The accusation involving Minister Nigel Dharamlall has become a matter of much public interest since it was revealed on social media. The accusation was graphic and is very serious. It was a matter that could not easily be written about because it was fast moving and involved police investigations which are still continuing. It is always wise to stay away from ongoing criminal investigations because of the danger that they may be jeopardized by a rash or inappropriate comment. There were also competing national events of interest such as the escape of Royden Williams, called “Smallie” and an analysis of the results of the just completed local government elections and what they meant for the general elections in 2025. At the international level, the loss of the “Titan,” a submersible, and five lives, by a ‘catastrophic implosion’ in the North Atlantic, on its way down the ocean to view the wreck of the Titanic and the loss of hundreds of lives of migrants just over a week ago as the result of the sinking of an overloaded fishing vessel are international events which have attracted much international attention and merited comments. Underwater exploration and the plight of refugees are very important matters that compete for attention with national issues.
One commentator last week, when I wrote about “The Singularity,” aggressively challenged me to write about the “rape,” in a tone that suggested that the reason I did not was because I have a political agenda, which requires me to stay away from matters that might embarrass the Government or its members as if, in relation to the accusation against Minister Dharamlall, the Government was responsible or has something to hide, or Minister Dharamlall is already guilty as accused. In fact, as soon as the matter became public, the Government acted. Many may believe that the Government should do, or should have done, more. But this is still a developing situation, as explained below, and no doubt the Government is awaiting developments.
The accusation against Minister Dharamlall has assumed national proportions, as is expected, because he is a Minister of the Government and the accusation is serious. Much has been said publicly and there have also been demands for his resignation. Instead, he has been sent on administrative leave, which means that he remains a Minister, receiving his substantial pay, and presumably his extensive benefits. The statement by the President on the matter suggested that he acceded to the request of Minister Dharamlall to go on administrative leave. In other words, the option to go on administrative leave was Minister Dharamlall’s. It is reminiscent of the ‘agreement’ of then High Commissioner, Charrandas Persaud, to be relocated from his post as High Commissioner to India as a result of using unacceptable language to an Indian citizen. What if the then High Commissioner did not agree to relocate, or Minister Dharamlall did not request to go on administrative leave? What would the President have done in the face of such allegations?
Governments in Guyana are averse to taking action against their members when accusations of wrongdoing, emerge. Various reasons exist for this. These include personal friendship, political loyalty, saving face, sustaining political support and others. In larger countries with developed standards, much less serious accusations result in resignations. An allegation of rape would certainly have resulted in a resignation. Where the allegation is of a lesser nature, or where the allegation is not proved, the official is eventually re-appointed to office. This also happens where an official resigns on account of policy disagreement. Resignation, therefore, does not result in inevitable political demise. But in Minister Dharamlall’s case, the nature of the allegations and political considerations demanded an immediate response.
The main opposition party and some sections of civil society are demanding the resignation of Minister Dharamlall. This is to be expected with a political opposition anywhere in the world. But if Minister Dharamlall remains on administrative leave, what happens if he is charged and is committed by way of preliminary inquiry to trial at the High Court before a judge and jury? Such a trial would take a few years to be brought up for hearing, having regard to the backlog of cases. Would Minister Dharamlall be retained as a Minister of the Government on administrative leave for years until the trial, or until there are elections, if these come first? Would he campaign in the elections? If the PPP returns to office, would he be reappointed and once again placed on administrative leave? And what would the PPP say to the Amerindian electorate, from which it obtains a critical portion of its support, in its election campaign?
It is unlikely that these matters have engaged the President. Most likely, consideration would not have moved beyond the tense awaiting of the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions on what advice to give to the Police. If the advice is that no offence is disclosed, that would be the end of the matter legally, but would it be the end politically? Would Minister Dharamlall be returning to his post? These several conundrums place the Government between “a rock and a hard place.”