The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) yesterday sounded renewed concerns over the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the death of Walter Rodney, dubbing it a plot to provoke resentment and warning that the cost to the country could exceed US$1M.
At a press conference held at the party’s headquarters in Sophia, PNCR Leader David Granger said the plot was orchestrated by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and aims to “provoke resentment against the PNCR rather than to pursue the truth.”
He also said that the party would not support any additional funding to the commission should it receive any further extensions.
“The PPP/C deliberately waited over 20 years until the onset of local government or general and regional elections to convene the Commission of Inquiry,” Granger charged, before adding, “It now seeks to divert public attention from the prevalent problems of crime, corruption, incompetence and internal conflict within its own ranks.”
Rodney, the co-leader of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) and an activist who had openly opposed the then PNC government, was killed in a car near John and Bent streets on June 13, 1980, after a walkie-talkie given to him exploded. The PNCR has long been accused of killing Rodney despite repeated denials over the years.
Though Granger noted that the PNCR supported the inquiry into Rodney’s death, he said the party was “dismayed with the manner in which the Commission has proceeded.”
Meanwhile, PNCR Chairman and attorney Basil Williams, who represents the party’s interest during CoI sessions, said that the cost of the CoI to the national treasury might just exceed US$1M. According to the original notice in the Official Gazette, the CoI originally had a four-month timeframe within which it was to tender its report, findings and recommendations to the president. However, Williams said, this deadline had passed and has now been extended to September even while key witnesses such as Donald Rodney and former Crime Chief Cecil ‘Skip’ Roberts are yet to testify. He also said that Guyana Defence Force (GDF) former Chief-of-Staff Norman McLean should return to the witness stand.
“Core witnesses like Cecil ‘Skip’ Roberts… was brought to Guyana, put up in a hotel for 11 days and was allowed to leave without testifying,” Williams pointed out. He went on to say, “And they [the commission] have not indicated… when they propose to bring the Crime Chief [Roberts]. I don’t know how they can have an inquiry without bringing him, with him being alive. Donald Rodney is the only eyewitness to the death of Dr. Rodney; there is no indication as to when he is to come.”
Williams opined that the only way to conclude the commission would be to bring these two witnesses.
Williams had raised his concerns during a public commission hearing on Thursday. CoI Chairman Sir Richard Cheltenham told him that the witnesses were returning and they would be informed of the date they will be testifying.
Williams nonetheless continued to argue that the government was spending hundreds of millions on the inquiry and witnesses were not returning to the stand. “This commission is not going to be here forever!” he charged.
“When we are ready we will advertise to you and the world when we will bring them back,” Sir Richard said angrily, in response.
Nevertheless, Williams continued to bicker about the money, stating that it could have been spent on developing communities and building roads.
“That’s a propaganda point!” Sir Richard burst out. “We are not here to facilitate propaganda!”
“I was forced to pose the question to the Chairman of the Commission, whether he believes that, one, that we could be here forever and two, that there is unlimited funds… I know that it has passed over 100 and something [million] to date,” Williams said yesterday.
According to Williams, when this figure was shared with Sir Richard, it was met with “annoyance”.
“It is quite clear that the whole purpose of this Commission of Inquiry is not really to find out how Dr. Rodney died but it is to use as many witnesses as possible to besmirch the reputation of the PNCR because the government is preparing for elections,” Granger said.
In April, the PNCR had announced that it would not be a participant in the proceedings. However, the party eventually decided to field a legal team at the CoI’s public hearings to watch over its interest.