Closure for Rodney
July 30, 2015 By
It would be imprudent to claim that when in 2012, the PPPC administration acceded to the request by the family of Dr Walter Rodney for a Commission of Inquiry (COI) into his death on June 13 1980, they might not have considered its political impact. But the irrefutable fact is that it really did not matter when such an Inquiry was conducted: the political fallout were inevitable because of the circumstances of his death, within the history of his political activism against the then incumbent PNC regime.
Back in 2005, there had been already a motion introduced by the then PPPC government to initiate such an Inquiry. They however insisted that the motion speak to the “assassination” of Dr Rodney, while the Opposition felt such a formulation would be self-conclusive. The motion was passed with the PPPC abstaining but no Inquiry was ever launched. The Workings People Alliance (WPA), representing the interests of the Rodney family, claimed that with elections scheduled for 2006, the Inquiry would poison the political climate for the PNC. The Inquiry died stillborn.
It is probably because of that experience that the family of Dr Rodney dealt directly with the then PPPC Government in 2014 to proceed with an Inquiry. Thirty-four years would have been too long not to have closure of Dr Rodney’s death. The Inquiry began a year before the elections of May this year, but unlike what had been predicted by the WPA in 2006, there was no adverse impact of the political image of the PNC, which by then had been merged in the A Partnership for National Unity. In fact, in coalition with the Alliance for Change, they won the elections and now form the Government.
With the knowledge that a Rodney COI was not a silver bullet to destroy their electoral chances, it was therefore with a great degree of surprise that citizens learnt via one of the first announcements of President Granger, was that “the COI was a waste of time” and that it would have to wrap up its hearings forthwith. The Government subsequently refused the formal request of the COI grant it one more extension so that it could examine three witnesses to whom it had issued “Salmon Letters”.
The latter is a notification to individuals that they would be presented with aspects of the report of the COI that may affect them negatively. This innovation was introduced in the 1970’s by Lord Salmon to address issues of fairness to witnesses. The witnesses that the COI wanted to examine included, interestingly enough the present Minister of Education Dr Rupert Roopnarine, who had been a very close associate of Dr Rodney in the WPA.
Dr Roopnarine, however, unlike the other members of the WPA such as Eusi Kwayana, had insisted that Rodney had been engaged in collecting arms before his death. As Mr Granger said at the time when the allegation was made, this justified the security forces taking measures to deal with the “threat” from Dr Rodney’s activities. When the announcement was made to arbitrarily bring the COI to an end, most of the active members of the WPA, with the exception of Dr Roopnarine, called for the extension to be permitted.
As their release pointed out, the end of the COI in this abrupt manner, unnecessarily leaves an aura of uncertainty and ambiguity over whatever report the COI will now be forced to issue. Since over $300 million have been already spent on the COI, the additional funding would be a drop in the bucket in the big picture. In the opinion of many observers, this uncertainty would leave a cloud not over the hopes of the family of Rodney for closure, but over the PNC, which finally had the opportunity to let the chips to fall as they may on this unfortunate incident in Guyana’s history.