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Police, army chiefs to first testify at Rodney Commission of Inquiry

FLASH BACK: In picture Deputy COS Kemraj Persaud , Hugh Denbow (facilitator), S.C Seenauth Jairam Q.C Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, Sir Richard Cheltenham and COS Brigadier Mark Phillips at Defence Headquarters (GDF photo)

Heads of the police and defence forces are expected to be among the first group of persons to testify before the Commission of Inquiry into the death of world-renowned historian and Guyanese political activist, Dr. Walter Rodney.

An official of the commission told Demerara Waves Online News that the immediate focus would be on institutions. “That will lay the groundwork. We are at not looking at individuals but we are now focussing on institutions” the official said.

Those to testify are Police Commissioner, Seelall Persaud and Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Brigadier Mark Phillips. The Commission has been asked to examine the actions and activities of the state security agencies such as the Guyana Police Force, Guyana Defence Force and the Guyana Peoples Militia to determine whether those who were in command and superintended them were ordered to engage in surveillance activities between January 1, 1979 and December 31, 1980.

Former Guyana Defence Force (GDF) electronics expert, Sgt 4141 Gregory Smith was said to be the main architect behind the bomb-in-walkie-talkie explosion that killed Rodney in his brother’s car outside the Georgetown Prison on June 13, 1980. At that time Rodney’s Working Peoples Alliance (WPA) had been engaged in a civil rebellion against the dictatorship of the PNC-led dictatorship of Forbes Burnham.

Public hearings are due to begin on April 29 at the Supreme Court Law Library building, but the Peoples National Congress Reform (PNCR) said Friday that it would not be participating in the process.

“The People’s National Congress Reform has taken a decision not to participate in the Commission of Inquiry into the death of Walter Rodney. This decision was arrived at after a meeting of the Central Executive Committee of the Party,”said that party.

However, the official close to the Commission said the PNCR was yet to formally indicate that it would not be participating in the probe. The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) is the only organisation that has formally stated that it would not be participating in the inquiry.

While the WPA, as an organisation, it would not be participating in the inquiry it has allowed its members to freely do so as individuals. Concerns have been raised by the GHRA, parliamentary opposition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)-which includes the PNCR and WPA- about the appointment of Trinidad and Tobago Senior Counsel, Seenath Jairam as a commissioner because he was a government lawyer in a ‘budget cut’ case against the opposition. The long time before and after Rodney’s death that commissioners have been asked in the terms of reference to enquire into has been also a source of discontent by the GHRA and the opposition. They have accused government of using the Commission to whip up fears by unearthing the past.

The Commission officials said several groups and individuals in the Diaspora and further afield were paying keen interests in the probe being conducted under the Chairmanship of Barbadian Senior Counsel, Sir Richard Cheltenham.

“The groundswell is all about and interest is being shown by the Guyanese in the Diaspora. We have even received interest from as far away as East Africa,” said the commission official.

Rodney was well respected at Tanzania’s University of Dar es Salaam, especially for his seminal work titled How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

In addition to receiving memoranda from interested parties, the Commission has been provided a copy of a report on Walter Rodney’s death by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) that had found that there was sufficient information for a commission of inquiry.

Those who were suspected of playing varying roles in Rodney’s death have either died or migrated. Smith passed away a  little less than 10 years ago in French Guiana where he had been living under the assumed name of Cyril Johnson shortly after the incident.