While accepting assurances that the Walter Rodney Inquiry Commission would conduct its work to the best of its ability, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) was Wednesday yet to decide whether it would testify.
“We have not given any assurance about participating and so on…We have time. We have to think about it because the Terms of Reference – we have some issues with that,” said APNU executive member, Joseph Harmon.
Several of APNU’s top brass are former senior officers of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) who had served in the military at the time of Rodney’s death. The Commission has already received assurances from the police and the GDF that it would share its records, including intelligence reports, about that period.
He and his colleagues registered the coalition’s concerns when they met the three-member panel has been asked by President Donald Ramotar to investigate. Their objections are that the commission has been tasked to extend its probe from January 1, 1978 to December 31, 1980 rather than being confined to June 13,1980 when Rodney was killed in an explosion on John Street near the Georgetown Prison. The opposition feared that the period was aimed at carrying out a witch-hunt against former members of the security forces and certain opposition members.
Harmon emerged from the talks, telling a news briefing that APNU was assured that the panel is a team of experienced persons who possess sound judgments. “We accepted the assurances of the commissioners in good faith because we believe these are people who are experienced,” he said.
The APNU lawmaker said his delegation made its objection known about Trinidad and Tobago Senior Counsel, Seenath Jairam being a commissioner because he had up to recently worked for the Guyana government in a High Court battle over the opposition-controlled National Assembly’s right to cut the National Budget. “We made that clear to him in his face and in the presence of all the other commissioners and I think he understands clearly that is our position and I believe that in moving forward we should have a better arrangement,” he said.
Harmon noted that the Chairman of the Inquiry Commission, Sir Richard Cheltenham that the opposition should approach the President to have the Terms of Reference amended. “You cannot produce on this path of destruction that you basically should talk to the people, talk to us and let us try to get something that produces a healing mechanism rather than something that divides the society further,” he said, adding that APNU was keen on reconciliation as an outcome of the inquiry.
APNU, Working Peoples Alliance, Guyana Trades Union Congress and the Guyana Human Rights Association have all objected to aspects of the terms of reference. They have also questioned the motive for the inquiry at this stage.
Government has, however, maintained that Rodney’s family members had requested that no one else be involved in planning the inquiry. The Ramotar administration has also discarded opposition concerns about Seeram being biased towards the government.
Sir Richard, too, has also brushed aside those reservations, saying that Seeram had only worked on a legal brief for the government.
Public hearings could begin shortly after Easter but Sir Richard said much depended on the number of statements and witnesses that come forward.