WHETHER the Attorney-General should lead evidence at an inquiry is a matter for the minister who appointed the Committee of Inquiry (COI) to decide and not its members.
That was a point COI chairman G. Pannir Selvam was trying to put across to activist Vincent Wijeysingha at Thursday's inquiry into the cause of the Dec 8 riot.
Dr Wijeysingha, who was testifying at the hearing, had earlier written to the COI arguing that there was a conflict of interest with the Attorney- General's Chambers (AGC) leading the evidence during proceedings as it represents the Government. That same letter was also published by freesheet Today on Feb 17, two days before the COI was convened.
"The point I was making then - I hold it even now - is that there must be at least a semblance of fairness and justice," Dr Wijeysingha said.
He added that the AGC was the authority that decided to charge the suspects allegedly involved in the riot and was also behind the decision not to take action against the bus driver involved in the fatal accident that sparked the violence.
"I suppose the point I'm making is that the Attorney-General cannot do both things at once; represent the Government and then charge the people and then also be independent here," he said.
The issue of who should present the evidence was raised after Mr Selvam asked Dr Wijeysingha if he still felt the COI had powers to appoint "somebody else" other than the AGC to do so.
"So the point is that you are not prevented from appointing someone other than the Attorney-General... you are entitled to do so," said Dr Wijeysingha.
Mr Selvam, however, said he "disagreed completely", adding that under the Inquiries Act, only the minister is empowered to do so and "I cannot override him against that section".
COI member Andrew Chua yesterday commended the AGC team, saying they have been doing a "fantastic job". But he added that the State Counsel are just "a facilitating machinery" that ensures the process of the inquiry goes on smoothly.
"There's no way that these people can actually do anything to slant the whole process because we are the ones who are responsible for making the final decision," said Mr Chua.
Dr Wijeysingha also said he was not questioning the personal integrity of the committee members or that of the State Counsel present. But when asked if he had any issues with how the inquiry had been handled so far, he replied: "Sir, you have put me on the spot here. Can I not answer that?"