The Guyana Chronicle’s front-page headline published on June 28, 2014, captioned ‘Williams objections about the legality of COI extension overruled’ is grossly misleading. They ought to have considered why the commissioners – three senior counsel, each from a different Caricom country, to wit, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, delayed the work of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) for about one hour, until an Official Gazette purporting to extend the life of the COI was hastily printed and presented to them.
The article did not disclose that on the resumption of the COI on June 23, PNCR Counsel Mr Basil Williams on a point in limine (preliminary point of law) enquired whether the COI had had its life extended by the President on publication in the Official Gazette of that fact. Matters in an Official Gazette become of legal effect only on the date of publication.
Mr Williams further intimated that he and his support team including UG students had searched the Official Gazette’s website and had seen no such extension in the months of May and June, 2014, nor did the Office of the President issue any hard copies of the Gazette with that information for those months.
The Chairman of the COI Dr, Richard Cheltenham responded that he was in receipt of a letter under the hand of President Ramotar, indicating that he had extended the life of the Commission and that he would proceed.
No Official Gazette was produced on June 23, 24, 25 or June 26, 2014, evidencing any extension of the life of the COI, by the President.
On the morning of June 27, 2014 before the business of the day began, Mr Williams again inquired of the Commissioners if the elusive Official Gazette had surfaced and the answer was no. Williams then proceeded to elucidate the importance of the COI having its life extended.
The COI was commissioned on February 8, 2014 with a mandate to conclude its work within 4 months, ie, by June 8, 2014. The COI did not conclude its work by June 8, 2014.
Williams informed the Commissioners that unless the COI was covered by an extension of its life then any work done by the COI would be without legal authority and could only be cured or ratified subsequently by an act of Parliament and not the President. Williams also contended that all the work done since June 23, 2014 would be imperilled since it is questionable whether the opposition majority in Parliament would pass such an act to ratify evidence taken without the period allotted by the President.
Williams also suggested that the Commissioners delay the start of the day’s proceedings until the position was clarified. The Chairman then consulted with the lawyers of the Rodney family and it was agreed to suspend the start of the proceedings accordingly. About an hour later the COI was supplied with freshly printed copies of a purported Official Gazette dated June 24, 2014 and purporting to state, “the President hereby grants” the COI an extension from June 8, 2014 to September 30, 2014. That Gazette also purported to state:- “The extension of time granted hereof shall be effective from the 23rd day of June, 2014.”
This meant that President Ramotar was attempting to subsequently legitimize the work done by the COI on June 23, via Gazette publication on June 24, 2014.
President Ramotar has no such power!
The purported extension to cover the June 23, 2014 proceedings is therefore ultra vires, null, and void and in excess of the jurisdiction granted the President under the provisions of the Commissions of Inquiry Act Cap 19:03. Only an Act of Parliament can validate the work of the COI on that date.
The government ought to be grateful for unpaid legal advice from Williams whose only error was failing to wait until the end of the session. Just imagine the waste of taxpayers’ dollars for all those days if Williams had not enquired.
Therefore the testimony of Messrs Gates, Gibbs, Nobrega or whoever; the cross examination of Gates by attorneys for Donald Rodney and Mrs Rodney and family have all come to naught unless validated by an Act of Parliament.
In the spirit of enquiry, no question of submissions being overruled could arise.