Sir Richard Cheltenham, Chairman of the Dr Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry (CoI) said yesterday wherever the evidence in the inquiry leads, the commissioners will go.
He also disclosed at a press conference at the Supreme Court that a key witness in the events, Donald Rodney, the brother of the slain Dr Rodney, has signalled that he will be testifying.
Addressing concerns that would-be witnesses might have, Sir Richard said that “no one needs at all to have any fears whatsoever about coming forward and testifying.” He noted that the last provision of the Terms of Reference (TOR) exempts all those who might have been involved in Dr Rodney’s death from prosecution. He pointed out that a similar provision was in the terms of a CoI set up in Trinidad and Tobago into the 1990 attempted coup, which was completed last week.
He said too that witnesses would be allowed to testify in camera once the commission was satisfied that there was sufficient evidence. Noting that Guyanese abroad might like to testify, he said the commission is hoping that the audio visual setup can be used in this regard.
Asked about the report of the British forensics expert who would have investigated certain aspects of the incident, Sir Richard said they are aware of its existence and while they have not yet been provided with it, it is something commissioners would be interested in. The commission will go to every “reasonable and realistic length to make sure that we get to the bottom of this matter and every document that is available or can be made available we will seek to access,” he said. Noting that they were not there to do a “superficial job” or “any whitewash job,” he said that they have their reputations to protect. “Wherever the evidence leads we go…,” he stressed.
Donald Rodney, who was with Dr Rodney at the time of the explosion, he said, has indicated that while he is living in Trinidad, he will be returning here to testify. He said too that it is understood that Dr Rodney’s wife who lives in Atlanta will also be testifying.
Sir Richard said that a re-examination of the TOR falls outside the ambit of the commission and all concerns on this issue should be directed to the President, who is the sponsoring authority.
“We have been asked to do a job in which the Terms of Reference has been set. In so far as they may wish to have an amendment they should direct their concerns to the sponsoring authority…It is the president’s commission. We are only the commission and we work within the terms set out,” Sir Richard told the media in response to a question on the PNCR’s possible non-participation in the inquiry.
He said the commissioners were to meet members of the party later yesterday. He said too, that based on his understanding the party had concerns over the time frame set out in the TOR but noted that this was not a matter for the commission.
The PNC, then headed by the late president Linden Forbes Burnham, whose reign had been opposed by Rodney, had long been blamed for the murder of Rodney; it has continuously denied any responsibility.
Asked if the commission could make representation to the sponsoring authority for the TOR to be re-examined to create conducive conditions for more persons to come forward, he said, “that is not a matter that falls within my competence.” He noted that TOR was not normally set by a commission. “The reality is that nine out of ten times the terms are set by the sponsoring authority and the commission is chosen to operate within the four corners of the terms. We work with what we are given,” he said.
According to Sir Richard, all of the newspaper articles that were published following Dr Rodney’s death as well as records available at the Dr Walter Rodney Foundation in Atlanta and from the army and police, will be made available to the commission.
He said he could not say at this point how the death of Gregory Smith, who had handed Dr Rodney the walkie talkie which later exploded, would affect the inquiry as perhaps that would be best answered when the inquiry has concluded.
On the issue of perjury which might arise during the hearing he said the commission would not have any power to punish or prosecute persons in his regard but would refer such matters to either private counsel or the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
APNU and later the WPA had warned of the perception of bias created by the inclusion of Trinida-dian Senior Counsel Seenath Jairam on the commission in the light of him having served as lead counsel for the government in its court challenge to the opposition-led cut of the 2012 national budget.
Asked about the Jairam issue during the press conference, the first since the commissioners took the oath of office last month, Sir Richard said the attorney general has already dealt with that matter and he did not care to add to it. However, he ventured that the arguments of bias being put forth made no sense.
Jairam, later asked to respond to the negative comments, said that the chairman had already spoken and he did not wish to comment.
Sir Richard then interjected, “There is nothing more to the issue. It really has no legs… If it has no legs it cannot go anywhere. It has no walking capacity.”
The third member of the commission is Jamaican Queen’s Counsel (QC) Jacqueline Samuels-Brown. The trio took their oath before the president on February 25.
Several days ago attorneys Glenn Hanoman and Latchmie Rahamat were appointed counsel to the commission while attorney Nicola Pierre will hold the position of secretary of the commission. The counsel will now be tasked with speaking to persons identified as witnesses and preparing their statements. This process will take another few weeks.
According to Sir Richard, a Barbadian, the proposed start date is the Tuesday after Easter provided that the commission has a certain number of statements ready. He said the objective is to have nine days of hearings, followed by two weeks of hearings with a short break between the two periods.
Dr Rodney, a renowned academic and political activist, died in a car on John Street, near Bent Street on June 13, 1980, after a walkie-talkie, given to him by now deceased Guyana Defence Force member Smith, exploded.
The purpose of the COI is to dig deeply into the circumstances and facts surrounding the death of Dr Rodney and to come to a conclusion as to how it occurred, the motivation behind it and who might have been involved in its occurrence.
Among those with who the commission has met so far are the police, the army, APNU, PPP/C and the Private Sector Commission (PSC).