By Kurt Campbell
[www.inewsguyana.com] – Chairman of the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry (COI) Richard Cheltenham during his opening remarks this morning (Monday, April 28) indicated that ‘hearsay’ along with opinions will be taken into evidence during the course of hearings.
The Chairman stressed that the hearings are not Court room trials and any evidence that is in keeping with the established Terms of Reference (TOR) will be accepted in seeking to arrive at the truth.
“The procedural aspects will emphasize flexibility and impartiality, free from legalism of the Courtroom,” Cheltenham said, adding that “This is not a courtroom trial, with its predetermined rules of evidence or of practices and procedures.”
He explained that the Commission of Inquiry Act gives the power to subpoena witnesses and to have persons who disregard the Commission’s subpoena cited for contempt, adding that this is a power which it hopes never to exercise.
However, this announcement of allowing hearsay and opinion evidence is being questioned by the People’s National Congress. According to Basil Williams, who sits on a legal team established by the PNC, the Party is concerned since the reputation of many is on the line. He said the PNC will be looking closely to see how the COI regulates this flexibility.
He posited that this does poses a threat and is dangerous since the incident is an old one and memories are also old.
“We are here to find out the facts of the unnatural death of Dr. Walter Rodney which remains an unsolved issue and I appeal to all who have information to come forward and share that information with the Commission,” the Chairman also implored during in opening remarks. Cheltenham added that state agencies are also encouraged to come forward and share information.
He made it clear that the Commission will not be investigating individuals. ”This COI is not about investigating men, they have nothing to fear from testifying because no prosecution can follow.”
The Chairman reiterated his call for maximum participation. He is being assisted by Commissioners Jamaican Jacqueline Samuels Brown and Seerath Jairam.
On this note, the PNC team also reiterated its concern that this pardon in effect does not allow for closure to be brought to the relatives of Rodney. Williams told reporters that while the person who is testifying is pardoned, there is no mention of what happens if he fingers a third party.
The COI begins public hearings this morning and among other things will inquire who or what was responsible for the explosion that led to Rodney’s death, whether it was an accident or an act of terrorism and the role of some persons and agencies, if any, in his death.
Some nine witnesses are already set to testify among which are Crime Chief Leslie James, Edward Rodney, Lincoln Lewis, Karen De Sousa, and a representative from the Guyana Defence Force.
Public Hearings will continue on April 29 and 30, and on May 2. The proceedings will be streamed liveonncnguyana.com.
Dr. Walter Rodney, a Guyanese political activist and intellectual died on Friday June 13 1980 when his car exploded. He had written several books prior to his untimely death.