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No more extension for Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry

Dr. Walter Rodney.

The Guyana government has refused to grant more extensions to the Walter Rodney Commission to conclude its report and submit it to President David Granger.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams told a news conference that Granger turned down a request by Commission Chairman, Sir Richard Cheltenham to be given until February 29, 2016 to complete and submit his report.

Williams said government would not be spending more than the GYD$400 million already expended on the Commission of Inquiry that had been started by the previous People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) administration. “They have had several extensions. You are dealing with taxpayers’ money,”…We must keeping churning out millions of dollars and millions dollars and we have people who need money in this country,” he said.

Sir Richard had been originally given until November 30, 2015 to submit the report but that deadline has been since extended to December 15, 2015.

Asked whether the refusal to allow more public hearings and receive testimonies from key witnesses had anything to do with protecting the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) of which he is Chairman, Williams said his party has been already exonerated from blame for the incident that occurred on June 13, 1980. “As far as I am concerned from where the Commission is, the PNCR has been entirely exculpated by the evidence,” he said.

Williams is banking on evidence by Ann Wagner- sister of late former Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Sergeant, Gregory Smith- who told the Commissioners that neither then PNC Leader, Forbes Burnham, his party or the State at that time had been responsible for Rodney’s death. “The evidence is clear. There is no stronger evidence than that.”…“There is no cogent evidence that implicates the PNC in that enquiry,” said the Attorney General who up to the May 11, 2015 general elections had represented the PNCR at the inquiry.

Rodney was killed in his brother’s car outside the Georgetown Prison after a bomb-in-walkie talkie, which had been provided by Smith, exploded in his lap, at a time when he had been leading a civil rebellion against the Burnham-led dictatorship.

The Attorney General disclosed that Sir Richard had cited as his reason for an extension the Christmas season as one in which most people across the Caribbean do not work a lot. President Granger has since replied, saying that around February 2016, Guyanese would be busy with Mashramani associated with the 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations and Local Government Elections in March, 2016.

Asked why government opted to ignore the petition by the Justice For Walter Rodney Committee to permit two weeks of public hearings for remaining key witnesses to testify, Williams said the Commission has already lost an opportunity to invite former Head of the Criminal Investigations Department, Cecil ‘Skip’ Roberts to testify although he had been flown from the US to Guyana and accommodated at a hotel. “I don’t agree with them. All the evidence that has been given by the witnesses, they are already on the record. The key witnesses were Jomo and (Roberts) Jomo ought to have been completed,” he said.

Evidence led so far  shows that Smith, a woman and children had been flown from Ogle International Airport to Kwakwani aboard a GDF plane. However, vitally important documents about Smith’s tenure and exit from the army and the flight that took Smith to Kwakwani have not been found.

In the days immediately after the incident, the GDF at that time had initially denied that Smith had been a GDF member.

The Guyana Police Force’s Intelligence Unit, Special Branch, could not produce several files about that period to the Inquiry, saying that they could not have been found.