Attorney General Anil Nandlall has sought to dismiss criticisms about the recently-established Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the death of Dr Walter Rodney, saying concerns about the focus of the investigation and the appointment of a lawyer who recently represented the government were irrational and unfounded.
He was at the time addressing criticisms recently made by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) and the main opposition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU). Similar criticisms were yesterday made by the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), of which Dr Rodney was co-leader at the time of his death in 1980.
In addressing the GHRA’s concern over the implications of the inquiry’s scope extending to include an examination of the actions and activities of the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Defence Force, the Guyana National Service, the Guyana People’s Militia to determine whether they were tasked with surveillance of and the carrying out of actions and whether they did execute those tasks and carried out those actions against the political opposition for the period January 1, 1978 to December 31, 1980, Nandlall said that the terms were framed by history.
He noted that over the last 34 years, there have been calls many parts of the world for a credible Commission of Inquiry to be conducted into Rodney’s death. And recently, he said, Dr. Patricia Rodney, the wife of Dr. Rodney and their daughter, Asha Rodney, made an appeal to President Ramotar to commission such an inquiry for some amount of closure. “They specifically indicated that should the Government accede to their request, they would like to participate in settling the Terms of Reference of any such Inquiry and that these Terms of Reference and the composition of the Inquiry must not be made subject of a political process,” he said, while adding that Ramotar acceded to the request and agreed to respect the wishes of the Rodney family.
According to Nandlall, it was against the backdrop that the terms of reference and composition of the CoI must be viewed. “The GHRA directed their attack to the Terms of Reference which they, bewilderingly, believe may have “rich potential for stirring up Indo-Guyanese resentment against the PNC.” This belief is irrational at best and ludicrous at worst,” he said.
Nandlall further stated that the inquiry is intended to bring forth the truth regarding the facts and circumstances surrounding Rodney’s death and that the terms of reference were carefully constructed to navigate the Commission to that destination. “Dr. Rodney was a politician who openly challenged the governmental regime of the day. It is a matter of public notoriety that political opponents of that regime were subjected to various forms of violence, intimidation and surveillance by different groupings,” he said, while adding that the Terms of Reference are designed to permit, as far, as possible, the inquirers to form a clear picture of the political situation, atmosphere and environment in which Dr. Rodney operated at the time of his demise. “There is nothing ulterior about them,” he maintained.
Nandlall also sought to rebuff criticism of Senior Counsel Seenath Jairam’s appointment as a member of the CoI. APNU and later the WPA have both warned of the perception of bias created by Jairam’s inclusion on the commission in light of his having served as lead counsel for the government in its court challenge to the opposition-led cut of the 2012 national budget.
Nandlall, who said the charge of bias made by APNU executive Basil Williams is wrong in both principle and law, emphasised that neither the government nor Jairam has an interest in the outcome of the inquiry. “Mr. Seenath Jairam, S.C. has a long distinguished legal career at the Practicing Bar of many jurisdictions in the Caribbean and at the Privy Council, London, appearing for citizens, and governments alike. He has served on numerous tribunals. He acted as a High Court Judge in Trinidad and Tobago,” he noted, while adding that the government regretted what he termed an “unfortunate attempt” at tarnishing Jairam’s professional reputation.
He also pointed out that K.V. Jairam, LLM, Barrister at Law, and brother of Seenath Jairam, had served as a Member of Parliament for the PNC when that party was in government.
“Also Mr. Williams appears to have forgotten that Mr. Keith Massiah, S.C. a former Attorney-General under the PNC administration, served as a member of a Commission of Inquiry established to investigate certain allegations made against then Home Affairs Minister, Mr. Ronald Gajraj. Is he now saying that Mr. Massiah, S.C. was biased?” he questioned.
Nandlall said too that even Williams himself appeared for the Attorney-General of a PPP/Civil administration during the tenure of one of his predecessors while he was a member of parliament of the PNC. “Is he now saying that he did not act professionally in that matter?” he questioned, while charging that APNU’s contentions are reckless and unfounded.