Secretariat for Rodney COI set up, gathering materials but no formal appointments yet

A secretariat for the Commission of Inquiry into the death of Walter Rodney has been established and has begun to gather materials in anticipation of the commission being appointed, Attorney-General Anil Nandlall has confirmed.

“A secretariat has been set up,” Nandlall told Stabroek News yesterday when contacted after the WPA expressed concern that some of its members are being contacted to give statements to the commission despite no formal announcement being made that a COI has been set up.

“Over the last week at least three current and past members of the WPA have been approached by persons purporting to be associated with a Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry to provide statements to the commission. The WPA has also been formally requested in writing to allow the Commission access to documents that could assist in the inquiry,” a statement from the party said.

“In the process, it has come to our attention that the Commission has an office and staff and has begun its work. The WPA is unaware of any formal announcement of the Commission by the President in keeping with the legal requirements prescribed by the Constitution. It is required by law that a Commission of Inquiry has to be announced and gazetted and accompanied by the Terms of Reference and the names of the Commissioner or Commissioners,” the statement said.

It noted that when the government in June announced its intention to set up the commission, the WPA said it welcomed such a commission and expressed its willingness to cooperate with it. “But we view the soliciting of statements in the absence of a properly constituted Commission highly improper,” the party declared.

The WPA urged the government to take the necessary steps to have the commission formally constituted before proceeding with its business. “Failure to do so would only fan the flames of intrigue and conspiracy which in the long run could compromise the integrity of Inquiry,” the party said.

When contacted by Stabroek News yesterday, Nandlall said that government will make the information public this week. “What has been done thus far is that a secretariat has been established and staffed with support staff that have begun to accumulate materials that may be relevant,” he said. The AG stated that the commissioners have not yet been appointed and all that is being done now is the gathering of information by the secretariat staff so that when the commission is established, there is at least some amount of material accumulated to begin its work.

“In due course, the Office of the President will disseminate the relevant information,” Nandlall added.

In June, 33 years after he died, the PPP/C government announced that an international Commission of Inquiry (COI) is to be set up to determine the circumstances surrounding the death of renowned academic and political activist Walter Rodney.

The announcement, which coincided with the 33rd anniversary of Rodney’s death, was made during the sitting of the National Assembly by Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, who said that several factors, including the Rodney family’s persistent search for truth, have prompted the decision. For the over 20 years it has been in office, the PPP/C had not yielded to calls for such a probe prior to the PM’s announcement and Hinds’ statement that the Rodney family’s persistence was one of the main reasons the inquiry was being undertaken contradicted an earlier statement he made in which he said the government had not pursued an inquiry because the family did not wish to proceed—a claim that was refuted by the Rodney family.

The People’s National Congress (PNC) administration, then headed by late president Linden Forbes Burnham, whose practices and procedures had been opposed by Rodney, has long been blamed for the murder. Rodney, co-leader of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), was killed on June 13th, 1980 on John Street. He was sitting in a car just outside the Camp Street Prison, when a walkie-talkie he had been given by Guyana Defence Force Sergeant Gregory Smith exploded. His brother, Donald Rodney, who was sitting in the driver’s seat of the car, managed to escape with his life.

Donald Rodney would reveal that Smith, who later fled to French Guiana, had given his brother the device and instructed him to test it near the perimeter of the Georgetown Prison to determine if the extensive metal would interfere with the transmission.

Smith was charged in absentia with Rodney’s murder in 1996, however, due to the lack of an extradition treaty between Guyana and France he was never returned to this country. Smith died in 2002 in French Guiana where he fled after Rodney’s death.

Critics have noted that the PPP/C has not done enough to forge ahead with an inquiry into Rodney’s death but instead wasted time allowing for evidence to disintegrate or be lost. Since the death of Smith, it has been argued that many questions could not be answered.

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