A COMMISSION OF INQUIRY, established in February last year to probe the circumstances of the ‘bombing’ death of the internationally famous Guyanese historian and political activist, Dr Walter Rodney, resumed public hearing this past Monday and under official advice to conclude public hearings by yesterday, and then to submit a final report within two months.
The dramatic change in the commission’s original work mandate has been articulated by the new government’s attorney general, Basil Williams, who has claimed declining state funding as the reason for the quite sudden decision to bring closure to the work of the commission.
Comprising three distinguished senior counsel, the commission is headed by Barbados’ Sir Richard Cheltenham and includes Jamaica’s Jacqueline Samuels-Brown and Trinidad and Tobago’s Seenath Jairam.
The commissioners were originally mandated to “examine the facts and circumstances, immediately prior, at the time of, and subsequent to, the death of Dr Walter Rodney in order to determine as far as possible who or what was responsible for the explosion resulting in his (Rodney’s) death . . .”.
Without relevant details being provided for public information, the haste demonstrated by the attorney general of the four-party coalition government seems quite puzzling.
After all, it has taken some 38 years for such an independent high-level probe to be a reality. During that period the PNC and the PPP had separately controlled state power for almost the same period of 20-odd years between 1980 and 2015.
Rodney was a founder-leader of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) that was rallying huge anti-PNC government protests when he was gruesomely killed in a bomb blast on the night of June 13, 1980, in Georgetown.
When President David Granger’s administration gave its surprising signal of an early end to the commission of inquiry, the widow of the renowned historian, Dr Patricia Rodney, issued a media statement in May in which she pleaded, on behalf of her family, for the government to “allow adequate time for the commissioners to complete their work”.
She made clear that “the Rodney family fully supports the work of the commission of inquiry under the new administration . . . .
“The family acknowledges the time, resources and expertise that have been expended to hear and test the evidence of witnesses that have come forward to date. And further believes that it would be a tragedy should the commission be unable to independently determine that its work is complete and publish its final report . . . .”
Barbadian lawyer Andrew Pilgrim, QC, is representing the Rodney family’s interest.
Sadly, that envisaged original work programme is not to be, as has been subsequently determined by the new Guyana government. At the time of writing this column, there was no available official response from the Commission of Inquiry.
In the circumstances, it is pertinent to note that the PNC has been consistent in refusing cooperation with a PPP-led government for any independent inquiry. After all, Rodney’s death had occurred during a period of widespread protests against Mr Burnham’s PNC-led government.
Given the vagaries of free and fair elections – restored in 1992 after 24 years of recurring electoral malpractices under PNC rule – the creation of the Commission of Inquiry into Dr Rodney’s death would be recalled as coinciding with perhaps the best known political irony of Guyana’s multi-party political culture.
What stands out in the current political scenario is that the commission’s members were being sworn in last year by then President Ramotar of the PPP, while the much miniaturised post-Rodney WPA was actively functioning as a coalition partner of President Granger’s PNC-dominated APNU (A Partnership for National Unity) that heads today’s four-party coalition government.
Dr Rodney was blasted to death by a bomb concealed in a walkie-talkie and delivered in a bag from a then officer of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), identified as Sergeant Gregory Smith. Walter’s younger brother, Donald, suffered injuries and had to be rushed to hospital.
Dr Rodney was 38 years of age when he was killed at a time of widespread bloody political disturbances in Guyana.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.