A COMMISSION OF INQUIRY SHOULD BE HELD INTO THE BRIDGE COLLAPSE
A section of the Demerara Harbour Bridge collapsed yesterday causing major disruptions of traffic to and from West Demerara. There will be serious economic losses as a result of this problem.
This fact alone should result in a commission of inquiry to be launched to probe just what went wrong, who should be held culpable for what went wrong, and what action needs to be taken to put things right.
The problem may from a technical point of view be a minor one. It is has been said that the bridge should be fixed within two days. This is quite unlike the days when sections of the bridge would float away and disrupt traffic for weeks.
But despite the fact that the bridge is likely to reopen in a matter of forty eight hours, the inconvenience that was experienced demands that the government obtains answers and that the public is satisfied about those answers.
An incident that leads to such grave inconvenience requires a commission of inquiry. This should have already been announced. It has not yet, because the government is not familiar with the conventions that should exist when problems of this nature arises, and therefore sees commissions of inquiry as being reserved for far more serious incidents.
The British left us with that tradition intact. The many commissions that the British launched into social and economic conditions in the then colony brought about lasting changes and improvements in the country. The Moyne Commission and the Venn Commission were just two examples of commission that were established to look into wider economic and social conditions in the colony.
Even though the British had the interests of the planters to defend, they were fair enough to institute commissions that allowed the workers and their representatives to make submissions to the commissions of inquiry. Even when the workers interests were often overlooked in the final report, there was at least some recognition accorded to the grievances, and a record of the submissions by workers and their representatives formed part of the official record.
After independence, this practice of having commissions of inquiry to address serious concerns went into neglect, no doubt out of the fear of ruling politicians that the findings of such commissions would embarrass them and constitute political liabilities.
In 1978, over nine hundred American citizens committed mass suicide in the jungles of Guyana. Yet, the government of the day refused to have an investigation into this tragedy which placed Guyana in infamy on the world stage. It got worse much later, especially under the Jagdeo administration, when there were massacres in the country and a stubborn reluctance on the part of the government to have these inquired into. The failure to have commissions of inquiry has in turn led to serious suspicions and generated unwarranted speculation.
Commissions of Inquiry were primarily conceived to answer questions, so that instead of their being a web of conspiracy theories being spun, there could be an investigation to unearth facts which could then provide answers. This is the foremost value of commissions of inquiry and the main reason why they should be encouraged: they can bring an end to speculation.
Despite not agreeing with many of the commissions of inquiriy that were launched under colonial Guyana, Cheddi Jagan had a profound appreciation of their value.
One of his first acts when he returned to power after his twenty–eight year vigil in the opposition was to launch a commission of inquiry into the disturbances during the 1992 elections. Strangely, the findings of that report were never made public. Neither was a satisfactory explanation given as to reasons why the report has not been released to the public.
Cheddi later launched a commission of inquiry into a sea defence project and that report was made public. But after Cheddi left, commissions of inquiry became an extinct species. The last one that was held was an inquiry into death squad allegations. This findings of that inquiry exonerated the then Minister of Home Affairs. There was also a commission of inquiry into a jailbreak.
It therefore is a positive sign that the government has so willingly agreed to a commission of inquiry into the events in Linden. It is a good start to the Donald Ramotar administration and it is hoped that there can be a similar inquiry into the collapse of the bridge.