Opposition, NGOs wage campaign to force Dharamlall out; Jagdeo refuses to address calls

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 June 2023, 18:50 by Denis Chabrol

PNCR-APNU supporters on a picketing demonstration outside the Office of the President.

The opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR)-led A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and women’s rights organisation, Red Thread, on Thursday continued to vent their frustration at government’s response to the damning alleged rape of a 16-year old schoolgirl by Local Government Minister Nigel Dharamlall.

With the teen still in protective care of the State, all eyes are now on the advice that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) would give after she examines the case file that police submitted Thursday morning.

Mr Dharamlall has denied the allegations through his lawyer, Nigel Hughes.

Outside the Office of the President, about 45 supporters of PNCR-APNU, Alliance For Change and the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) held placards and chanted slogans. WPA’s executive member Dr David Hinds said Mr Dharamlall has had a number of infractions including 0ne in the National Assembly. “Talking about a dildo in Parliament against a female parliamentarian is a crime and now he has gotten caught because we in the opposition have decided that we are not going to take it anymore and so this government is guilty and so we have to press not just for Dharamlall to be taken out of government. We have to press for this government to go,” said Dr Hinds.

Their placards read, among other slogans, “Shame on you” accompanied by the pictures of Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai, Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs, Gail Teixeira,  and Education Minister Priya Manickchand, “For an impartial investigation, Mr Dharamlall must be asked to step down”, “Protect our girls from rapists, predators must go,” “Irfaan send home Dharamlall now” and “Saying nothing is saying something.”

The protesters were joined by a group of Amerindians and their children. PNCR General Secretary Dawn Hastings-Williams, an Amerindian who hails from the hinterland, said they were vulnerable because of their social status and their places of residence. “Persons in high authority have taken advantage of our little girls and we cannot allow the advantage to continue over and over. It must stop at once and we are also asking for the minister (allegedly) involved to go,” she said. Ms Williams lamented the “unacceptable” silence of Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai and said she should resign if she would not say anything.

Red Thread members on the picket line outside the Arthur Chung Conference Centre where the Caribbean Court of Justice was in session.

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo declined to react to the specific calls by APNU and others for Mr Dharamlall to be asked to resign or be fired from his ministerial post, instead opting to await the outcome of the one-week probe into the allegations that first surfaced on Social Media. Instead, Mr Jagdeo accused APNU of seeking to divert attention from its electoral performance in the recent local polls and alleged in-fighting over the appointment of Mayors and Deputy Mayors in Georgetown and Linden. APNU has since described a News Room report on that as “fake”. He said government had not intervened to “subvert the course of justice”.

“This is a vile group; they are only active if they perceive there’s a weakness in the PPP (People’s Progressive Party). They’ve had some of the most vile molesters I saw them dragging people from Region Nine; some of our activists via new posts,” he said. A Facebook video of two women reading statements to dismiss the claims were posted on Wednesday.

But Dr Hinds believed that the stage was being set for Mr Dharamlall, who is on GY$1 million station bail, to be exonerated. He flayed the female ministers, sections of the religious community and the international community for being silent on the issue.

Shadow Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Roysdale Forde questioned the independence of the Guyana Police Force from political control that could lead to the charging and eventual conviction of Mr Dharamlall, a PPP executive member. “I’m particularly concerned that from the point of view of the interest of justice, that this is one that is not likely to produce a situation of justice for this young girl, her family,” he said.  He recommended that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) relinquish control of the case and hire an international lawyer to review the statements.

After recanting the initial allegations against Minister Dharamlall, the teenaged girl restated her accusations after the Child Care and Protection Agency of the Ministry of Human Services filed a police complaint.

As the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) held hearings at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC), Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown, Jean La Rose of the Amerindian People’s Association (APA),  hoped that the system would be transparent to address allegations like this one. “It comes back to us wanting to see a fair system put in place, that access to justice is fair, and that there are no blockages in place,” she said. Ms La Rose said the complainant should have access to her own lawyer and the conditions are created for a fair hearing.

Red Thread’s Joy Marcus  questioned the conditions of the State care for the complainant while the accused was at home on bail. “In my opinion this child is being treated like a criminal because she is locked away. She doesn’t have a right to her freedom although a wrong has been done to her … That doesn’t seem like any protection while the perpetrator is free,” she said. Ms Marcus hoped that more complainants would come forward.

Other placards outside the ACCC read, “Not one time, not two time. Over and 0ver. We must protect our children,” “We demand justice for the teenager,” “The child has a right to legal representation of her choice,” and “Does state protection mean isolation?”,