How can one countermand something one does not know about?
It was surprising to access last Sunday’s internet edition of the Kaieteur News and read a letter from one of Guyana’s political elders, Mr. Eusi Kwayana.
In the past, Mr. Kwayana’s letters only appeared in the Stabroek News. For some unstated reason he never sent his many letters on local issues to the Kaieteur News. Last Sunday’s letter broke with that practice.
It made reference to the fatal shooting on July 18, last, of three persons in Linden. In that letter published last Sunday, Kwayana asked the strange question as to why the incumbent Minister of Home Affairs did not do what the former Minister of Home Affairs Balram Singh Rai was reportedly said to have done in 1962, that is, countermand a decision of the then Commissioner of Police who had allegedly given orders to open fire on protesters.
Whether this actual countermanding ever took place is of course dependent on the accuracy of the source of the transcript of the alleged conversation which is said to have occurred in 1962.
In the book “Against the Grain” the alleged conversation between the Commissioner and the then Minister of Home Affairs Rai, was detailed with surprising precision. It is therefore suspected that the source of the alleged countermanding may have been attributable to Rai, the former Minister of Home Affairs in the PPP government of 1961.
The conversation allegedly went as follows:
Rai: Commissioner! You are the Commissioner of Police?
Rai: ”And I am the Commander in Chief?”
Rai: ”I am countermanding your order.”
Commissioner: “Very well, Sir?”
Kwayana used the contents of this conversation to question why the present Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee did not countermand the decision to shoot at the protesters in Linden.
It is quite a ridiculous and irresponsible question, because there is no evidence available that the present Home Affairs Minister knew about a decision to shoot at the protesters. Not even his harshest critics in Guyana, who have moved a motion of no- confidence in him in the parliament, have suggested that the present Minister of Home Affairs knew that there was such an order given. So how can one countermand what one does not know about?
There is equally nothing in the public domain to even suggest that such an order was ever given. So why ask such an absurd question?
If Kwayana’s reference to 1962 is for the purposes of comparing how one minister in 1962 dealt with the police, as against how the incumbent minister dealt with the present force, the example is off-mark.
Such a comparison depends on context. The context in which the alleged countermanding took place in 1962 was different from those of July 18, last.
Kwayana notes that in 1962 there was no shooting at protesters. He noted that five alleged looters and a bystander were killed, but no protesters. He did not mention whether he felt the protests in 1962 were violent.
In 1962, there were violent protests in the city. There was rioting and arson. From reports in the media, these elements were not present prior to the shooting in Linden on July 18, last.
During the violent protests in Georgetown in 1962, a senior superintendent of police was killed and two others wounded.
In Against the Grain, it was said that when Rai was going to lunch he saw a group of protesters outside of parliament acting in a hostile manner. Later, it was said, Rai was told by the Commissioner of Police that the protesters were planning to storm parliament buildings. It was during this conversation that Rai had reportedly learnt that the then top cop had given orders to fire on the protesters. These were the alleged circumstances of the alleged and still unsubstantiated conversation between Rai and then Commissioner.
So if the conversation did take place in 1962, it took place in a context in which the then Home Affairs minister had knowledge of a decision to fire at protesters in the context of violent protests. There is no indication that the present Home Affairs minister had such knowledge, or in the absence of violent protests, could have anticipated that there would have been a confrontation between the police and the protesters on the Wismar-Mackenzie Bridge.
The issue of who shot the protesters in Linden, whether live rounds were used, who knew and who did not know, will have to be determined during the ongoing police probe or the Commission of Inquiry into the shootings. Kwayana in the meantime seems to have made up his mind about the answers to some of these questions.