Final submissions made to Walter Rodney Commission – Ram, Ramotar decry abrupt end — as WPA joins call for extension of hearings

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Dr Walter Rodney

 

THE Working People’s Alliance (WPA) represented in the recently-concluded Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry has joined in the petition currently before the body’s Commissioners for an extension into the proceedings, allowing for more hearings from crucial witnesses.

At yesterday’s final sitting of the Commission at the Supreme Court, Counsel representing the WPA, Attorney-at-Law, Christopher Ram, said, on behalf of his client, that while the entity recognises the right of the new Government to bring the Commission to an end, “there is nothing more that can render this exercise a waste of public resources than an inconclusive finding by this Commission”.

 Attorney-at-Law and Counsel for the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Christopher Ram
Attorney-at-Law and Counsel for the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Christopher Ram

“The WPA,” he continued, “does not encourage or condone the waste of public resources, but it will be a sad day when democracy, the search for truth, and the opportunity for hearing and reconciliation are measured only in dollars and cents”.
The Rodney Commission commenced hearings in 2013 under then President Ramotar. Both the WPA and the People’s National Congress (PNC) parties were represented through the Commission’s 60+ days of hearing.
The WPA and the PNC are currently parties within the APNU bloc of the new coalition Government.
Rodney had been the leader of the WPA at the time of his death, during which PNC founder Forbes Burnham was Prime Minister.
Since coming to power after the May 11 General and Regional Elections, the coalition Government had uncovered what has been deemed excessive spending, and cited this as justification for discontinuation of the Rodney CoI.
Former President Donald Ramotar has come out against the decision of the David Granger Administration to end the inquiry into the death of the renowned Guyanese Historian and leader of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA).
Mr. Ramotar and his People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government were defeated at the May 11 polls, which saw the David Granger-led A Partnership for National Unity+ Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) coalition sweeping into power.
In a press statement yesterday, former President Donald Ramotar, who requested the Commission after meeting with surviving members of the Rodney Family, defended his decisions to commence the Commission, as well as the financing of the endeavour.

NOT POLITICAL MOTIVE

From left, Commissioner Seenath Jairam of Trinidad and Tobago; Chairman of the Commission, Sir Richard Cheltenham of Barbados; and Commissioner Jacqueline Samuels-Brown of Jamaica
From left, Commissioner Seenath Jairam of Trinidad and Tobago; Chairman of the Commission, Sir Richard Cheltenham of Barbados; and Commissioner Jacqueline Samuels-Brown of Jamaica

Although Ramotar’s PPP/C Government had been accused of establishing the Commission as a “witch-hunt” against the former PNC Government, Ramotar said in his release, “the decision to establish this Commission of Inquiry was not inspired by any political motive, but purely by my desire to shed light on one of the darkest and most controversial events in Guyana’s post-Independence history.”
The decision to bring the Commission to an end does not sit well with the entities involved in the inquiry, particularly the Commissioners and the respective Counsels for the WPA, the Rodney family, and Donald Rodney.
While admitting in his release that the Commission was “an expensive undertaking”, President Ramotar assured it was “a justifiable one.”
“I have no doubt that the Commissioners needed just a few weeks more to complete their tasks in a professional way,” Mr. Ramotar said, adding his disapproval to end the Commission and “save a few dollars when hundreds of millions have been spent already and the Commission’s report will most likely be affected by the failure of the Commission to receive evidence from important witnesses who are yet to testify, and from those who have testified already and who are to complete their testimony”.
Meanwhile, the WPA’s Counsel, Mr. Christopher Ram told the Commission at yesterday’s proceedings that the party was reluctant to be part of the Commission under the former Ramotar Administration because of a belief that the Commission was set up to serve a “narrow political interest, rather than to seek the truth”.

His Excellency, President David Arthur Granger
His Excellency, President David Arthur Granger

Mr. Ram noted his client’s position that the party would not discourage anyone within or outside of the party who wished to testify before the Commission. In the Commission’s 60+ days of hearing, the Commissioners have heard from a number of WPA members, but not from Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, a known friend of the late Dr. Walter Rodney.
Dr. Roopnaraine now serves as Education Minister in the David Granger Administration. He will not have a chance to testify before the Commission because of its abrupt ending.
OPTIMISTIC
One observer at the Commission of Inquiry, Jocelyn Dow, told this publication following the end of the proceedings that while there was an outcry of wastages, she is optimistic that appeals for the Commission to have an extension will not fall on deaf ears.
“It has ended, at least for now, and I certainly hope that there is some consideration for the petition of the Commissioners and lawyers that it be extended for a little more, so that there could be no stone left unturned to give a final verdict on this sad past of Guyana.”
“Commissions of Inquiry are creatures of the Executive,” Chairman of the Commission, Sir Richard Cheltenham told the court on Monday, while explaining that this is not the first time a Commission of Inquiry has been brought to an early end due to a change in Government. Nonetheless, he reassured the right of the Government to terminate the Commission when it desires.
“What the Executive arm cannot do and will never be permitted to do, and I must add that nobody has made an attempt to do, is to tell us as Commissioners what evidence we will find, what evidence we will reject, what weight to attach to the evidence, and what our findings, or fact, or recommendations will be,” the Commission Chairman continued.

The Rodney family is, however, convinced that a failure to complete hearings will diminish the thoroughness of the Commission’s report. The family believes that witnesses like Cecil ‘Skip’ Roberts, who was Crime Chief of the Guyana Police Force at the time of Rodney’s death in 1980; Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, now Education Minister and a close friend of Dr. Rodney; and Major General (rtd) Norman McLean, who served previously as Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), should be allowed to testify.

Former President Donald Ramotar
Former President Donald Ramotar

“I think we are all very much aware that the family of Dr. Walter Rodney came to this hearing seeking some form of closure, and seeking to have a hearing that can be looked upon as being fair and thorough, and done in the interest of justice,” the Rodney family’s lawyer told the court, as he conceded that the Commission is a “creature” of the Government.
The evidence-gathering phase of the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry concluded yesterday. The Commissioners have until the end of November to submit their final report, with recommendations, to President David Granger.

 
By Derwayne Wills