The Working People’s Alliance (WPA) has warned President Donald Ramotar of “grave defects” in the impending Commis-sion of Inquiry (CoI) into the death of party leader Dr Walter Rodney, which it says runs the risk of poisoning the political environment.
The scope of the inquiry, which includes examining the possible state surveillance of the political opposition, and the appointment of Senior Counsel Seenath Jairam on the commission have generated concerns among the WPA, which the party communicated to President Ramotar by way of a letter yesterday.
“Having waited for more than 3 decades for this Commission of Inquiry, it would be disappointing if, in the words of the ICJ [International Commission of Jurists] on the infamous Inquest, it were to be “marred by grave defects,”” WPA co-leaders Professor Clive Thomas and Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine wrote in the letter, where they urged the removal of a contentious part of the terms of reference and the replacement of Jairam.
Presidential Advisor Gail Teixeira yesterday said that every organisation could decide on whether it would participate in the CoI as the process is voluntary, while also dismissing concerns over Jairam’s appointment. “…I may have my own views on why they are not participating. I would challenge any organisation or individual who does not want to finally put the matter to rest. Why wouldn’t we as Guyanese want to be able to investigate the murder of Dr. Rodney? Maybe there are reasons that some organisations are hesitant. We need to know who was involved and who was behind it,” she said at a post-Cabinet briefing, where she was asked if she was concerned that several organisations did not want to participate in the COI.
Rodney died in a car near John and Bent streets on June 13, 1980, after a walkie-talkie given to him by now deceased Guyana Defence Force (GDF) member Gregory Smith exploded. The Forbes Burnham-led People’s National Congress (PNC) administration, which had been opposed by Rodney, has long been blamed for the murder. The party, however, has continuously denied any responsibility.
Following the sudden appointment of members of the COI last week, the main opposition coalition APNU—of which the WPA is a member—has voiced its own misgivings about Jairam’s appointment and the terms of reference. In addition, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) has also signaled to the Administrator of the CoI its unwillingness to associate itself with the work of the Commission, in light of it not being convinced about the purpose or the process of the inquiry. The GHRA said that the proposed inquiry has greater potential for reviving rather than healing ethnic division in Guyana and lamented that it would be a travesty of Dr Rodney’s major contribution to Guyana if this proved to be the case.
The GHRA also argued that the failure to consult the WPA on what may be perceived as “opportunistic” terms of reference for the inquiry, robs the initiative of credibility.
Teixeira said yesterday that the administration found the GHRA’s stance incomprehensible. “We find it unfathomable that the GHRA would not wish to bring whatever documents and opinions they have to the commission of inquiry… I don’t know where the link with elections is. I don’t understand where the link election is nor do I understand the issue of racial division,” she added, while referring to the suggestion by the human rights group that the timing of the CoI could be read as the worst form of electioneering.
She also noted that Rodney’s family made specific requests to the President in 2012. “The family made it very clear what their specific requirements were and the non-involvement or involvement of any other partners other than their agreement with the government,” she said.
Teixeira said she believed that the WPA would have an interest in appearing before the commission to present its views.
The Presidential Advisor also accused APNU of “pulling at straws” by questioning the appointment of Jairam. “APNU is pulling at straws. Are they imputing that the honorable gentleman is incapable of being balanced and fair?” she questioned.
In the WPA’s letter to the president, Thomas and Roopnaraine, on behalf of the party’s executive committee, also emphasised the apparent shut out of all opposition parties in the process. They said that the present arrangements for the inquiry have not benefitted from any consultation with the parliamentary opposition parties. They pointed out that represented a marked departure from the process that had generated the government Motion that was laid in the National Assembly in June of 2005 on the inquiry.
Addressing the terms of reference, Thomas and Roopnaraine noted their party executive’s “grave concerns” that the examination of state surveillance of the political opposition from 1978 to 1980 strays “a considerable distance” from the precisions of “examining the facts and circumstances immediately prior, at the time of, and subsequent to the death of Dr. Walter Rodney….”
Under the terms of reference for the CoI, the Commissioners are to examine and report on the actions and activities of the State, 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.
Thomas and Roopnaraine questioned how the time period qualified as being immediately prior, at the time of, and subsequent to the death of Dr. Rodney.
They further argued that the scope of this section of the terms of reference goes well beyond what is required for the determination of responsibility in Dr Rodney’s death. “…[It] runs the risk of opening a Pandora’s box that will guarantee an unwelcome poisoning of the political environment which, you will agree, is already toxic enough,” they said, while urging the removal of the respective section from the terms of reference.
In relation to Jairam’s appointment, Thomas and Roopnaraine also registered “grave and unswerving misgivings” in light of his role as lead counsel representing the government in the recent budget cuts case before the acting Chief Justice Ian Chang. “While Mr. Jairam is indisputably a highly placed and respected member of the Trinidad and Tobago bar whose professionalism is not in question, we are of the view that, in these highly charged political issues, his past representations may not free him from the appearance of bias,” they said. “As you are well aware, proper due process cannot ever entertain the slightest appearance of a conflict of interest. We urge therefore that the appointment of Mr. Jairam be revoked and a more suitable Commissioner be appointed in his place.”
The other members of the commission are Sir Richard Cheltenham, a Queen’s Counsel and Barbadian national is the Chairman of the Commission and Jamaican Queen’s Counsel (QC) Jacqueline Samuels-Brown.
The WPA leaders also took issue with the granting of an absolute pardon to all persons “in respect of or incidental to all acts of things done, including offences committed in connection with or in relation to the death of Dr. Walter Rodney,” under the terms of reference.
They contended that such immunity would have the CoI “tip-toe in the direction of a Truth Commission,” even while the terms of reference and the prevailing conditions “fall far short of the complex requirements of a Truth Commission.” “Perhaps it is enough, at this stage and in our conditions, that it pins the flag of reconciliation on its mast,” they added.