There can be no other valid objective of the Rodney Inquiry than to seek the truth, namely, the circumstances surrounding his death in 1980. It is the truth that the nation has been awaiting and demanding for over thirty years. It is the truth that shall bring closure to the tragedy of Dr. Rodney’s violent death and particularly to his long suffering family who have been vainly waiting for this event for over three decades.
The PNC’s objection, not unexpected, later subscribed to by the WPA, was that Mr. Seenauth Jairam, a Senior Counsel of Guyanese birth, who had recently appeared for the Government in the constitutional case challenging the budget cuts was, as a result thereof, not politically neutral.
Not only did former Chancellor Keith Massiah serve on the Gajraj Inquiry without objection, as was pointed out, but his brother, the late Claude Massiah, was appointed a Judge after he had been a candidate for the PNC in previous general elections. Justice Bovell-Drakes was the Chairman of the Young Socialist Movement, the youth arm of the PNC, before being appointed to serve as a Judge after a campaign by the PNCR, lawyers and a court case filed by him. He continues to serve without any complaint. It is a well known and acceptable practice for lawyers to appear for and against the same person or agency at different times and in unrelated matters. The PNC’s and the WPA’s concern about Mr. Jairam therefore ‘have no legs’ or ‘walking capacity’ as stated by the Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry (COI), Sir Richard Cheltenham.
Then came the WPA’s objection to the TOR, the effect of which would be to effectively degut the Inquiry. In a letter to President Ramotar the WPA objected to clause iv of the TOR which provides for the Commission to examine the facts and circumstances immediately prior to, at the time of, and subsequent to the death of Dr. Walter Rodney – between January 1, 1978 and December 31, 1980. The WPA alleges that this paragraph is too wide and ‘runs the risk of opening a Pandora’s Box that will guarantee an unwelcome poisoning of the political environment which…is already toxic enough.’ The WPA proposes that the Inquiry should be restricted to the facts immediately before, during and after the incident on John Street outside the Georgetown Prison.
Some of these are already largely known. The only thing such a restricted the Inquiry will reveal is if Dr. Rodney requested of Gregory Smith an instrument with explosives or whether the explosives were surreptitiously planted by Smith. Is this all the nation should know? Is this all an elaborate international inquiry should be established to discover?
In order to arrive at any conclusion, much less a credible one, the Commission needs to have before it all relevant facts. By providing for a time frame that is broad enough to enable the Commission to consider past events which could be relevant, the Commission is thereby facilitated. Otherwise the truth will remain hidden and closure to this national tragedy will elude us and Dr. Rodney’s family forever. But providing a time frame was unnecessary. The mere power to inquire would have given the Commission enough reach not only to go back to 1978 or further, if it considered it to be necessary but also investigate the activities of the security forces against the Opposition during the relevant period, even if there were no specific terms relating to this. This issue is therefore an irrelevant storm in a teacup.
Relevant issues may include: Was Dr. Rodney assassinated? If so, by whom? Was there a conspiracy? If so, who were the participants? Did the political activities of Dr. Rodney have any connection with his death? Was Dr. Rodney engaged in any illegal activities? Was his death occasioned by such activities or by his own negligence? How long did Dr. Rodney know Gregory Smith? How did he get to know him? How often did they meet? What were the circumstances of their engagements and the purposes of their meetings? Did Gregory Smith have any links with the disciplined forces and for how long before 1980? Did he assassinate Dr. Rodney? Was he acting on the disciplined forces behalf or on behalf of some other person or agency, or on no one’s behalf? There are many others.
If these questions are relevant, then the limitation to the TOR of the Commission, as suggested by the WPA, will ensure that the above questions cannot even asked, much less answered. What then will be the purpose of the Inquiry?
The PNCR and WPA are vital stakeholders in this matter. They will have much to say to an Inquiry and, in any event, much will be said about them. They have an opportunity to influence the narrative. Not to take it will be a lost opportunity to do so and to settle and heal the pain from one of Guyana’s greatest tragedies. It is hoped that the wise counsel of which they are capable will prevail. The truth will be cathartic, not poisonous.