Leading activists of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) and the lawyer for the Presidential Commission of Inquiry are upset that the probe into the bomb-blast death of Dr. Walter Rodney 35 years ago will be wrapped up without the testimony of key witnesses.
At the same time, they said sufficient evidence has been provided to allow the three –member commission to conclude what led to Rodney’s death on June 13, 1980 on John Street near the Georgetown Prison.
The July 8, 2015 edition of Guyana’s Official Gazette states that the Commission, whose life ended on March 31, 2015, has been extended to November 30, 2015, “being the final extension” based on advice to President David Granger.
“The extension of time granted hereof shall be effective from July 27, 2015. The Commission shall render its report, findings and recommendations to the President within the specified period of the extension of the life of the Commission,” states the Gazette.
Secretary to the Commission of Inquiry, Hugh Denbow told Demerara Waves Online News on Tuesday that submissions by lawyers would be made on Monday July 27, 2015 and Tuesday July 28, 2015 but no more witnesses would be taken. “We are not taking any more testimony from witnesses. These two days will be used to review the submissions from the interested parties. After then, the Commissioners will meet in private over the next three months and they will prepare and then submit their final report,” he said.
More than GUY$325 million have been already spent on the Commission that was appointed on June 13, 2013.
Former Guyana Defence Force (GDF) electronics expert, Sergeant Gregory Smith had supplied a bomb-in-walkie talkie that blew up Rodney in a car. Rodney was killed at the height of a civil rebellion against the then Forbes Burnham-led dictatorship. Missing police and GDF files about that period of Guyana’s history, Smith’s employment in the army and the movement of an aircraft that might have shuttled Smith, a woman and children to Kwakwani were unavailable for presentation to the Commission.
Lawyer for the Commission, Glen Hanoman expressed grave disappointment that at least eight or 10 more “important” witnesses would be unable to testify. They include a bomb expert to analyse forensic reports, a former senior detective, Vernon Gentle; Smith’s neighbour Pamela Beharry and possibly former People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) leader Robert Corbin. He said the cross-examination of former Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Retired Major General Norman Mc Lean’s would have been very important because there are a number of documents purportedly with his signatures whose authenticity would have been proven by a handwriting expert.
While Hanoman said a lot of compelling evidence has been already provided by the numerous witnesses, he argued that the Commission’s findings and conclusions could have been strengthened. “We have managed to unearth a lot of new information but I believe that the information that we already have could have been strengthened by some of the other stuff to come,” Hanoman told Demerara Waves Online News.
Working People’s Alliance (WPA) Executive Member, Dr. David Hinds, who declined to speak on behalf of the party but for the Justice For Walter Rodney Committee, said the grouping was extremely disappointed that the new administration has cut short the Commission’s work to allow for key witnesses like former Crime Chief Cecil ‘Skip’ Roberts and WPA Co-Leader Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine to give evidence. “I do believe that the government has acted too hastily and that it should have consulted at least with the WPA about what they think about the closing of the inquiry,” he said.
Hinds supported government’s concerns that a lot of money has been wasted on the Inquiry by the previous People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) administration that had commissioned the probe more than one year ago. At the same time, he said the Committee had expected government to craft creative measures to complete the Commission’s work satisfactorily at a lower cost.
Asked why the Justice for Walter Rodney Committee had not previously pushed the new coalition government to address its concerns about a truncated Inquiry, Hinds said they were mindful of disrupting the celebratory mood among the Guyanese public in welcoming the new administration after the May 11, 2015 general election. “We did not want to be seen to be attacking the government, a new government, a popular government, the people’s government, the WPA is part of that government and so we were placed in a very delicate position,” he said. He added that the coalition government successfully used wastage of public funds to justify cutting short the probe. “It made the Rodney Inquiry look as though it was part of the larger corruption of the government and in some case it was but you lump it there and people were so hostile to the corruption and the misspending but the Rodney thing got caught in that,” he said
Hinds rejected suggestions that the WPA and the Walter Rodney Committee were compromised because a number of party members were now part of the coalition government through A Partnership for National Unity (APNU).
Now that the investigation has been cut short and the Commission ordered to complete its report during the next four months, the WPA Executive Member said the major challenges would be whether the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR)- the largest party in APNU- and Rodney’s WPA would accept the findings or the government would support the holding of a proper inquiry that would ultimately cost the Treasury more. “There is enough evidence to come to a determination but the problem is let’s say the commission uses what it has at its disposal and comes to a conclusion would the WPA and the PNC accept the findings of this truncated commission,” he said.
Hinds reasoned that had key players been brought before the commission that would have lent itself to an impartial process.
He expressed concern that the PNCR’s position against the inquiry has become the coalition’s position, and that the issue was now being used as a political football by both the PPPC and the new administration.
The Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry is chaired by Sir Richard Cheltenham. The others are Commissioners Seenath Jairam SC of Trinidad and Tobago and Jacqueline Samuels-Brown QC of Jamaica.