President David Granger yesterday said his government will challenge the findings of the Commis-sion of Inquiry (CoI) into the 1980 death of historian Dr Walter Rodney, charging that “badly flawed” evidence was contained in the final report.
In his first public statement on the findings which have been published in Stabroek News and other media houses but not released by the government, Granger said: “When you look at details of the evidence provided it is clear that the report itself is very badly flawed and we intend to challenge the findings of the report and the circumstances under which that report was conducted. That is all I would like to say at this time on that Report but it is terribly flawed”. He was at the time accepting the credentials of the Japanese non-resident Ambassador to Guyana, Mitsuhiko Okada.
The report of the CoI chaired by Barbadian Queen’s Counsel, Sir Richard Cheltenham delivered a damning indictment of late Prime Minister Forbes Burnham who it said was likely part of a conspiracy that involved the army and the police to kill Rodney. Granger is presently the leader of Burnham’s party, the PNCR and attained the rank of Brigadier in the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). The PNCR has maintained a hostile stance to the CoI from the inception.
Granger was asked yesterday to comment on the revelations coming out of the CoI report. In his response he expressed disapproval of the evidence of a convict being heavily relied upon and criticised the commission for not putting former Crime Chief Cecil `Skip’ Roberts on the stand although he was brought to Guyana and accommodated here for ten days. Roberts, this newspaper understands lives in the US.
The President stated from the outset that he would not like to comment in too much detail. He noted that the matter has not been fully discussed by Cabinet and while copies have been circulated he unfortunately has been unable to get the views of Cabinet as he was in Belize on official business.
“I would like to say that the report is very badly flawed in many respects. From the start we realized that the Commission was paying a lot of attention to hearsay evidence and the most glaring example of the flaw in the Commission’s report is the fact that they decided to accept the evidence of a convict”, he said.
The convict being referred to was Clive De Nobegra Gates, who changed his name by deed poll to Robert Alan Gates. Gates who is currently serving a 48-month prison sentence for obtaining money by false pretence stood before the commission for several days giving evidence. He had at one time been accused of murder.
The commission in their report which was handed in amidst controversy, deemed Gates one of the important witnesses and said that being a convict or in prison is not a ground for testimony to be rejected. The commissioners called Gates, who is a former policeman, “a witness of the truth”.
Granger told reporters that the commission brought a convict, who at the time of Dr. Rodney’s death, was a constable in the Guyana Police Force, to testify. “He reports verbatim on a conversation between the President of Guyana (Burnham), the Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force and two assistant commissioners of police and he was not present. How does he know what was going on? And why should the Commission believe that he knew what was going on?”, he questioned.
Additionally, he said the Commission brought one of the persons who was present at that meeting into this country for ten days, kept him at a hotel and then sent him back to the United States without asking him a single question. The person the president was referring to was Roberts who many believe had important information which could help to clear up some of the misconceptions and lingering questions about Dr. Rodney’s death.
“Why should the Com-mission accept the word of a convict and refuse to bring onto the stand, the Deputy Commissioner of Police who in fact was supposed to be at that meeting with former President Burnham and was also the Chief Investigator into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. Rodney?”, he asked.
Granger stressed that a “tremendous amount of money” belonging to taxpayers was spent on the inquiry when this could have been better spent.
“We could have built 10 schools with the money that was spent on that Commission. I personally gave them three extensions and I think (former) Presi-dent (Donald) Ramotar (who commissioned the inquiry) gave them three extensions; that’s six extensions. They are just gobbling up money and at the same time they are not providing the Guyanese people with the truth”, he said.
He stated that the government supported the Commission’s pursuit of truth but he argued that the Commission “has varied from its mandate and has accepted a lot of hearsay evidence and not given the Guyanese people what they deserve; that is to say, what were the circumstances under which Dr. Rodney acquired a certain device and how that device came to be detonated. That is what we want to know”.
A major portion of the CoI report revolved around how the suspected killer of Rodney, coastguardsman Gregory Smith, was spirited out of the country by the GDF and how the police and others tried to cover his tracks, even facilitating him with travel documents under a different name long after the murder. Granger did not refer to this part of the report yesterday.
The CoI had been set up in 2014 by Ramotar to determine as far as possible who or what was responsible for the explosion that killed Rodney on June 13, 1980.
Shortly after taking up office in May, Granger had said that the inquiry would come to an end.
The report was delivered two weeks ago to Williams’s office, a day after it was to be handed over to President Granger. The commission was forced to print the report at the Marriott Hotel where they were staying as no printer was provided for them. The printer it was claimed ran out of ink and by the time a refill came it was almost time for the scheduled hand over.
The commission was accused of being disrespectful to the president as it failed to not only deliver the report on time but also for sending it to Attorney General Basil Williams’s office instead of the Ministry of Presidency. Subsequently, a statement signed by Sir Richard and one of commissioners was released to clarify some of the information being presented. In addition to explaining the delay in presenting the report, they said that it was Williams who first suggested that the report be taken to his office and later this was the instruction they received from the president’s secretary.
The CoI has concluded that Rodney was the victim of a State-organised assassination on June 13th, 1980 and this could only have been possible with the knowledge of then PNC Prime Minister and later President, Burnham.
In the report it was stated that Burnham’s grip and absolute control over the Guyanese society was so firm and extensive that he de-humanised and belittled many Guyanese by compelling them to clean trenches, canals or drains.
The report found too that the late soldier Gregory Smith carried out the killing and he was then spirited out of the country to French Guiana in an elaborate operation spearheaded by the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and the GDF.
The PNCR which is a major player in A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), a component of the coalition government has always denied responsibility for Rodney’s death. The party too had never expressed favour with the inquiry and on many occasions its counsel, the now Attorney General Basil Williams had verbal clashes with the commissioners. Williams had on many occasions complained about hearsay information that was being brought before the commission.
How the report is handled can pose a major challenge to the governing APNU+AFC coalition. APNU comprises several parties including the PNCR and Rodney’s party, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA). The WPA would most likely want the fullest ventilation of the findings of the report as it had long sought a detailed inquiry into the killing of Rodney. The other key component of the coalition, the Alliance for Change comprises persons who would have shown solidarity with the WPA since 1980 on issues pertaining to the Rodney CoI. It is likely to take a more sympathetic view to the CoI findings which could put it at odds with APNU and the PNCR.
There is no word on whether the president will made the report public in keeping with the standard practice. A legal official explained to Stabroek News yesterday that while the standard practice is to release such reports, it’s the president’s inquiry and as such he can deviate from that. “He don’t have to make it public. It is his inquiry and he can do whatever he wishes with the findings”, the source said.
However, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall has expressed a different view. He said in an invited comment yesterday that at a minimum the president could make the report public. He said that the leader of government business in the National Assembly should lay the report in the National Assembly. According to Nandlall the president should appoint someone to work towards implementation of the recommendations. Additionally, he said that the president should send a copy to Dr.Walter Rodney’s widow, Dr Patricia Rodney.
After months of hearings that were eventually curtailed by the APNU+AFC government on assuming office in May last year, the CoI report stated among its significant findings that “Given all the relevant facts, events and circumstances set out in the Report, we unhesitatingly conclude that Gregory Smith was not acting alone but had the active and full support, participation and encouragement of, and/or was aided and abetted by the GPF, the GDF, agencies of the State, and the political directorate in the killing (of) Dr Walter Rodney.”
It then alighted on Burnham, who for decades had been publicly believed by the WPA to have been behind the killing of the academic and grass roots politician, who had begun to attract mass gatherings which were seen as threatening the PNC’s grasp on power.
“Dr Walter Rodney was a man of large and significant stature both in Guyana and beyond at the time of his death. He could only have been killed in what we find to be a State organised assassination with the knowledge of Prime Minister Burnham in the Guyana of that period. It was a controlled society and Burnham had a large and detailed knowledge of whatever was being done by the state and its agencies,” the report asserted.
The Commission, which also included Senior Counsel Seenath Jairam of Trinidad and Tobago and QC Jacqueline Samuels of Jamaica said that there was prima facie evidence that the late Police Commissioner Lewis and other senior members of the Disciplined Services “had significant roles to play in the conspiracy to kill Dr Walter Rodney and the subsequent attempt to conceal the circumstances surrounding his death.”
It further said that given the manner in which the country was run, allied with threats that been issued by Prime Minister Burnham, who passed away in 1985, “we conclude that Prime Minister Burnham knew of the plan and was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Dr Walter Rodney.”
The CoI lamented that the premature termination of the Commission prevented those who had been identified within the report as being engaged in the conspiracy from testifying and resisting this finding. As a result, it said that no firm and specific finding was being made on their roles beyond what was indicated.