– admits succumbing to PNC-dominated Cabinet pressure
BY ALEXIS RODNEY
Leader of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr Rupert Roopnaraine has confessed that he was a signatory to the precipitous
decision to scrap the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry (CoI), but said that he is still prepared to offer his statement to Commissioners who are yet to present their findings.
By making this admission, Roopnaraine, who was appointed Senior Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Minister in the new Government, has confirmed reports that the decision of the Peoples National Congress Reform (PNCR)-dominated Cabinet to abruptly end the life of the Commission was unanimous.
The CoI, which was established under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), to probe the circumstances which led to the death of the founding leader of the WPA, Dr Walter Anthony Rodney, came to an abrupt end last week, with lawyers representing various interests pleading for the most, two weeks, to complete the investigation.
Minister of Governance and Patrimony Raphael Trotman had told Journalists that the decision to scrap the Inquiry was a collective one made at the level of Cabinet; of which the Working People’s Alliance forms part. Questions were raised about the WPA’s real position on this move, particularly because it has for years been calling for an independent probe into the cause of death of its leader.
Speaking to Guyana Times during an exclusive interview on Monday, Roopnaraine said “It was a Cabinet decision. We don’t break ranks at Cabinet on issues like that. We took a point of view and the consensus from Cabinet is inclined to take a particular position, that is it”.
Submission of his statement
He continued “My own feeling was that the Cabinet felt that the time had come for it to come to an end and that enough had been invested in the Commission and that it has had sufficient time to come to its conclusion”, Roopnaraine said, continuing that he will “compensate” by dispatching the statement he has prepared to the Commission, “so that they would not be deprived of my own evidence, which to the investigation will definitely rob the Commission of a comprehensive, thorough and fair outcome”.
On another note, the WPA Leader told this publication that it would have been more satisfying for the party to have the opportunity to present its case to the Commission.
“We have been represented by counsel, who has done a good job, but had the Commission gone on for one or two more sessions, complete with all the witnesses, it would have been great”.
He said “I had a statement in readiness for the Commission, expecting at some point to be called. But what I will do, I will be submitting my statement to them; although it will not allow time for a cross examination but at least they would have my statement”, Roopnaraine said.
According to the WPA Leader, his statement has been “sitting there” and ready for months, noting that nothing that has transpired in the Commission could incline him to change it.
“It remains what it was two or three months ago. I’m anticipating that I will send that statement during the course of the week”.
The Commission of inquiry met for its last two sittings last Monday and Tuesday, where lawyers representing various interests in the investigation made their final submissions, summarising the evidence that have been so far presented.
They too had a lot to say about Government’s decision to have the final session wrapped up in a mere two days. Chairman of the Commission, Sir Richard Cheltenham said while Commissions of Inquiry were “creatures of the executive”, the move by the David Granger Administration will not speak well for the fairness of the final report which commissioners were expecting to present by November.
The CoI, which was convened in February 2014 by former President Donald Ramotar, has had some 66 sittings with a total of 29 witnesses giving evidence; three of whom are still to be cross-examined. The evidence of those witnesses – retired Major General Norman Mc Lean, former Police Constable Allan Gates and Holland Yearwood were said to be crucial to the investigation. Further, the Commission was still to hear from witnesses such as former Crime Chief Cecil “Skip” Roberts, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine and former People’s National Congress Leader (PNC) Robert Corbin – all of whom have been issued with Salmon letters to appear before the Commissioners.
Cheltenham said there was adverse evidence provided against many individuals who were alive, who have not been provided with an opportunity to come forward to confront that evidence and comment on it.
Meanwhile, Queens Counsel Andrew Pilgrim, the Attorney representing the interest of the widow and children of Dr Rodney had urged Commissioners to petition the new Administration to see if it could give some leverage to its decision to allow for at least two more weeks, so that the remaining pertinent witnesses could be heard.
Waiting 35 years for closure
He said the family members of the Dr Walter Rodney, the WPA co-founder, have waited some 35 years to find solace and closure. He urged the Administration to take into consideration the Salmon letters that were sent. He said there was still time for Government to make a decision in this regard, noting that he was willing to support any entreaty the Commission would make in that manner.
Lawyer for Donald Rodney, Dr Rodney’s brother and the only witness Keith Scotland said “history will be unkind to us”, as the Commission was very close to the end of the hearing and the premature end would only open the new Government to criticism that it had “politicised” the CoI. He said the hearing, which has taken 34 years to commence, might very well be referred to a “pappy show”.
The Commission, including its Chairman Barbadian Attorney, Queen’s Counsel, Sir Richard Cheltenham; Jamaican Queen’s Counsel Jacqueline Samuels-Brown and Trinidad-based Guyanese Senior Counsel SeenathJairam, was set up to investigate who or what was responsible for the massive bomb blast that caused the instant death of the WPA Co-founder on the evening of June 13, 1980.
At the time, Ramotar had said that the establishment of the Inquiry was owing to the persistent request made by Rodney’s widow, Patricia, and their three children. However, the People’s National Congress (PNC), the major partner in the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) coalition, had maintained that the move was a political stunt taken to tarnish its reputation.