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Rodney Commission mandate can throw dirt at PNC in “toxic environment”- WPA

Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine

The Working Peoples Alliance (WPA)- yet to decide whether it would participate in a Commission of Inquiry into the bomb-blast death of its late leader Walter Rodney- has urged President Donald Ramotar to erase a contentious term of reference that has nothing to do with Rodney’s death.

In a letter to the Guyanese leader on Friday, the WPA objected to paragraph iv of the terms of reference that empowers the three-member commission to examine the facts and circumstances immediately prior, at the time of, and subsequent to the death of Dr. Walter Rodney- between January 1, 1978 and December 31, 1980.

“Para iv runs the risk of opening a Pandora’s Box that will guarantee an unwelcome poisoning of the political environment which, you will agree, is already toxic enough,” states the WPA in its letter.

Contacted, WPA Executive member Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine questioned what the activities against the then Peoples National Congress (PNC) administration of then President Forbes Burnham had anything to do with Rodney’s death. “It seems to me a fishing expedition and I don’t see what there is to be gained from it other than propaganda value against the PNC,” he said. The PNC-Reform and the WPA are now part of a parliamentary coalition named A Partnership for National Unity (APNU).

Roopnaraine reiterated that the aim is to get an inquiry that would arrive at a credible conclusion. “Had we been consulted on the Terms of Reference, I believe we would have had much to say about that paragraph,” he said.

Presidential Advisor on Governance, Gail Teixeira said Thursday that Rodney’s family did not want anyone else to be involved in planning the Commission of Inquiry into the late historian and politician’s death on June 13, 1980. “The family made it very clear what their specific requirements were and the non-involvement or involvement of any other partners other than their agreement with the government,” she said.

Roopnaraine noted that paragraph one of the Terms of Reference sets out clearly the period that should be the subject of the inquiry- immediately before, during and after the incident on John Street outside the Georgetown Prison.

He said the WPA was yet to decide whether it would participate in the inquiry for which no date has been set for the commencement of public hearings. “We would see what response we get and dependent on how our recommendations are treated, we will make a decision as to whether or not we’ll participate,” he said.

Also of concern is the selection of Trinidad and Tobago Senior Counsel Seenauth Jairam to sit on the probe-team because he had been previously hired by the government to challenge the opposition’s decision to cut the National Budget. “While Mr. Jairiam is indisputably a highly placed and respected member of the Trinidad and Tobago bar whose professionalism is not in question, we are of the view that, in these highly charged political issues, his past representations may not free him from the appearance of bias. As you are well aware, proper due process cannot ever entertain the slightest appearance of a conflict of interest. We urge therefore that the appointment of Mr. Jairiam be revoked and a more suitable Commissioner be appointed in his place,” Roopnaraine and fellow WPA Executive Member, Professor Clive Thomas told the President.

Attorney General, Anil Nandlall has already rejected those concerns, saying that Jairam was never paid by the government and that he is a competent professional.

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) has expressed similar concerns about the motive of the inquiry at this time and suggested that it amounted to the “worst form of electioneering” and was designed to whip up racial dissent between Indo and Afro Guyanese.

But the Presidential Advisor on Governance told reporters that it was “bewildering” and “unfathomable” that the GHRA has dissociated itself from the inquiry into Rodney’s “murder”.  “I don’t know where the link with elections is. I don’t understand where the link election is nor do I understand the issue of racial division.