Investigative Commissions of Inquiry (CoI) are established by governments to investigate issues of national importance. They are generally led by distinguished individuals, experts or judges (in this case, Chairman Sir Richard Cheltenham, the only person in the Caribbean who has sat on 9 commissions). CoIs do not function like courts, but they require judicial powers like the power to subpoena witnesses, take evidence under oath and request relevant documents in order to complete their work. It stands to reason that such a commission “may receive any evidence it considers to be helpful in fulfilling its mandate whether or not such evidence would be admissible in a court of law.” It should be understood that while CoI findings and recommendations are not binding, they can inform public policy.
President David Granger has so far refused to have the Rodney CoI Report laid in Parliament because he deemed it “badly flawed” due to “hearsay evidence”. Walter Rodney was a renowned Pan-Africanist, a Marxist, an intellectual and a revolutionary who learned Spanish, Portuguese, French and Swahili in order to undertake research for his doctoral thesis which he earned at the young age of 24. As if in anticipation of Mr Granger’s concern, the Dr Walter Anthony Rodney Commission of Inquiry, formed 34 years after Rodney’s death, noted that it could not hear from all the witnesses scheduled to testify because the government brought the inquiry to a premature end, but the commission had “enough evidence to make significant findings of fact and some recommendations”. This conclusion was based on testimony presented during 66 sessions and oral evidence from 31 witnesses (10 witnesses were not heard from). By invoking plausible deniability and by embargoing the Rodney CoI, President Granger has missed an opportunity to heal a divided nation and repair the muddied image of the PNC. Instead, Granger should have embraced the findings of the CoI and used its recommendations to chart a bold new inclusive democratic culture.
The most damning part of the report is found on page 143, which stated that “there is prima facie evidence” that the late Laurie Lewis, Head of Special Branch, along with other senior members of the Disciplined Services “had significant roles to play in the conspiracy to kill Dr Walter Rodney and the subsequent attempt to conceal the circumstances surrounding his death.” It further concluded that “Prime Minister Burnham knew of the plan and was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Dr Rodney”.
The CoI made reference to President Granger’s 2005 book on the Guyana Defence Force (National Defence: A Brief History of the Guyana Defence Force, 1965-2005) regarding the politicization of Guyanese society following Burnham’s pronunciation at the December 1974 Declaration at Sophia that “the Party” would “assume unapologetically its paramountcy over the government which is merely one of its executive arms”. Citing Mr Granger’s words, the CoI noted that this action was “a marked departure from the apparent non-partisan stance”, which “raised public concern about the direction being taken by civil-military relations” (page 111). To forge his paramountcy plan, Burnham appointed a PNC loyalist, Colonel David Granger as Commander of the GDF. Granger was made Commander of the GDF in late 1979, just before the assassination, when it was clear that Rodney was infiltrating the officer corps.
The Justice for Walter Rodney Com-mittee, of which David Hinds, Andaiye, Elder Statesman Eusi Kwayana and others are members, has called on the Granger administration to release the Rodney CoI Report. Two very close friends of Rodney are Drs Rupert Roopnaraine and Clive Thomas. Both of them are leading members of the WPA, now a coalition partner with the PNC. How do these two prominent citizens feel about the findings of the CoI and the position adopted by President Granger?
Thomas Hobbes, a British enlightenment thinker once wrote that in a state without any social control mechanism life can be “nasty, short, brutish and miserable”. Fifty years after claiming sovereignty, we continue to live in a gilded age.
South Africa, following the collapse of white minority rule, benefited from a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Guyana needs a cleansing of the Augean stables. President Granger should ‘commandeer’ a comprehensive CoI that covers the PNC and PPP years, not necessarily to slash and burn and throw stones, but to air the dirty political laundry so that those involved can hang their heads in public shame. We need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to help us embark on a path to future redemption. When the dust settles, we will emerge as a better nation, united in our efforts to create a future Guyana where politics will become more sanitized.