Today’s deadline for the submission of statements in the Dr. Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry (COI) has been extended indefinitely to allow for more persons to come forward.
According to reports coming from the Secretariat, the commissioners have extended the deadline subject to interest shown
by members of the public during the hearing and will set a final date for the submission of statements at a later date.
The scheduled start for the hearing is the day after the Easter holidays.
Sir Richard Cheltenham (Chairman), Jamaican Queen’s Counsel (QC) Jacqueline Samuels-Brown and Trinidad and Tobago Senior Counsel (SC) Seenath Jairam took the Oath of Office before President Donald Ramotar on February 25.
Government took a decision to establish the commission after decades of calls for closure. Rodney, a renowned academic and political activist, was killed in a bomb explosion on June 13, 1980 after a walkie-talkie was handed to him.
According to the Terms of Reference (TOR), the Commissioners are to examine the facts and circumstances immediately prior, at the time of and subsequent to the death of Rodney in order to determine as far as possible who or what was responsible for the explosion resulting in his death. The Commissioners are to enquire into the cause of the explosion in which Rodney died, including whether it was an act of terrorism and if so who were the perpetrators.
Further, the Commissioners are to “specifically examine” the role, if any, which now deceased army officer Gregory Smith played in Rodney’s death and if so to inquire into who may have “counseled, procured, aided and or abetted” him to do so, including facilitating his departure from Guyana after Rodney’s death.
The Commissioners are to examine and report on the actions and activities of State organisations such as the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Defence Force, the Guyana National Service, the Guyana People’s Militia and those who were in command and superintendence of these agencies, 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.
Since the commission was established both the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) of which Rodney was a co-leader and the PNCR which has been blamed for the death, have raised concerns about the TOR as well as Jairam being a commissioner because of his appearance in the budget case on behalf of the government.
The WPA went as far as to issue a warning to President Donald Ramotar of “grave defects” in the impending inquiry which it says runs the risk of poisoning the political environment. The party in a letter to the president earlier this month outlined its concerns and also pointed to the shutout of opposition parties in the process.
The party said that the present arrangements for the inquiry have not benefitted from any consultation with the parliamentary opposition parties and pointed out that this represented a marked departure from the process that had generated the government Motion that was laid in the National Assembly in June of 2005 on the inquiry.
Contacted for a comment yesterday, party co-leader Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine opted not to speak on whether his party will participate in the inquiry if their concerns are not satisfactorily addressed. He said though that the WPA, depending on the response to the concerns will re-evaluate their position and make a decision on the way forward.
PNCR executive member Joseph Harmon in an invited comment said that as of now the party will not be submitting a statement. He explained that the party has written to the president advancing serious concerns about one of the terms in the TOR which has to do with investigating the actions and activities of the State and whether it carried out actions against the political opposition for the period January 1, 1978 to December 31, 1980.
He said that for his party, “It (this term of reference) was obnoxious”. According to Harmon this concern was raised during a meeting with the commissioners last week as well as in a letter to the president.
He said that the commissioners indicated that what was being highlighted was not within their remit to change. He said that his party understands this.
Asked whether he is aware that there will be an extension, he said that during the meeting with the commissioners, it was indicated that there would be a “rolling deadline” extension as was necessary.