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Ramotar defends Rodney Commission examining months before his killing

President Donald Ramotar (in white shirt-jac) flanked by the Commissioners (left to right), Senior Counsel, Seenath Jairman; Chairman, Sir Richard Cheltenham and Jamaican Queen’s Counsel, Jacqueline Samuels-Brown.

President Donald Ramotar has defended his decision not to confine the Commission of Inquiry to the date on which co-founder of the Working Peoples Alliance (WPA), Dr. Walter Rodney was killed in a bomb-blast death outside the Georgetown Prison three decades ago.

The WPA, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) have all expressed scepticism about the government’s motive behind asking the three-member commission to extend its probe from probe from January 1, 1978 to December 31, 1980.

Rodney was killed on June 13,1980 while he was seated in his brother, Donald’s car, with a device that had been supplied by then Guyana Defence Force (GDF) electronics expert, Sgt. Gregory Smith.

Replying to a letter by WPA executive members, Professor Clive Thomas and Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, the Guyanese leader assured that there was no hidden agenda or sinister motive. Rather, he said it would be relevant to examine the period leading up to Rodney’s death.

The Government Information Agency (GINA) reported that the President explained that the terms of reference were crafted to recreate as far as possible, for the commissioners, the political environment, and atmosphere at the time of Rodney’s death. He added that it would be myopic and self defeating if the inquiry was circumscribed from venturing beyond June 1980. He emphasised that the killing of Dr. Rodney was not an isolated incident; it had its genesis in his public and political activism after he was refused employment at the University of Guyana, and culminated in his death on June 13, 1980.

On the issue of the non-involvement of the WPA in crafting the terms of reference and preparing for the inquiry, the Guyanese leader reiterated his position that the decision to launch the inquiry stemmed from a personal request made to him by Dr. Patricia Rodney, having regards for the antecedents of this matter including calls for such an inquiry immediately after the death of Dr. Walter Rodney, from many quarters. The PPP publicly made commitments by former Presidents’ Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Bharrat Jagdeo, while there were calls and the National Assembly passed a resolution for the COI’s establishment.

It was explained that Dr. Patricia Rodney, widow of the late WPA historian, stated her past experiences when meeting the Head of State to request the COI and indicated that she had no wish for the terms of reference or the selection of commissioners to be the subject of any consultations with any political parties.

Given the views expressed by her, the Ramotar aid that he used his “deliberate judgment” and accepted her request. He further explained that the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, and the Attorney General liaised with the Rodney family, in respect of the formulation of the terms of reference. It was also indicated that Head of the Presidential Secretariat and the Attorney General were exclusively responsible for the commissioners’ selection.

It was described as strange by the President that the WPA, which was once led by Dr. Rodney would seek to oppose it now. He expressed hope that all the public statements, documents, and publications made by the WPA’s newspaper Day Clean would be made available to the commission, along with every member or supporter with any information.

“I have no doubt that this information would greatly assist the commission in discharging its mandate,” he stated in the letter. He also gave his fullest assurance that the COI is not driven by any political agenda or any inspired sinister motive.

“It is intended to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of one of Guyana’s brightest stars, a man who has won international acclaim for his prodigious scholarship, as well as his social, political and working class activism, and coincidentally and fundamentally one whom you once embraced as your leader, a brother and a comrade. I reiterate my hope for, and expectation of your fullest participation in the commission of inquiry.”

Concerns about the appointment of Senior Counsel Seenath Jairam, were also dismissed as being without merit and a statement issued by the Attorney General, Anil Nandlall with regards to this, was also enclosed, according to President Ramotar for “ease of reference”.

The letter by the Head of State is in response to a letter sent earlier by the WPA’s leadership expressing several concerns. According to President Ramotar, it was never his intention to ignore the initial letter since he deliberately made several pronouncements in the public domain to address the issues of concern raised by the WPA representatives. He also pointed out that Nandlall was instructed to issue a statement responding to the concerns and participate in a television programme on the same matter. All of these were done, as he had instructed. 

The other commissioners are Chairman, Sir Richard Cheltenham, and Trinidad and Tobago  Queens Counsel Jacqueline Samuels- Brown from Jamaica .