Hearings for Rodney probe to begin April 28

The Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry (COI) will begin next Monday and representatives of the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Defence Force and the Georgetown Public Hospital may be among the first to testify.

The Government Information Agency (GINA), in a press release issued yesterday, said that the COI will now be convening hearings on April 28, 29 and 30 and May 2.

The release stated that the hearings were originally supposed to begin yesterday but there was no official word until midday of a postponement.

When contacted yesterday, head of the COI’s Secretariat Hugh Denbow clarified that the chairman, commissioners and the administration of the secretariat had been working towards an April 22 start date. However, he said the date was not a definite one and it was only last week it was decided that the hearings would begin on Monday, April 28.

He said that at no time were witnesses told to turn up on April 22 to give their evidence. Denbow said now that a definite date has been set, work will be done on creating a schedule for the testimony.

He noted that the police force is one of the agencies that has provided the secretariat with a lot of information.

The hearings will be conducted at the Supreme Court Library Building, Victoria Law Courts, Avenue of the Republic & Charlotte Street, George-town.

This newspaper was reliably informed that the plan for Monday includes a ceremonial opening, which would be followed by an explanation of the procedure by the chairman. It was explained that it is hoped that representatives of agencies will take the stand following which there will be a schedule for witnesses.

Government took a decision to establish the COI 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.

Sir Richard Cheltenham is Chairman of the Commission, which also counts Jamaican Queen’s Counsel (QC) Jacqueline Samuels-Brown and Trinidad and Tobago Senior Counsel (SC) Seenath Jairam as members.

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 “counselled, procured, aided and or abetted” him to do so, including facilitating his departure from Guyana after Rodney’s death.

The commissioners are to also 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.

All persons shall be granted absolute pardon in respect of or incidental to all acts or things done, including offences committed in connection with or in relation to the death of Dr Rodney.

The PNCR, which is seen as key to the success of the inquiry since it was under the then PNC government that Rodney was killed, has decided not to take part. The then PNC government has been accused of engineering his assassination and then trying to cover its tracks.

The main opposition APNU, of which the PNCR is the main constituent, as well as the WPA, of which Dr Rodney was a co-leader, have both expressed dissatisfaction with the TOR. However, Sir Richard, in addressing that issue during a press conference last month, told the media that this falls outside the ambit of the commission and all concerns on this issue should be directed to the President, who is the sponsoring authority.

President Donald Ramotar has defended the ToR, saying that it was imperative that they 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 Uni-versity of Guyana, which culminated with the fateful events on June 13th, 1980,” Ramotar wrote in an April 1 letter to WPA, in response to concerns raised by the party.

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