DR. Walter Rodney, the politician, in his lifetime criss-crossed the country rallying persons around conversations on racial unity and improvement in the lives of the working-class. One would therefore have expected that any Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into his mysterious death would have among its objectives bringing closure to an era in this nation’s history and beginning the process of healing the society. These have not been achieved because of various reasons, inclusive of the role and conduct of the PPP government, the APNU+AFC government and Sir Richard Cheltenham, Chairman of the Commission. The named are the principal players, given their authority to make decisions that impacted the commission and results.
Rodney as a public figure does not belong alone to his blood relations, colleagues, and the WPA; he belongs to Guyanese and the international academic community.
The question before us is not only about the gathering of evidence, but also a lack of systemic thinking in the entire affair. In 2005, the parliament passed a motion, with the support of the PNC, to have an inquiry. The Government of Guyana had an obligation to the society to maintain the solidarity on this matter among the political forces. Instead, the PPP government embarked on a process of appointing a commission with Terms of Reference that had all the appearances of scoring political points, and which was compounded by the selection of a panel without the required consultation. These acts robbed the nation the opportunity of achieving consensus by the political forces, inclusive of the PNC and WPA.
The Chairman should have refused to accept the assignment, given that in his tribute in June 1980 at a Rodney memorial he took the liberty of placing guilt at the door of the government of the day, which was the Forbes Burnham administration. When this information was brought to the public’s attention, initially the chairman feigned ignorance, then subsequently said he did not see his 1980 tribute and present role being a conflict of interest. The Guyana Times (26/2/2016) reported Cheltenham in responding to President David Granger’s view of the report saying, “It is a political party and you understand what is happening. The hero of that party was Burnham, so you understand where it comes from…They had an idol.” This gentleman has done an injustice to the society and Rodney, evident in his utterances and presence which raise questions about the findings of the CoI.
It is instructive to note that prominent members of the WPA and close comrades to Rodney like Professor Clive Thomas, Rupert Roopnaraine and David Hinds were never called to the commission and apparently did not submit statements. Hinds and Roopnaraine are on public record requesting a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and it was expected at least they would have been called.
The nation was advised that Cecil “Skip” Roberts, who headed the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at the time of Rodney’s death was in the country to appear before the commission but was never called to lead evidence, neither was a statement taken from him. Robert Corbin, former Leader of the PNC-the party of Forbes Burnham- name was mentioned in damaging testimony, but he was never summoned to appear before the commission. David Granger, who was Commander of the GDF during the 1980 incident, was mentioned in testimony, but he was not summoned to appear. Norman McLean, who was the Chief of Staff during the period, was never given the opportunity to finish leading evidence.
During the life of the commission, the APNU+AFC was elected to government. The commission publicly stated the need for and requested more time from the new government to conclude their work, particularly that of taking evidence. The Government of Guyana did not permit the duration of time requested.
There are a few issues before us. One, the commission was not granted the time requested to conclude its work. Two, by the commission’s own admission of needing more time is indicative that its report cannot be considered complete. Three, the APNU+AFC government in denying additional time set the stage for confrontation with the commission. Four, the denial of additional time raised questions as to whether there is something to hide. Five, the refusal of the PPP government to engage the other political forces in arriving at a Terms of Reference that would have built on the political bipartisanship of 2005-which was a rare moment in our history- set in action a process whose results will never be accepted by all the groups in the society.
Clearly, where processes are flawed and compromised, results/findings can never be credible. A grave injustice has been done to this society and the life of a man, who as a political activist, spoke about racial unity and as an academic was methodical and systematic in his thinking and writings.
In terms of race and political relations, Guyana is poorer from the CoI report. The only bright spot around this report is that a body of work is compiled in a single document that provides fodder to the curious.