High Commissioner to India, Ronald Gajraj.
the idiosyncrasies of spoken and written Hindi, and trying to convert his
taste buds to north Indian cuisine, he seeks to get Indian experts to come
down here for training programmes to boost the security sector, despite
significant developments since he was forced out of office by the diplomatic
not a question of being wrongly accused. It was definitely a political move
that picked up some momentum from those who were opposed to the government,”
he says of the “phantom” squad allegations that saw protesters even
outside his Bel Air, Georgetown, home, where he was earlier chastised for not
knowing dangerous criminals were his neighbours.
idea of a phantom group has always bothered me. What is a phantom group?” he
asks, settling in for a candid discussion with the Sunday Chronicle.
former minister was in Guyana for the visit of a high level Indian mission,
led by Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, Mrs. Shashi Tripathi.
resigned as Minister of Home Affairs at the end of May last year after the
diplomatic community voiced strong objections to him being returned to the
position, with the U.S. even threatening cutting certain programmes. He was on
leave for the 11 months a Presidential Commission of Inquiry took to clear him
of allegations that he was involved in a “phantom” death squad.
Chang-led Commission, however, found that he was guilty of serious procedural
irregularities, including contact with suspected criminals, and issuing gun
licenses. The international
felt that was enough reason for him to be relieved of his duties, and
despite strong backings from President Bharrat Jagdeo, Gajraj asked to demit
office, just the same when he asked for the inquiry to be carried out and
proceeded on leave.
Commissioner Gajraj (left) with members of visiting Indian team and
their local counterparts last week at the Providence Stadium.
what I ought to have done,” he declares of his actions at a time when he
acknowledges public confidence in the Guyana Police Force was at its lowest
and when Policemen, scared for their lives, might have acted hastily.
“One must appreciate the limitations under which we were operating,” he counters. The Police Service Commission had not sat for some time and promotions could not be adequately addressed. The Police Force had a smaller number of officers then, and they were not equipped to deal with the sophisticated methods of the criminals, he said of the 2002/3 crime wave that saw Georgetown transformed into a ghost town at nights.
had cause to believe that certain criminal elements were being imported in the
country to carry out certain nefarious activities,” he says, adding that
vehicles were modified to provide some degree of security for the criminals.
remembers a situation at Nabaclis, East Coast Demerara when a criminal was
found with a bullet proof vest that had certain modifications. He recalls too
at Ogle, also on the East Coast, when the vehicle in which a Trinidadian was
travelling, had a steel plate affixed to the backseat to provide protection to
had certain crimes committed by certain people with overseas connections. It
created some worry…Anxiety within the force mounted,” he admits.
on patrol were very apprehensive, he says, and self-preservation, being the
first law of nature, they took certain courses of action that were “a little
impatient” because it was a question of fearing for their lives.
came under fire from weapons in the hands of criminals who had no rules and
regulations by which they were governed,” he explains.
two years under Minister Gail Teixeira, he says there have been many
improvements, with tremendous resources plugged into the Police Force. He said
he helped acquire armoured vehicles and rapid response types from India. With
the acquisition of more firearms and matching ammunition, the Force has been
better able to do its job, he acknowledged.
latter part of 2004, crime had abated significantly, social life was restored,
and decency had returned to the capital.
water has passed on under the bridge. There has been fear and anxiety and
different points. Minister Gail Teixeira is doing her best to deal with the
situation,” he says.
easy for people on the outside to be critical, but if they were better
informed, their views of him might have been different, he suggests.
that the media had a part to play in the events that led up to his having to
clear his Brickdam, Georgetown office, which was channa bombed during the
allegations against him were levelled by a self-confessed informant, who
suffered personal loss, and in order to attract publicity, “he would have
identified, as he did, some senior person.” He is clear that the press at
that time, “seeking to grasp at anything that would create some
sensationalism,” latched on to the issue and blew it out of proportion.
have done what I did within the confines of the law,” he maintains. He was
not home during the period of anxiety and fear when Minister Satyadeow Sawh,
his siblings Rajpat Rai and Pulmattie Persaud, and guard Curtis Robertson were
slain at Earl’s Court, LBI.
doesn’t want to say much on the issue, except that Minister Sawh lived at an
area that probably lent itself much easier to the commission of criminal
activity without detection.
refused also to speculate on whether the killings were politically or
criminally motivated. However, he bases his take on the issue on the fact that
ballistics tests showed that the weapons used in the April 24 attack were the
same that were used in a massacre at Agricola on the East Bank of Demerara
earlier in the year.
posits it does not mean that since the same weapons were used, the same
operatives used them, but he said it would not be unreasonable to infer that.
SECURITY AND UPCOMING ELECTIONS
Looking to the upcoming elections, Gajraj has more of a concern, rather than a fear, of the violence which has plagued the polls since 1992. He was appointed in 1999 and so knows well of the experiences of 2001. In fact, the day he was being sworn into office in early April that year, an entire city block went up in flames in uncontrollable anti-government protests.
President has said the security forces would be on alert and deployed as
necessary. I think people have grown to realise that elections are the main
planks on which our democracy rests, and they have begun to recognise the
importance of elections and to ensure that it is peaceful, free and fair, and
free from fear,” he says.
demitted office at the end of May 2005, President Jagdeo named him High
Commissioner to India. He left unceremoniously. No official announcement was
made. It was perhaps for good reason. A controversy that started to seep in
after it was leaked to the media, died down quickly.
as an integral part of the government as Minister of Home Affairs, and he took
on the new appointment with similar pride.
Affairs is a very important ministry; to be given the opportunity to represent
one’s country is a signal honour,” he says.
was intrigued too by vast India. With over a billion people and an emerging
super power, he was being assigned to New Delhi to cash in on India’s
changing fortunes. The High Commission was closed in 1991, but with two visits
by President Jagdeo, the decision was taken to reopen the High Commission,
especially so given India’s US$20M financing of the Providence Cricket
Stadium being built to host the quarter final matches of Cricket World Cup
2007. Gajraj saw first hand the construction last week when he visited with
admires India and its unique standing in the world. Having emerged out of a
perilous economic state in the early 90’s to a booming economy, India, under
the leadership of economist Manmohan Singh, is on an upward trend, growing at
eight per cent per annum.
similarities between Guyana and India – both former colonies of the British
- and with an agriculture base. India has a lot of potential that Guyana can
was hand in hand with the discussions in Georgetown last week that will see
new projects for Guyana. Upon his return to New Delhi, he will focus his
energies on these, one being the establishment of an Information and
Communications Technologies (ICT) village for Guyana.
Tripathi’s visit, the Indian government has expressed willingness to explore
this possibility and he intends to pursue it aggressively, including securing
the hardware and other logistics that would be necessary for implementation.
ICT village can be a reality in the very near future,” he said
Trade between Guyana and India has improved. He did not have direct figures to be quoted, but says it is significant. Reflecting on the India trade fair last year and this year, he says 100 businessmen came down to showcase their products.
he has spoken with both Guyanese and Indian businessmen who have expressed
interest in doing business, and the result, he is sure, can only redound to
the benefit of both countries. There is an increase in trade of forestry
products, and Guyana is looking at a request to have sugar sold to India.
too wants to see the number of Guyanese benefiting from free training in India
increased. One hundred students are pursuing studies in various disciplines in
India, but he wants to see more there.
Gajraj’s plan is to see Indian experts come to Guyana to conduct training
programmes in various fields, including security and culture.
a large number of persons will benefit this way, as opposed to one person
travelling to India to study a particular field.
is doing that, Gajraj is also working on getting Guyana known in India, not
only in New Delhi, but in Mumbai, Chennai and other key states. In fact, he
says Guyanese studying in India are doing their lot.
informs too that there are several Non-Governmental Organisations that are
friendly with the Guyana High Commission. A Guyana-India Friendly Relations
Association has been set up and this year organised celebrations for Arrival
Day and Independence Day.
from controversy, Gajraj is brimming with the successes of Guyana-India
Sunday, July 23, 2006