A number of commissions of inquiry have been launched by the government. But very few of the reports of these inquiries have been made public. This is one of the reasons why there are grave misgivings over the findings of these Commissions of Inquiry (COIs).
The introduction of COIs raised expectations of improved governance. It was expected that these COIs would contribute to improving transparency and accountability. Instead of politically-tainted interpretations of events, COIs offer the chance for impartial and independent determination of facts.
The principal function of a commission of inquiry is to ascertain facts. Incidental to this search for the truth is the possibility of recommendations being made. But that is only a secondary function to the primary mission of seeking to find causes and explanations for what happened.
The government has made a mess of the commissions of inquiry. It has treated them unfortunately as state secrets. The report of the COI into the death of the late historian Walter Rodney, had to be leaked to be made public, and the full report is still not available for the public to read. An important commission of inquiry was the one dealing with the public service. This report has not yet been made public or if it has, it is not widely available.
The report has implications for the conditions of service for public servants. The unions should have been pressing for the findings to be publicized, so that these can form the basis for demands on the government.
There was an investigation into the movement of a vessel in Guyana’s waters prior to that vessel being intercepted overseas with narcotics. The findings have not been made public, even though there has been a shake-up at the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit, which has created the perception that the shake-up was related to the findings of the COI.
There was a COI launched into education. Snippets of that report have been made public but the full report, like so many others, remains a state secret.
The government is not bound by any recommendation, but the fact that government has in some instances acted contrary to the recommendations contained in the COIs and, in other instances, not acted at all on some of the more urgent recommendations, has called into question the use of COIs to inform policy decisions.
The government is sending mixed signals. In the case of GuySuCo, it has acted contrary to the findings of the COI. In other cases, the public has been unable to gauge the quality of some of the findings.
A number of these reports were done by persons without a legal background. The public has an interest in assessing how some commissioners assessed and weighed the evidence. The public also has an interest in examining to what extent the findings are based on verifiable evidence.
In the case of the COI into the education sector, a number of findings were reportedly made. But the question being asked is: to what extent were these findings based on quantitative data rather than opinions? The public is at sea in trying to determine the quality of the reports and the validity of many of the findings, because the reports are being treated as state secrets.
This is not the only concern. A graver issue is selectivity. COIs have been conveniently applied. The Rodney commission of inquiry was halted after the evidence became embarrassing to the PNCR. A commission of inquiry was launched into a police investigation when a simple independent review of the matter would have sufficed.
But no COI has been launched into the collection and use of funds which were used to construct the D’Urban Park facility; no COI was launched into the rental of a bond for the storage of pharmaceuticals and no COI was launched into the Pradoville matter.
The government has discredited its own COIs by the selective manner in which it has employed this mechanism. There is still time for the administration to redeem itself on this question. All the reports of the COIs should be laid in parliament and then made public.
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