One day before a planned opposition motion calling for the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry report to be tabled in the National Assembly, Attorney General Basil Williams yesterday presented the document to the Speaker, Dr. Barton Scotland.
Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan was the only other government minister present at the handing over which took place more than three months after the APNU+AFC government was furnished with the report. The presentation of the report may have forestalled a potentially embarrassing vote in Parliament today where the 12 AFC members would have had to decide on the opposition motion. The AFC had called for the report to be released whereas its coalition partner APNU has condemned the report and its findings. If the vote was taken today, the AFC members would have been expected to vote in favour of the opposition motion or abstain, dealing an embarrassing blow to their government. The presence yesterday of Ramjattan, the leader of the AFC, at the handing over is therefore seen as significant.
Dr. Scotland said that having now received the report he will lay it in Parliament. He however did not indicate when.
Williams in brief remarks moments after handing over the report said that upon receiving the report from the commissioners the President set in train a process which would have led to the report being laid in Parliament. He said that that process involved disseminating copies of the report to the widow of the late political activist, the Leader of the Opposition, members of the coalition government and other interested parties.
Williams said that after the dissemination to the parties and the coalition, they were to “come back and report to cabinet and that was about to be done”. He seems to have been referring to how it ended up being brought before the House. There was no explanation as to why this process would have taken three months.
The motion brought by opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira is scheduled to be dealt with at today’s sitting of the National Assembly. The motion contends that the government made a public commitment to table the report in the National Assembly and 77 days (when the motion was submitted) had passed since the government was in possession of it.
The motion calls on the government to table the Report “urgently within two weeks”.
Williams said that government has “no difficulty in laying this report over at this time”.
Later, asked about the report being handed over ahead of the motion dealing with the delay in it being tabled, the Attorney General said “we don’t consider that there was a delay. I just indicated to you the process that had to be undertaken”.
He said that the question of what would happen with the report now, “is a matter for the Speaker”.
Asked about his assessment of the findings that are contained in the Report, Williams said that “it is a flawed report and we must recognize that a lot of injustice would have been done to certain persons who would have been named during that process and really were not afforded the opportunity during …the inquiry to give evidence”.
He said that people came from as far as Florida and Cayenne to testify. He said that “Jomo” who travelled from Cayenne was only able to give his evidence in chief. “He ought to have been completed knowing that he had to go back to Cayenne”, he stressed.
Williams added that the way in which the inquiry was conducted led to this “bizarre result”.
The AG told reporters that the inquiry was to take four months but went on for nearly two years. He said that the present government could not allow the inquiry to continue given the price tag attached, later noting that well over $400M had been spent.
He reiterated that there was no contract signed on the part of the commissioners and the (then) government. “So we find that very strange that there would be such an engagement which would involve the spending of the hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars and there is no written contract…with respect to the remuneration and the conduct of the inquiry”, he said while making mention of a journalist wo had been paid a hefty sum.
Asked whether the PNCR of which he is chairman would be challenging the findings, he said that the report went to the Central Executive of the party and subsequently to the recently held General Council. He said that the quest of mounting a challenge “hasn’t been determined by those institutions”.
Pointing out that the PNCR has several decision-making bodies, he said that the party’s General Secretary will shortly hold a press conference where he will speak to the party’s response to the report.
Contacted by Stabroek News for a comment, Teixeira said that she is not “totally surprised”. She said that she suspected that the government might have tried to hand over the report ahead of the motion being heard.
Teixeira said that while she finds the handing over “highly coincidental”, it meant that the opposition has succeeded.
She said that the intention of the motion was to make government comply with a promise made. “I assume it will be put on the supplementary order paper for tomorrow … It being handed to the Speaker doesn’t mean it has to go on a supplementary order paper for tomorrow but it should be and if that is the case then we have succeeded”, she said.
The opposition MP insisted that if the government makes a promise it must be kept. “So let’s see what happens tomorrow”, she said.
The CoI had been set up in 2014 by then President Donald 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 last year, President David Granger had said that the inquiry would come to an end.
The report was delivered in February to the office of the Attorney General, a day after it was to be handed over to President Granger. The commissioners who had been given three extensions to hand in the report, said in their defence that they were forced to print the report at the Marriott Hotel where they were staying as no printer was provided for them. The printer it was said ran out of ink and by the time a refill came it was almost time for the scheduled handover.
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 the AG’s office instead of the Ministry of Presidency. Subsequently, a statement signed by Chairman Sir Richard Cheltenham and one of commissioners 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 report said 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 Forbes Burnham.
In the most detailed examination to date of a near 36-year-old mystery that deeply divided the country and stained the image of the PNC, the three-person inquiry, also found 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 and the Guyana Defence Force.