Friday, February 1 2013
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TESTIFIED: Former Acting Clerk of the House of Representatives Raphael Herbert Cumberbatch....
PARLIAMENT staff were the unsung heros of July 1990, former Acting Clerk of the House of Representatives Raphael Herbert Cumberbatch said yesterday as he criticised former politicians for not coming forward to testify at the Commission of Inquiry into the 1990 Attempted Coup.
In addition to being caught in the line of fire as Jamaat al Muslimeen insurgents attacked the Red House legislative chamber, Cumberbatch noted before Enquiry chairman Sir David Simmons that in the days after July 27, 1990, Parliament staff had to prepare for the August 10, 1990, debate on the state of emergency which was declared, a debate that was mandatory under the Constitution.
The former Acting Clerk said that without the assistance of staff which included Dawn Dolly, the Parliament Clerk II; two Hansard reporters; the Sergeant-at-Arms and librarian Gertrude James, the Parliament would not have been able to hold its emergency session at the temporary location of the Central Bank auditorium.
“I could not do my job unless they supported me and I think they are among the unsung heroes of 1990,” Cumberbatch said, testifying at the CCJ Headquarters, Henry Street in Port-of-Spain. “They came out under very difficult circumstances and served creditably. Some of them actually fell down and had to be hospitalised because of the impact of a jet passing over the Central Bank. The noise of a jet tripped a female staffer who had to be hospitalised in the middle of the debate of the state of emergency extension!”
The former acting clerk noted that staff had to endure terrible conditions for months. “Conditions in the Red House were so bad for months,” he said. “One could not exist in there long after the Coup had ended because the odour (of decaying bodies) still lingered. All of the staff still came out as best they could in order to support the clerkship and to do what was necessary. In order to get to the Central Bank we first had to go into the Red House and take out things in order to facilitate the operation of the Parliament elsewhere.”
“We owe these people a debt of gratitude and we continue to owe them a debt of gratitude,” he said. Cumberbatch - who was on duty in the chamber at the sitting of July 27, 1990 — recalled gunmen storming the building.
“It was very clear that the gunshots were being aimed upward,” he said, noting that portions of the gesso ceiling, remnants of chandeliers and shattered light fixtures began to come down.
“I was on the ground, trying to leave the chamber with my life,” he said. “Then, at that stage, everything came to a surreal stop and you could hear the gunmen shouting, ‘Allah u Ackbar!’” His first attempt to leave the chamber was unsuccessful. “For a while I lay there,” he said. “One of the guys was sitting on my back with a gun pointed at my head.” Then one of the gunmen called him out by his middle-name, a name known only to those closest to him.
“Clearly, the person knew who I was from home,” he said. “As events would have it, that person was Bilaal Abdullah whom I knew as Richard Bradshaw. I did not know he had converted to Islam. He would be the last person in my mind behind those glasses and beard.”
Cumberbatch said, the gunman — whom he identified as Bilal Abdullah — said, “We ain’t come for you. We come for them. You could go.” But another gunman called Atiba ordered, “Sit down and don’t move!” Both gunmen had “a little interface” and eventually Cumberbatch told them, “my daughter is waiting for me at the house of a neighbour.” He was allowed to leave.
He said while he was unaware of any Parliament staff who were physically injured, all would have been traumatised.
“They were traumatised beyond belief. The assistant clerk ran straight down to that area and was hiding down there and was brought back up to the Chamber and made the spend the night until the morning,” he noted. He said he declined to take up an offer of counseling which was offered to all staffers because he was intent on putting things in place for the August 10, 1990, emergency debate.
Of the security arrangements at the time, Cumberbatch said, “security was virtually non-existent. We were not as security conscious as we ought to have been.” Cumberbatch criticised former prime ministers Basdeo Panday and Patrick Manning — MPs at the time — as well as Jamaat al Muslimeen leader Imam Yasin Abu Bakr for failing to come forward to give evidence at the inquiry.
“I am extremely disappointed that up to now we have not had the benefit of their attendance,” he said. “Because I sense there is a lot of information that they could bring.”
Inquiry chairman Sir David Simmons noted that it was still possible that they would testify as Salmon letters are due to be issued this month to persons against whom adverse inferences have arisen.