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GUY$325 million spent on Rodney Commission of Inquiry; State media reporter paid US$7,000 per month to cover hearings

Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry Sir Richard Cheltenham (centre) flanked by Commissioners Seenath Jairam SC of Trinidad and Tobago and Jacqueline Samuels-Brown QC of Jamaica.

The duration of the International Commission of Inquiry (ICoI) into the death Dr. Walter Rodney is uncertain as Legal Affairs Minister, Basil Williams, says the inquiry has cost Guyanese taxpayers GUY$325,194,226 to date, GUY$16 million of which was paid to a state-media operative for his coverage of sittings.

Williams, who made the disclosure to reporters during an interview today, said the amount given does not include the costs for future sittings, the next of which should take place in July. “This thing is not finished…, they didn’t know the government would have changed,” he remarked.

“Were gonna wind it down,” we can’t afford it,” the Minister continued. Before the ICoI is concluded however, the various lawyers have to be allowed to make submissions, after which the Commissioners must present their decision. “There has to be a sitting for submission to be made, upon completion of which the Commissioners would render their decision on the matter. If that is the case the lawyers would have to be informed that they have to give submissions.”

Detailing some of the specifics of the expenditure, Williams said payment for the Commission’s three Commissioners, two Attorneys – at – Law, and a designated journalist from a state-media entity amounted to $150,777,000. Particularly discomforting, Williams shared, is the fact that records show that government paid out US$7,300 per month to a state-media operative for his coverage of each sitting of the inquiry.

Efforts to contact Shaun Michael Samaroo, who covered the COI for the state-owned Guyana Chronicle newspaper, and that paper’s Editor-in-Chief, Mark Ramotar were unsuccessful.

To date, he explained, the journalist, whose identity he has declined to disclose, has been paid US$80,000 ($16 million. “This is squandermania that took place…and abuse,” said Williams, who described the costs as “horrendous.”

On June 13th, 2013 the Government of Guyana (GoG), under the Donald Ramotar Administration, announced that it had approved the establishment of the ICOI following a request from the Rodney Family. Rodney was killed on June 13, 1980 when an explosive device went off in a car in which he was sitting. Due to the circumstances surrounding his killing, it has been deemed an assassination.

Ramotar had said that such an inquiry was necessary to allow Guyana to start the healing process after more than 30 years of uncertainty concerning Rodney’s death, and to avail his family closure. The inquiry commenced April of 2014, and was supposed to wrap up at the end of the year. The government, however, announced that they were extending the Commission’s life indefinitely.

General Secretary of the Peoples National Congress, Basil Williams, as well as other party members have dismissed the ICoI as a “witch hunt,” the aim of which was the sullying of the name of the PNC. As a result of its opposition to the ICoI, the PNC has refused to participate, although Basil Williams did attend sessions to defend the party’s interest.

“We are convinced that he real reason for it was political,” lamented Williams, who added that the ICoI ended up serving “no useful purpose aside from vindicating the PNC…we said at the outset it was a witch hunt. We have hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay,” says Williams who now believed that “…their intention to undermine the PNC and to undermine our (election) campaign in the APNU totally backfired.”