Stabroek News. February 29

President David Granger’s repudiation of the findings of the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry (CoI) report came in for strong criticism yesterday from key WPA members who said he was being partisan which did not bode well for the unity of the country and signalled challenges for the governing coalition.

In letters in today’s edition of SN, WPA members David Hinds and Tacuma Ogunseye expressed disappointment in the president’s reaction to the report and said his positions cannot be defended creditably. Granger had said that the findings of the CoI into the 1980 death of historian Dr Walter Rodney will be challenged, charging that “badly flawed” evidence was contained in the final report.

      David Hinds             Tacuma Ogunseye
David Hinds Tacuma Ogunseye

“When you look at details of the evidence provided it is clear that the report itself is very badly flawed and we intend to challenge the findings of the report and the circumstances under which that report was conducted. That is all I would like to say at this time on that Report but it is terribly flawed,” Granger had said.

The report of the CoI chaired by Barbadian Queen’s Counsel, Sir Richard Cheltenham delivered a damning indictment of late Prime Minister Forbes Burnham who it said was likely part of a conspiracy that involved the army and the police to kill Rodney. Granger is presently the leader of Burnham’s party, the PNCR and attained the rank of Brigadier in the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). The PNCR has maintained a hostile stance to the CoI from the inception.

In his letter, Hinds expressed disappointment at Granger’s response to the CoI report. “I disagree with the president’s interpretation of the report, but that is not the source of my disappointment. Had the president told the reporters that he was speaking as leader of the PNC, I would not have been disappointed. The PNC has a right to be aggrieved by the findings of the Commission; after all the PNC government of that time and its leader are indicted by the report,” Hinds wrote.

Clear partisan stance

“The president, in his capacity of Head of State and Government of Guyana, has taken a clear partisan stance on a matter of high national importance and one that has continually divided the country. This is what bothers me. I knew the president fairly well long before he assumed high office and concluded that he is a person of political integrity who has the rare quality of not allowing partisan differences to stand in the way of the larger good. His approach to the matter at hand, however, flies in the face of that praxis,” Hinds declared.

“The president must know that when he speaks on behalf of the government he speaks for a coalition of parties. On the matter of Walter Rodney, it is no secret that two of the established parties in the Coalition, PNC and WPA, have had differing views. The president, therefore, could not be speaking for both parties when he rubbished the findings of the CoI,” he asserted.

The WPA member said the matter of Rodney’s assassination is partisan at one level, but it is of national importance at another level. The fact of Rodney’s assassination and the report of the CoI, in the final analysis, raise the larger question of the nature and role of the government and state as it relates to violence against those who express dissent in particular and the citizenry in general, he said.

Hinds pointed out that Granger has said the findings and the CoI report would be challenged and questioned whether this would be done by the Ministry of the Presidency, the government or the PNC.

“I believe the president, in his official state capacity, should refrain from pronouncing on such a highly charged matter; he could have commented on the matter without taking a partisan stance. Mr Granger is the president of all of Guyana and his stance on national matters should at all times strive to reflect cohesion, not division. I am sympathetic to the difficulty of balancing party leadership and national leadership, but as president one has to try harder in that regard than the rest of us,” he declared.

Hinds also noted that the president said that Cabinet had not deliberated on the matter. “But I think the Cabinet also should refrain from taking a position on this matter. The Cabinet should discuss it because it is at the findings of a presidential CoI. But I would be equally disappointed if that body takes a partisan stand. Partisan stands should be left to the parties. The president and government should not be caught up with the partisan interpretation of the report, but with the implications of the findings, flawed or not, for the country as a whole,” he said.

State violence

According to Hinds, there are two ready implications. The first implication is the prospects for the healing of the nation, he said while adding that the formation of the APNU and the subsequent founding of the APNU+AFC coalition have gone a long way towards the healing of political wounds in some sections of the society.

“Critical to that healing was the political alliance of the PNC and the WPA and the later alliance with the AFC which include important sections of the Indian Guyanese community. That unity of the various forces has given the country some hope that it is possible to move beyond our political divide to work in the interest of all. The government has a responsibility to ensure that the findings of the CoI is not used to upset that unity,” he said.

Hinds urged the President and government to be sensitive to the impact of any campaign to deny justice for Rodney or to taint the evidence in that regard on the WPA, one of its constituent parties.

He said the second implication of the CoI report that should concern the government is the issue of political and other violence by the State. “I would prefer the president and his cabinet, after careful study of the report, address the issue of political violence, in particular State and para-State violence. We did not need the Rodney CoI report to alert us to the scourge of State violence in Guyana. Our independence experience is riddled with instances of the use by governments of the State apparatus to inflict violence against political opponents,” he wrote while citing several instances in this regard.

Meantime, Ogunseye questioned who the “we” referred to by the President was, when he said the findings of the report would be challenged. He noted that Granger had said that the report was not discussed by Cabinet. “To all appearances the President is very confident that his coalition partners even before a discussion is held among themselves, will be endorsing his position on this very sensitive matter, which has the potential to define the political character of the coalition on government,” he said.

No discussion

“There has been no discussion in either the APNU Executive or its Leadership Council, on the Walter Rodney COI. Both the PNCR and the WPA have individual positions on it but the APNU has neither discussed nor has it adumbrated a position on that issue. At the time when a position might have been advertised, even though it may have been on an APNU platform, it was never a consensus position of the APNU. When this is borne in mind, any objective observer, hearing the President on the results of the CoI, will ask if he has any regards for the APNU, which is an alliance of parties groups and individuals,” Ogunseye declared.

He said that as President, Granger has the responsibility to balance his personal hurt/interests, and the responsibility of his oath of office. “Having now become President he is expected, in the execution of his duties, to rise above narrow partisan and personal interests. This is the kind of burden that those who aspire to the highest in the land is expected to carry,” he wrote.

“On reading the President position one is forced to asked, what is he really defending? Is it his personal integrity? His party (PNCR) and its founder leader “good name”? Or is he defending the office of the Presidency and the Guyana state?” Ogunseye questioned.

“At the risk of being deemed rude by my detractors I want to use this opportunity to say to the President that I believe Sir, that whichever of the above you are attempting to defend you are doing a poor job. In so far as this matter is concerned in your every maneuver you are providing the PPP/C with additional ammunition to attack you and your coalition partners. The PPP/C is having and will continue to have a field day by the way you are dealing with this CoI report,” he declared.

Ogunseye said that while the PPP/C lost the 2015 elections thereby failing to achieve its primary objective for establishing the Commission, it is succeeding in its plan of making the President, the PNCR, WPA, APNU and the APNU+AFC coalition “look like political amateurs firmly set on the path of self-inflicted political paralyses.”

The WPA member charged that the President’s handling of the Commission findings has demonstrated that he is being poorly advised. “His positions on the report, cannot be defended creditably, it will fall to pieces in the face of critical examination. For example, he is making a lot of noise about the Commission accepting the evidence of a convict as reasonable grounds for arriving at its decisions. What else could the Commission have done when there was no evidence before it to show that the convict was lying? The President, as a historian, must know that history is replete with instances of convicts giving evidence before tribunals which, if not challenged or proven unreliable, have been accepted as truth,” he declared.

Ogunseye also noted that Granger has expressed concern that a number of persons’ reputations have been negatively affected by the Commission’s findings.

“But he seems not to be concerned that the WPA lost lives, and suffered scores of arrests, numerous beatings, detentions and imprisonment under the repressive rule of the then PNC. If I was to state my experiences of personal repression under the Burnham regime, something I minimised in my evidence in the CoI, in spite (of) being pressed by the Commission lawyers, the audience would have been horrified. I however felt that it was politically prudent not to give the PPP/C unnecessary ammunition in the election period and so I desisted and did not reveal these horror stories. If I am to recount those experiences now the present PNCR leadership, will I am sure, deny any knowledge of these matters, and who am I to doubt them,” he wrote.