Termination of Rodney Commission of Inquiry disquieting

Dear Editor,

I share the sense of relief and welcome at the change of administration in Guyana. The population is rightly in a mood of high approval of measures and revelations against the squandering of public funds and lack of accountability. The throwing out of big numbers in relation to the Rodney Commission of Inquiry can help to make it come to be seen as an obstacle to progress as in the cases of the GuySuCo Board or the NIS. This is a form of misrepresentation.

I salute all those from various camps who helped the coalition edge out the previous regime, a crew that had made itself widely offensive.

The idea of a Minister being sheltered from an alleged traffic offence against a citizen, for example, is very, very low life indeed.

Within weeks of the election that removed the PPP/C there is a kind of coordinated campaign against the commission investigating the unnatural death of Walter Rodney. An inquiry had been evaded by the PNC and then by the PPP governments until it was ordered by the National Assembly in 2005 with the ruling PPP abstaining because the amended motion did not speak of an assassination but of a death to be investigated.

In 2013 the PPP/C government announced an inquiry. It ultimately established the Commission of Inquiry in 2014 after an approach from the Rodney family and when the PPP saw an Inquiry as politically exploitable. The President after much delay established the commission under Chapter 19:03 of the laws of Guyana but discriminated against the opposition parties in the National Assembly in the implementation when it applied the one party culture by consulting only the ruling PPP. The President justified this discrimination by saying that it was the widow’s request.

This claim caused opinion makers to ignore the fact that the responsibility is the President’s and that he cannot delegate it to a petitioner. In her cross- examination before the COI Mrs Rodney denied making the request. Her answer is being ignored although then counsel for the PNC had at once thanked her publicly for it. Although I welcome vigilance relating to the work of the commission and the expenses involved, as I do in relation to GuySuCo, I find some of the insinuations without more than figures unfair. The commission has certain legal powers, but the members cannot just land in a country and fix hotel rates.

I defend freedom of expression but it is not a sign of maturity for officials to take part in the creation of a cloud of suspicion and mistrust over a COI without the findings of the state officials empowered to make such findings. It is all the more disquieting to me as a distant sympathiser of the coalition when, and I think wisely, there is no decision to wind down GuySuCo, a deades long offender.

The general mood in Guyana is a healthy one of relief and excitement at the discovery of case after case of alleged financial irregularity. To make the COI and all its works unpopular what   could be easier than to throw out real numbers without the audit due to a constitutional body   into that mood of hunger for new raiders of the treasury! There is so far no comparison with the expenses of the Linden Commission or other standard of comparison.

The one proven violation of financial prudence is the procuring through the PPP/C’s Tender Board the services of a journalist to use testimony for an anti-PNC campaign which is not the stated purpose of the inquiry and was unnecessary. Yet there is a hint that this may not be pursued.

The new Attorney General was fully involved in the public sessions of the COI giving excellent representation to the PNC   He should be able to say how many witnesses, if any, were rejected by the commission. Two major witnesses representing the defence of the suspect Gregory Smith were among the more recent witnesses. At the time of the COI’s most recent sittings testimony amounting to a case for the defence had just begun to emerge. An interest in a fair Inquiry would seem to dictate that such testimony be tested on equal terms with the testimony of the opposite tendency. It is puzzling that with only crude financial data to go on, that responsible state authorities well practised in adjudication could by themselves determine an end to the sittings. It is tempting to justify the present camaign by agreeing that such an Inquiry would have been far less costly if it had been held in the 1980s.

I have the habit if listening carefully to court proceedings. What struck me in the Inquiry was the interest of counsel on all sides in fairness.

Since the administration is new and is faced with a host of bewildering situations I am bound to presume and assume the best intentions on the part of the Attorney General and his colleagues with no statutory responsibility under the Commission of Inquiries Act.

This controversy has been treated without the necessary process as a public debate and I have no alternative but to appeal at that forum.

If the first official response to the facts so far announced is to be a presumption of complicity on the part of the commission, the new administration may find it hard to assemble a credible commission of inquiry into the violations alleged against the previous administration or its officials.

 

Yours faithfully,
Eusi Kwayana

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