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Walter Rodney Commission shrugs off opposition concerns

The Chairman of the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry, Sir Richard Cheltenham on Wednesday shrugged off concerns that the probe goes beyond the death of the former politician and questions about the impartiality of one of the commissioners.

Sir Richard virtually ruled out asking President Donald Ramotar to re-examine the terms of reference for the three-member commission, when asked whether he would consider doing so to ensure maximum participation.

The commission is expected to begin public hearings shortly after Easter, if enough material and witnesses are available. Witnesses, whose request for confidentiality have been approved, would be allowed to testify in camera and remain unnamed in the report. Overseas-based Guyanese, he said, would be allowed to testify via video conferencing facilities.

A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Working Peoples Alliance (WPA), which Rodney co-founded, have expressed similar concerns about the probe dating back to 1978 and going beyond June 13,1980- the date of Rodney’s death- to December of that year. “That is not a matter for us. We have been asked to do a job in which the terms of reference have been set. Insofar as they may wish to have an amendment there, they should direct their concerns to the sponsoring authority. We are not the sponsoring authority. It’s the President’s commission and we work within the terms of reference set out,” said Sir Richard.

Questioned about concerns by the opposition that well-respected Trinidad and Tobago Senior Counsel, Seenath Jairman could tarnish the impartiality of the commission because he had worked for the government in a High Court case against the opposition’s right to cut the National Budget, the Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry said there was no justification for such a position. “I would only say I don’t see how working on a brief for the government will mean and can mean that he is affected by any bias. As a lawyer, it makes no sense,” said Richard.

The Commission Chairman said Rodney’s brother, Donald, were expected to testify. The three-member body hopes to acquire reports by the pathologist, the International Commission of Jurists and other relevant material to aid its work.

The Commission has been holding talks with the Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman, representatives of the major political parties and the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC).