areas shooting and injuring people. (January 16,21,22; February 18; March 24; April 15,25; May 25; June 1,11)
A particularly distressing crime was the knifing to death of a Saint Stanislaus student by robbers in Bel Air Park. (February 16) The following month an ex-policeman went on the rampage at Brickdam police station, killing two officers and seriously wounding two others. He only stopped firing when he himself was shot. He was subsequently charged. (March 2,6)
There were other cases too, such as that of 'Limpie' who was killed in Albouystown by gunmen, (March 15) and an Iranian cleric who was kidnapped outside the Islamic college in Brickdam, and was never found although detectives from Iran arrived here to aid in the search. (April 3,4,5,6,7,9,20,22,27,30)
In June a beauty queen, Ms Mocha Arcadia died of heart failure after a fight involving two other girls. (June 9,10)
Among bandits killed in shoot-outs with the police in the year's first half, was Gopaul Chowtie, who had once been a PPP activist, and was in possession of a gun licence approved by Minister Gajraj, and signed by Commissioner (ag) McDonald. (April 6,8,9,14,17,24,25)
A major police success story was the rescuing of a kidnapped girl by officers, and the apprehending of two of her kidnappers. (April 22,23)
There was no abatement in the incidence of domestic violence during 2003, and there were also various sightings in the Stanleytown area of the notorious Neil Bovell, wanted for the murder of his reputed wife, among other things. (April 21, June 22)
The drug busts got bigger in 2004, evidence if any were needed that Guyana has become a major transshipment point for cocaine originating from Colombia. In March the US State Department warned that Guyana was a prime target for money laundering and drug trafficking because of weak laws, corrupt law enforcement and the continuing political stalemate. (March 3)
Apart from the interception of drug couriers of various nationalities at the airport, the first significant bust involved a Nigerian alien and narcotics smuggling ring on the East Coast. An unattended suitcase containing cocaine was found at the airport on February 22, and a day later a Hungarian man was held attempting to smuggle the drug out in car parts. (February 11,23,24)
In the same month, former national cyclist Paul Choo-wee-nam was charged in a Baltimore court with conspiracy to import more than 5 kilogrammes of cocaine into the US. The drugs had an estimated street value of between US$25 and US$40M. (February 27)
At the beginning of March we reported that a major New York-Guyana drug-smuggling ring had been smashed by the New York police, and that thirteen people had been arrested, including Guyanese. The cocaine which was trafficked had netted more than US75M a year, and the authorities were reported to have identified certain Guyanese 'kingpins' who had not been held. It was later revealed that a house in Queens was the hub for the money laundering part of the operation. (March 5,6; May 1,2)
On March 14, CANU found cocaine on a ship docked in Georgetown, and held the ten-man crew, and two weeks later it was the turn of police who found cocaine in a car which they stopped at a road block. (March 15,28) The following month saw another major cocaine bust in New York involving a ring which shipped cocaine from Guyana. Thirteen people again were held. The following month the US government made formal extradition requests to the Guyana authorities for a number of persons they wanted to place before the courts for drug trafficking. (April 7,8,30; May 20,23)
In May CANU found cocaine in frozen grey snapper at the airport, and some time later they held the alleged exporter. (May 17,28)
There were various cases of fraud during the first half of the year, the most notable involving what became known as the remigrant scam. The year opened with a denial from Minister Kowlessar that there was any corruption surrounding the issuance of duty-free concessions to remigrants. However, by March it was clear that officials from both the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were implicated in a racket, and in some forthright speaking, the President said that culpable officers would have to "face the music." He also ordered vehicles at the centre of the scam to be seized. On March 15, Secretary to the Treasury Neermal Rekha was interdicted from duty - two other staff members from that ministry having already been sent home.
However, at the same time Commissioner-General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Khurshid Sattaur announced an amnesty from prosecution for those citizens who had imported the vehicles, provided they paid all duties and taxes within the space of a week. Later, a source in the GRA was to say that prosecution would be problematic, and that it was better for the agency to recover the revenue rather than try and confiscate the vehicles, a process which might become entangled in the court system. (January 1; March 10,11,13,15,16,18,23,29; April 7)
Irregularities were also reported in the Wildlife Division, resulting in the head of that division, Khalawan, being sent on special leave. The decision related to the illegal export of dolphins in particular, and also anteaters. The sale of dolphins had been strongly resisted by environmentalists, and also by local wildlife traders. (February 5; March 26; June 16,19,27)
On the larger economic front the Paris Club and Trinidad ratified the enhanced HIPC debt relief for Guyana; Denmark, the UK and the US cancelled debt owed by this country; the government and the European Commission signed an $840M micro-projects agreement, while the LEAP project received a further boost from the EU; and the US and Guyana signed a pact which would see grants of $4B being made available to boost governance, democracy and economic growth. (January 15; May 8,20,28; June 1,8,25)
Not such good news was the fact that Guyana was not included in the new US aid programme and that the British were to reduce their aid in favour of low-income countries. (Guyana was classed as a middle-income nation.) (January 15; March 31; May 7)
The budget came and went with little ado, the only measure of any consequence being the raising of the National Insurance contribution rate from 12 per cent to 13 per cent from April 1, 2004. The Georgetown Chamber of Commerce was not impressed, saying that the budget had ignored many of the core issues. (March 30; April 14)
The country felt the pressure of rising world oil prices, and by the middle of May the price of petrol at some stations had reached $620 per gallon. This had the inevitable spin-off of strikes by mini-bus owners and drivers, but on May 21, the government announced a reduction in the consumption tax on fuel. Fare prices, however, were increased. (April 28; May 18,19,21,22,25)
On the mining front the year opened with news of lay-offs in the Berbice bauxite industry, although a ray of hope was injected into a dismal industrial situation with the signing of an MOU with Russian Aluminium for supplies of Aroaima bauxite and a possible joint mining venture. This initiative was to come to fruition in the second half of the year. (January 1; February 7,8)
Various mining operations were closed for muddying the waters of the Konawaruk River in March. (March 23; April 1)
The perennial problems were recorded in the rice sector, particularly as these related to the operations of the Rice Monitoring Mechanism in Caricom. (April 24; May 3) The really bleak news, however, came in respect of the sugar industry, which at the end of June learned that the EU's proposals for cuts in sugar prices exceeded the region's worst fears. (June 29)
The year opened as it closed with serious flooding. The East Coast was swamped with farms under water, and where the city was concerned, it was acknowledged that only one Liliendaal pump was working. (January 5,6,7,9)
Education and health
On the education front, allegations of teachers unlawfully beating children, one of them a pupil of St Margaret's, and the other a pupil of New Comenius in Anira Street, dominated the first half of the year. There was also an instance of a teacher in a Lodge school being assaulted by a student, for whom an arrest warrant was subsequently issued. It was reported that police were to patrol the school.
The two earlier-mentioned teachers were transferred, one of whom was also suspended for a year and the other denied promotion for the same period. A subsequent beating incident involving a third teacher ended in him being placed before the courts. After the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child had advised Guyana in February that it should expressly prohibit corporal punishment in law, a Workshop on Discipline without Beating was held in June. However, it had an unintended outcome when participants agreed that in defiance of our international commitment, corporal punishment should be retained in schools. (January 22; February 6,19; March 4,6,12,13,17,19; May 25; June 18)
The annual rumours about CXC leaks brought officials from the Barbados headquarters hurrying down here to investigate. The Ministry of Education declared there had been no breach, an assertion which required some qualification later in the year. (May 30; June 5)
Some public discussion about the retirement age was generated by the case of a North West teacher, who was obliged to retire at the age of 55, and could not find employment. (June 22)
Where health was concerned, Guyana was the recipient of a US$10M World Bank grant to fight AIDS in April, while earlier in the year we had reported that the caesium units purchased with the assistance of the Central Islamic Organization of Guyana were still mothballed. (January 14; April 24)
Age of consent
The convoluted case of businessman Reeaz Khan and a thirteen-year-old girl consumed many column inches of news space beginning in May. The initial case brought by the girl's aunt, in which a judge ordered Mr Khan to release the child into the joint custody of her mother and aunt, eventually spawned a series of other cases. The girl was eventually sent to the New Opportunity Corps effectively because there was nowhere else for her to go. The case did stimulate a renewed debate in the society about raising the age of consent, some human rights activists, although not all, arguing for eighteen. (May 21,22,23,28,31; June 5,6,7,8,10,11,12,15,16,17,22,23,26)
In the communications sector the government-owned television and radio stations - GTV and GBC - merged, while it was announced that the government would be setting up an all-faith TV station. (January 20,24; February 3)
The President's plan to build a cricket stadium on the East Bank received a boost from India, when that country pledged $20M towards the project, $6M of which would be in the form of a direct grant, and the remainder a soft loan. (January 20,21)
The nation found itself with two additional statutory holidays - May 5 and May 6 - following the recommendations of a committee, which also proposed the introduction of two other holidays as well. To reduce the overall total, the committee suggested abolishing Boxing Day and ceasing to grant Monday as a non-working day if the holiday fell on a Sunday. The exceptions to the latter rule under the proposals were the two new holidays. These recommendations were not taken up by the government. (April 27,29,30)
The preliminary results of the long-awaited census were unveiled in May, when Guyanese discovered that they numbered 749,190, that Berbice had seen a decline in population, and that migration had adversely affected population growth. (May 14,22)
In April, the city council and NBIC reached an agreement under which the bank would rehabilitate the Promenade Gardens over a period of five years. (April 17,22)
The police made headway in solving the mystery surrounding the death of George Bacchus, and on July 2, Deborah Douglas, the wife of Ashton King, and Delon Reynolds, the handyman at the Bacchus residence appeared in court charged with Bacchus's murder. An arrest warrant was issued for a third man, Fabian Jessop, whom the police had been unable to apprehend. He eventually surfaced at the end of the month, and appeared in court on July 29. (July 1,2,3,7,22,30)
On July 22, Ashton King was freed of the charge of murdering Shafeek Bacchus. Hours after leaving the magistrate's court he told the media that he had never been part of any death squad. Sean Hinds, however, was committed to stand trial for the murder in the high court. (July 23,30)
Traffic chaos on the East Bank in August
On July 29, President Jagdeo appointed two members of the Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate Minister Gajraj's alleged involvement in the death squad, namely, Justice of Appeal Ian Chang, and (GDF) Chief-of-Staff (retd) Norman McLean. Jagdeo named the third member as former Chancellor of the Judiciary Keith Massiah, who was to replace Chairman of the Police Service Commission Ivan Crandon. It was also announced that Gajraj would be proceeding on leave, and two weeks later, that Gail Teixeira would be acting as Minister of Home Affairs in his absence. (July 3,19)
In the second half of the year we carried reports giving more details on some death squad killings. Witnesses, however, were reluctant to identify themselves, and one of them told this newspaper they were uncertain about testifying before the commission because of safety concerns. When it released its procedures in July, the commission said that where it felt that witnesses were in need of protection, the Commissioner of Police would be asked to provide this.
The procedures were similar to those adopted at the Disciplined Forces Commission hearing. In a clarification in August following queries, the commission said that accusatory statements about Gajraj would not be made available to him, only the exculpatory ones.
The Sacred Heart Church goes up in flames on Christmas Day.
In September we reported that no statements had been tendered for the probe, and the deadline for submissions had been extended. In the end, witnesses did not come forward voluntarily, and had to be subpoenaed. (July 5,21,22,24; August 4,25;30; September 2; October 31)
Testifying before the commission in September Police Commissioner Winston Felix said that the force was prepared to offer limited witness protection if were requested.
A week later on September 22, former Commission (ag) Floyd McDonald told the panel that Axel Williams was "just a name" to him at the time he gave him a gun upgrade, and it was only after Williams died that he learnt that the man had killed food vendor Rodwell Ogle. He also said that Williams's gun upgrade had not been granted by him, but by Minister Gajraj and that the alleged hitman had received recommendations from two persons. He was not aware, he told the commissioners, whether a check had been run on Williams, but at the time of the upgrade he knew nothing adverse about his background.
While McDonald did not name the two referees in his evidence, a fortnight later we were to report attorney-at-law Basil Williams as denying that he had recommended that Axel Williams be issued with a firearm licence.
McDonald was followed on the stand by former Crime Chief Leon Trim, who informed the panel that he had no hard information about death squads, could not recall the particulars of a murder involving Axel Williams, or whether Williams had had phone contact with Gajraj. Over the question of the killing of Ogle, Trim said that if McDonald had been on duty at the time, he would have been briefed about the matter.
When Michael Gordon, the journalist who had made the tape of George Bacchus recanting his allegations against the minister gave evidence on the same day as Trim, he denied that Bacchus had been offered money in his presence, and said he did not know of anyone offering money.
At the end of October, Sergeant Jennifer Langford, the Secretary attached to the Police Commissioner's office told the enquiry that Gajraj had called the office and instructed her to prepare an approval for a gun licence for Axel Williams.
Trim was recalled to the stand at the same sitting, and in answer to a question about what the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had recommended in relation to the killing of Ogle, replied that initially a murder charge had been recommended on September 1, 2002. On September 19 then DPP Dennis Hanomansingh had requested the file urgently. It was returned to Trim on September 20 with the recommendation for an inquest, following which it was sent to the coroner, and Williams's firearm returned to him. (September 16,23,30; October 6,29)
At the beginning of November we reported the commission as being interested in former DPP Hanomansingh's testimony, but that it was understood he could not be summoned because he was overseas.
At a hearing early in the same month McDonald's personal assistant, Senior Superintendent Franklin Mingo, testified that Gajraj had made a request for a gun licence to be approved for Ashton King. Mingo also contradicted earlier testimony given by McDonald, by claiming that the former commissioner (ag) had known about Williams's involvement in the Ogle killing.
The following week a member of the public gave evidence, describing how hitmen had tried to kill her husband, while among several others who appeared to testify in the same month was former Commissioner of Police Laurie Lewis. He was questioned about the modus operandi in relation to the granting of firearm licences, and in the course of his evidence remarked that Gajraj was a formidable minister who penetrated the police force on different levels.
Subsequent to that it was the turn of Capitol News Editor Enrico Woolford. He declined to tell the panel his source for telephone records allegedly linking the minister to Axel Williams which had been made public on his newscast. The commissioners mused as to whether he should not be compelled to reveal his source, but in the event they did not go that route.
In December an office assistant at the Ministry of Home Affairs testified that his cousin and another man were mysteriously killed after they got into a car driven by Axel Williams and another suspected hitman. He also told the commissioners that Williams had visited the ministry on several occasions.
The matter of Ashton King's gun licence was revived again when Assistant Superintendent Paul Walker appeared before the commission bringing with him selected police records which it had subpoenaed. These revealed that King had been granted a licence for a shotgun in April 2003 on the recommendation of McDonald and with the approval of Gajraj. There was also an approval for a pistol on January 25 of the same year, although there was no record of any application on file.
The documentary evidence also revealed that in 2001 then Commissioner Laurie Lewis had not recommended that King's application for a licence for a .32 calibre gun be approved. The reason, said Walker, was because King had been recorded as having been involved in criminal activities and of associating with known criminals.
On the last day of the year we reported journalist Adam Harris as telling the panel that Williams had promised he would not go after city businessman Lloyd Hazel after being confronted with accusations that he had been involved in two attempts to kill him. In answer to a question Harris said he had passed information on Williams to senior policemen. (November 5,12,19; December 3,19,24,25,31)
At the beginning of July President Jagdeo issued an invitation to former US President Carter to visit Guyana; he said that he had requested that the Carter Center remain in the country in the run-up to the 2006 elections. Carter accepted the invitation, and arrived almost six weeks later on August 11.
At the end of his visit he announced that the center would not be monitoring the general election, as he did not see the need for it. The Carter Center web site reported that following his discussions with Jagdeo, the former US president was very doubtful that the PPP would commence new dialogue with the PNCR, or would share political authority with other parties. Nevertheless, he hoped that a "magnanimous gesture" by Jagdeo would kick-start the dialogue process.
At a press conference Carter told the media that the two main parties needed to take immediate steps to break the political impasse, including the implementation of agreements within the ambit of parliament.
We also reported Carter as suggesting to the diplomatic community that they could have insisted on better governance, and could have rallied to the defence of their colleague, UNDP Resident Representative Jan Sand Sorensen (see Foreign Affairs below).
(July 3,6; August 12,13,14,19,20,29)
Carter's exhortations notwithstanding, there was no progress on the dialogue or constructive engagement front following his visit, although letters went to and fro, and accusations and counter-accusations heated up the atmosphere.
However, the PNCR did return to parliament on a consistent basis following the August recess, although it was GAP/WPA member Sheila Holder who complained that parliamentary questions submitted in her name had not been placed on the Order Paper after the lapse of nine months.
In December, the government used its parliamentary majority to have a motion approved establishing a Special Select Committee to look at the question of geographical representation. The combined opposition objected, and a move to amend the motion on the grounds that the Standing Committee on Constitutional Reform was already dealing with the matter and another committee would simply represent a duplication of effort and a waste of time was not accepted. (September 1, 23; October 1; November 11; December 17)
The year ended with no agreement between the major parties on local government reform, and in early November the National Assembly once again postponed local government elections. (August 13; November 5)
Just as problematic was the issue of the electoral database, which the PPP/C insisted had been given a clean bill of health by various experts, and which the PNCR insisted was flawed. The party said its concerns had been vindicated by a story carried in our October 3 edition, which cited a new report on National Identification cards. This had found discrepancies between the data on the cards and what was carried on the Official List of Electors. In December, PPP General Secretary Donald Ramotar repeated that concerns about the database were not credible. (October 3,8,23; December 8,22)
There was also the question of electoral reform in general, with the PNCR stating that the earlier reforms were intended to cover the 2001 polls only. At the beginning of November the PPP/C gave a little ground on this subject, when it indicated a willingness to consider changes to the arrangements for geographical representation (see above). (October 10; November 2)
Where the PNCR itself was concerned, Leader Robert Corbin earned himself no plaudits from China when he visited Taiwan, although he declared later that the visit did not mean the abandonment of the party's 'One China' policy. He also denied that Taiwan had funded the visit. (July 30 August 1,4,5)
At the party's Congress in August, Corbin was returned as leader, with Winston Murray being elected chairman. Stanley Ming, it was reported, topped the vote for a place on the PNC executive. Raphael Trotman had declined all nominations, including that for party chairman. (August 1,30; September 1,7) In the final month of the year the PNCR began consultations with other political parties and groups, and social organizations with a view to reforming the country. (December 5)
Bad news for the major parties was the NACTA poll, which found widespread discontent with both the PPP/C and the PNCR. (August 26)
In July Jagdeo said he had no confidence in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative Jan Sand Sorensen, mainly because he was "...dealing in matters that I don't think were part of his remit." This newspaper's understanding was that the President was annoyed by the statement from the local UNDP office advising that all stakeholders should have been consulted about the terms of reference for the death squad inquiry and about appointees to the commission. After a period on leave, Sorensen returned to his post in September. (July 10; September 8)
In October it was announced that Guyana was proposing to reopen its mission in New Delhi. (October 14)
On the maritime arbitration front, the Attorney General said in London that the dispute could take years to resolve and could cost millions. In December the Netherlands turned down a request from Guyana for access to border files which had bearing on the maritime issue, following which this country filed a protest with the Law of the Sea Tribunal. (August 10; December 10,24,25)
The news was altogether gloomy on the sugar front, with Caricom leaders rejecting the preliminary proposal from the European Commission's Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler for 37% reductions in the price regional producers currently receive for their sugar. One week later, the EC officially unveiled its plans for sugar reform which were every bit as unpalatable as everyone expected they would be. The pill was not made any sweeter by the preliminary ruling from the World Trade Organization (WTO) the following month that European Union (EU) sugar subsidies violated international trading rules. At the end of September Caricom officially rejected the EC sugar protocol reform proposals. (July 8,15; August 5; September 30)
Rice was still confronting the traditional problems, with the Guyana Rice Development Board expressing concern about Jamaica's frequent requests for waivers on extra-regional rice imports. Local representatives of the rice industry were reported as saying that multinationals were getting preferential treatment over local producers. (September 9)
In the mining sector it was announced that the Russian company RUSAL would be investing US$20M in assets for the Berbice bauxite industry, thereby making possible the doubling of bauxite production. (December 16,17)
A more problematic project was the proposed waste management facility and recycling plant for foreign waste to be sited in Region Ten. The investors were Israeli and European, and it was reported that only household waste would be involved. There was considerable opposition to the proposal, however, and by the end of the year it had hit a Catch 22 situation. The investor would not conduct a feasibility study without a firm agreement, and the government would not provide a guarantee for the investment without an assurance that the project would be feasible and environmentally sound. (August 12; December 8)
In October we reported that the seafood sector was being hard hit by the high fuel prices, and that the members of the Guyana Association of Trawler owners and Seafood Processors had decided not to resume harvesting after their annual moratorium. They were later permitted to purchase Venezuelan fuel.
The high cost of fuel was what induced the Public Utilities Commission to permit GPL to implement an oil surcharge, which was to be reflected on December bills. There was to be a decreased charge in January.
While the government cut the diesel C-tax to 10% in October, by the end of the year, however, the cost of oil had declined sufficiently for it to be able to raise the consumption tax on fuel again. (October 3,19,23; November 6; December 1,16)
A shortage of aviation fuel grounded local flights in July, causing great inconvenience to miners and those living in interior locations. (July 4,9,11; December 11) A chicken shortage caused the government to announce the speedy processing of licences for importing the commodity (August 11), while a cement shortage meant that the government extended its waiver of the Common External Tariff on cement imports for one year. (August 26)
In November, we reported that the IMF had told the Government of Guyana that no new projects over US$10M could be contracted without a feasibility study, and that it had cited the US$25M cricket stadium as one of the projects about which it had grave doubts. It expressed anxiety about debt sustainability in the light of planned new projects, including the rehabilitation of some sugar factories and the bridge over the Berbice River.
We subsequently reported that the government had given a commitment to the IMF to limit new hiring in the core public service (excluding nurses and teachers), pursue rationalization in the sugar and bauxite industries, and limit wage increases to the projected average inflation rate.
Some days later Minister Kowlessar responded by saying that the government was working towards achieving the debt sustainability conditionalities set out by the IMF, and that the cricket stadium would continue irrespective of the requirements. (November 14,15,17) (Other cricket stadium stories were carried on July 6,29,30; August 23 and November 12.)
In good news for the administration the Dutch government cancelled a US$4.7M debt owed by Guyana, Canada cancelled the remainder of the debt owed to it, and Russia followed suit by writing off a debt of US16M. (July 8,21; December 23)
One of the stories of the year was the interest displayed by the Trinidadian giant Ansa McAl in taking over the local brewery company, Banks DIH.
When December closed, however, the Trinidadian firm still had not shown its hand.
That did not prevent a veritable blizzard of correspondence appearing in the newspapers imploring shareholders to resist blandishments from the twin-island conglomerate on the grounds of "patriotism," among other things.
We reported other commentators as pointing out that Guyana was part of the CSME, and that a hysterical response would scare away foreign investors. The Private Sector Commission was divided on the issue, Robert Corbin said that the lure of Ansa McAl should be resisted, and Jagdeo declined comment. In the meantime, the Banks workers picketed the local office of the Trinidadian company.
On December 14 we reported a rise in Banks pre-tax profits, a day after the government's decision to raise the consumption tax on alcoholic beverages was made public. (November 18,30; December 8,10,11,12,13,14,15,17,18,19,21,23)
The road fatality figure showed little evidence of declining in 2004, one of the victims being a World Bank official who died after the vehicle in which she was travelling plunged into a trench. (December 7)
There were also plenty fires to keep the Guyana Fire Service busy, among the more serious being one which razed a Coldingen furniture factory in December. A major conflagration destroyed the Metropole Cinema, the Channel 6 bulding and Chetsons in September, and an equally disastrous one on Christmas Day levelled the historic Sacred Heart Church, the presbytery, the school and neighbouring storage buildings. The fire, which began in the crib of a nativity scene, also destroyed documents dating back to the opening of the church in 1861.
Following the Metropole fire, where eyewitnesses reported the flames leapt along electricity wires, it was reported that five out of six hydrants in the city were out of order. (September 7 (Special Edition),8,12; December 16,28)
The Buxton problem remained for the duration of the second half of the year, with shooting deaths, armed robberies, roaming bicycle gangs and the terrorizing of families in villages such as Coldingen, Non Pareil and Annandale very much in evidence. At the end of August a gang shot a nine-year-old child dead in Coldingen, and two nights later three men were shot to death and six injured. Among the victims who were killed in Buxton itself were two policemen. The crime resurgence on the East Coast caused some residents to abandon their homes once again. (July 5,17; August 4,16,18,19,29,31; September 1,2,7,16; October 15,16,18,20; December 17,20,23,28)
In early July DNA tests confirmed that skeletal remains which had been found in Bare Root were those of taxi driver Vivekanand Nandalall, who had been kidnapped in October 2003. His family had paid the ransom demanded, but he had still not been released. Some months later a man was charged with his murder. (July 3; November 30)
It was not just in Buxton that gun violence flourished; there was a considerable number of armed robberies and murders involving firearms outside the East Coast context. This was in addition to the more commonplace stabbings and 'choppings.' They included the case of an Agricola taxi driver riddled with bullets, a West Demerara drive-by shooting, the shooting to death of a sandpit employee, the gunning down of a man in the Palm Court, etc. (July 10,21,25,26,27,30,31; August 5,15; September 2,18,21; October 1,2,9,12,27,28; November 8,11,20,21,24,25,26,30; December 14,15,16,19,21,25)
A coup for the police was the seizure of high-tech weapons and ammunition from a Bel Air Village business place in September. The men held included policemen. (September 3,4)
There were some large-scale drug busts in the second half of the year, including one by Netherlands officials who found an estimated US$38M worth of cocaine hidden inside drums of Guyana molasses in the port of Rotterdam. In December, it was the turn of the UK authorities who seized US$54.5M worth of cocaine concealed in coconuts originating from this country. It was reported to be the largest ever seizure of the drug in London. This was in addition to local hauls, including one involving a Venezuelan at Ogle airport, and further instances of cocaine in fish as well as in letters. We reported the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as saying that Guyana was now a major transit point for cocaine entering Canada, while an October story said that four tons of drugs had exited Guyana in 2001-02.
The US authorities finally moved to extradite three Guyanese wanted in connection with ongoing investigations into drug trafficking and murder, among other things. However, the police were unable to serve arrest warrants on the three men because they could not be located. (July 2,3,6,9,16,19,20; August 25,27; September 17; October 3,17,18,24,26; December 6,7,11)
Gender-based violence and abuse of children seemed on the increase in the second half of the year. In some instances teenagers were murdered by partners who were reported to have abused them prior to their deaths. There were also some horrific reports of violence perpetrated against children.
In the second half of the year, as in the first, police failed to apprehend Neil Bovell, wanted for murdering his reputed wife, among other crimes, and who was again spotted in the Stanleytown area. (July 16,20,22; August 5,16,17; September 4,11; October 12,20,27; December 5)
In a case dating back to 2002, two men were found not guilty of murdering former Shaheed Boys' Orphanage resident Rahim Abdool on August 4. Another boy who was a key witness in the case was reported to have been missing for a year-and-a-half. (August 5,9,16)
In September two Foreign Ministry clerks were charged in the remigration scam. (September 4)
The other case which absorbed public attention in the second half of the year, was the unauthorized export of dolphins and anteaters. At the beginning of July it was reported that McNeal Enterprises, a company owned by Presidential Adviser Odinga Lumumba was behind the exports; some months later the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) said that this entity was not registered to export wildlife.
Cabinet Secretary, Dr Roger Luncheon publicly denied having instructed Head of the Wildlife Division Khellawan to allow the export, saying that a letter he had written to him merely set out under what conditions it should be undertaken.
In a statement in mid-July, the Board of Management of the Guyana Wildlife Authority said that Khellawan had exceeded his authority in allowing various species of mammals to be exported without the requisite authorization, and without informing the board. By this time Khellawan had already been fired.
There was a coda to the story. The OAG in October cited a number of irregularities associated with the transaction, and recommended that the Office of the President should not be associated with the Wildlife Division. It also cleared Luncheon of authorizing the export. The Auditor General Anand Goolsarran was on leave when that report appeared, but in a release he said that this "special report" would be reviewed by the Audit Office.
This brought a reaction from the President in the form of a letter signed by Permanent Secretary Jennifer Webster who described the work of the Audit Office "as patently shoddy and unprofessional." Goolsarran described this comment as improper, since the Office of the Auditor General was a constitutional office. Reference was also made to a telephone conversation Luncheon had had with Goolsarran in which he had accused the Auditor General of being out to head-hunt him. The Cabinet Secretary subsequently denied charges of interference in the work of the Audit Office. On the last day of December we reported that Goolsarran was seeking voluntary retiement from January 20, 2005. (July 2,8,10,11,14,15,18,23,28; August 2,7; October 7,12,20,21; December 31)
The problem with the CXC papers raised its head again in August, despite the fact that Minister Jeffrey had assured the public in early July that there had been no leak. However, the following month it was announced that the results had been withheld while allegations of widespread tampering were being investigated. In the end it was found that a few copies of the Integrated Science paper had been sold prior to the examination, along with fake copies of the Maths paper.
The results, when they were finally released in mid-September, gave no cause for joy. While there had been improvement in some areas, the number of those who obtained Grades 1-3 in English A and Mathematics had fallen below fifty per cent. (July 1; August 20,22,25; September 9,14,17)
The SSEE results gave no great cause for celebration either, given that 11,000 pupils who sat the exam - 62.7% of the total - would need remedial work, according to a Ministry of Education official. In October, a remedial school was opened for Common Entrance underachievers. In addition, it was said that there were no secondary places for 5,000 of those who took SSEE, although Jeffrey gave the assurance that places would be found. At the end of August, however, thousands of parents were still seeking to have their children allocated to schools. (July 7,8; September 1; October 30)
The long awaited trial of Mark Benschop for treason eventually got under way with the empanelling of a jury in November. The trial proper began in December, but ended with a hung jury. A new trial was ordered. Subsequently we published a report that Attorney General Doodnauth Singh had written the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) after the trial had commenced questioning why trial judge, Justice Winston Moore and DPP (ag) Roxanne George had not followed the judgement of Justice Jainarayan Singh Jr which said that accused persons should be tried in the chronological order of the date of their committals, or as otherwise ordered by a judge. He asked the JSC to look into the matter. (November 11,14,16,17,18; December 1,2,3,7,8,10,11,13,17,18)
In November it was reported that Chief Magistrate Juliet Holder-Allen was facing disciplinary charges; she subsequently went on leave to facilitate a probe. (November 8,19,20,23)
In the same month we reported that Chancellor Desiree Bernard and Director of the Caricom Legislative Drafting Facility Duke Pollard were to be appointed judges in the new Caribbean Court of Justice. Parliament had earlier approved a bill making the CCJ Guyana's final court of appeal. (November 5,20)
At the municipal level, a court got under way on November 1 to deal with offences under the city bye-laws. The public was informed that the fine for litterbugs had been increased to $10,000. (October 31; November 7)
* The US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS relief made available another US$34M for Guyana's fight against HIV/AIDS. (July 10)
* It was revealed that 300 nurses were leaving the country every year. (July 13)
* Parliament passed the Trafficking in Persons bill. (August 6)
* It was announced that Guyana was to share in the US$12.6M Global Fund for AIDS. (September 1)
* A report was carried that the Groete Creek was murky from mining operations. (October 17)
* The New Amsterdam hospital funded by the Japanese opened five months before schedule. (October 29)
* A report stated that there was a backlog of nearly 5,000 patients waiting for cataract surgery. (November 21)
* Parliament raised the age of consent for girls to 16. (December 10)
* Figures showed that there was an increase in the incidence of HIV among Guyanese women. (December 1)
* Overseas Guyanese visiting their homeland for Christmas landed minus their suitcases owing to cargo-hold problems on BWIA aircraft, among other things. (December 10,20,21,22,23,24,25,29)
* Government circulated the new draft Amerindian Act. (December 19,20,21,29) Deaths Dr Walter Chin (July 6) Umblita van Sluytman (July 30) Chekama Skeete (August 6) T Anson Sancho (August 20) Prince Wills (September 18) Nagasar Sawh (October 9) Dr Peter Arjoon (October 31) Former Chief Justice Rudolph Harper (November 1) Patrick Denny (November 13) Ramdial Bookmohan (November 16) Hutton Archer (November 27) Bertie Chancellor (December 10) Former Deputy Mayor Ramesh Kissoon (December 31)
This page is part of Guyana News and Information.
© Copyright (http://www.guyana.org)