Ramotar defends Rodney probe terms of reference

-says imperative to look at political atmosphere when he died

President Donald Ramotar has defended the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry (COI) saying that it was imperative that the ToR be crafted to recreate as far as possible for the commissioners, the political atmosphere and environment at the time of Rodney’s death.

“Indeed, it would have been myopic and self-defeating if the inquiry was circumscribed by its own Terms of Reference from venturing beyond June 1980. It is a fact of public notoriety that Rodney’s death was not an isolated event, but has its genesis in a series of events beginning with his public and political activism after his refusal of employment at the University of Guyana, which culminated with the fateful events on June 13th, 1980,” Ramotar wrote in an April 1 letter to the Working People’s Alliance (WPA). The WPA through its executive members Professor Clive Thomas and Dr Rupert Roopnaraine had written last month to the President expressing concerns over the ToR and composition of the COI.

In response to Ramotar’s letter, the WPA said it was disappointed that Ramotar could not find any merit in the matters raised by the party. It reiterated its decision that its members should make their own decisions on whether to take part in the COI.

Walter Rodney
Walter Rodney

In their first letter to the President, the WPA had noted that the party was not consulted on the creation of the ToR for the COI nor was it one of the organisations which the commissioners saw fit to meet on their support building exercise, even though it has historically been for over three decades the leading voice calling for an inquiry into the assassination of Rodney.

The party subsequently decided that members should make their own decision as to whether to participate. “After a careful assessment of the issues involved for and against participation in the work of the commission, bearing in mind the family’s genuine pursuit of closure on this grievous matter, conscious of its responsibility to Walter Rodney, his family, the nation, the region and the international community, WPA recommends that each individual party member be free to engage the process of the inquiry as he or she sees fit, taking into consideration that the party itself has not been officially acknowledged as a participant by the powers that be,” it had said in a statement.

 Antecedents

Ramotar, in his letter, reiterated that the decision to launch the inquiry stemmed from a request made to him by the widow of Rodney, Dr Patricia Rodney. He said that having regard to the antecedents of this matter, including the calls for such an inquiry, immediately after the death of Dr Rodney from many quarters, including, the PPP; public commitments of both presidents Dr Cheddi Jagan and Bharrat Jagdeo to hold such an inquiry; the numerous international calls for such an inquiry and a Resolution of the National Assembly, calling for the establishment of such an inquiry, he acceded to the request to commission such an inquiry.

“At the time when that request was made and after relating to me her past experiences in relation to this matter, Dr Rodney insisted that she does not wish neither the Terms of Reference nor the selection of the commissioners to be the subject of any consultations with political parties in Guyana,” Ramotar wrote. He said he accepted the request and in the circumstances and for those reasons, tasked Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon and Attorney General Anil Nandlall with the responsibility to liaise with the Rodney family in respect to the formulation of the ToR. The ToR were crafted after weeks of consultations with the Rodney family, he emphasized.

The selection of the commissioners was done exclusively by Luncheon and Nandlall, Ramotar added.

“As regards the Terms of Reference, it was felt that it is imperative that the Terms of Reference be so crafted, to as far as possible, recreate for the benefit of the Commissioners, the political atmosphere and environment which existed in Guyana at the time when Dr Rodney was killed,” Ramotar said. It would have been myopic and self-defeating if the inquiry was circumscribed by its own ToR from venturing beyond June 1980, he added.

The President said he found it “more than passing strange” that the party which Dr Rodney led and whose membership was so closely connected with these events would now want to prevent them from being investigated and he had expected the opposite.

“Indeed, it is my hope that all the public statements which were made both prior and subsequent to the death of Dr Rodney by the leaders of the Working People’s Alliance at the time, including the numerous pamphlets and publications of Dayclean will be considered by the commission. Additionally, it is my sincere hope and expectation that every WPA leader, member and supporter who may have relevant information will appear before the commission. I have no doubt that this information will greatly assist the commission in discharging its mandate,” Ramotar wrote.

As regards the appointment of Seenath Jairam, SC to the commission, the President said he was of the view that the objections raised in respect of his appointment were without merit. “You have my fullest assurance that this Commission of Inquiry is not driven by a political agenda neither is it inspired by a sinister motive. It is intended to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of one of Guyana’s brightest stars, a man who has won international acclaim for his prodigious scholarship as well as his social, political and working class activism, and coincidentally but fundamentally, one whom you once embraced as your leader, a brother and a comrade,” the president said.

He expressed hope for and expectation of the WPA’s fullest participation in the COI.

The Commission is expected to commence hearings tomorrow. Sir Richard Cheltenham (Chairman), Jamaican Queen’s Counsel (QC) Jacqueline Samuels-Brown and Trinidad and Tobago Senior Counsel (SC) Seenath Jairam are the commissioners and they took the Oath of Office before President 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 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 inquire 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 “counselled, 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 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.

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