H.E. Mr. Donald Ramotar,
Office of the President
We bring to your attention a number of concerns arising out of our consideration of the Terms of Reference and the appointment of the Commission of Inquiry “into the circumstances surrounding the death in an explosion” of Walter Rodney, as published in the Official Gazette of 8 February 2014.
We make the initial observation that, in a marked departure from the process that generated the Government Motion laid in the National Assembly on 25 June 2005, the present arrangements have not benefitted from any consultation whatsoever with the opposition political parties in the Assembly. You may recall the efforts that went into the attempt to forge a parliamentary consensus on that 2005 Motion.
In the end, what was achieved was something less than a consensus since, as you know, the Government abstained on the WPA amendments and on their Motion as a whole. While the PNC and the WPA supported the amendments and the Motion, the government withheld its support for its own Motion based on its insistence that the word “assassination” not be replaced by the word “death”, as was proposed in the amendments. Now, 9 years later, the Government seems to have come around to acknowledging its earlier error as the Commission is properly charged with inquiring into the “death” of Walter Rodney.
On the Terms of Reference, proper, we have grave concerns that paragraph (iv) strays a considerable distance from the precisions of paragraph (i) that properly tasks the Commission with “examining the facts and circumstances immediately prior, at the time of, and subsequent to the death of Dr. Walter Rodney…” How does the time period defined in para (iv) – “1st January 1978 to 31st December 1980” – qualify as being “immediately prior, at the time of, and subsequent to the death of Dr. Walter Rodney”?
We are of the view that the scope of paragraph (iv) goes well beyond what is required for the determination of responsibility as expressed clearly in para. (i). Instead, para (iv) runs the risk of opening a Pandora’s box that will guarantee an unwelcome poisoning of the political environment which, you will agree, is already toxic enough. We urge that paragraph (iv) be removed from the Terms of Reference.
On the question of the membership of the Commission, we have grave and unswerving misgivings over the appointment of the third named Commissioner, Mr. Seenath Jairiam, S.C. As you must be aware, Mr. Jairiam was the lead Counsel representing the Government of Guyana in the recent Budget Cut case before the Hon. Chief Justice, Mr. Ian Chang.
While Mr. Jairiam is indisputably a highly placed and respected member of the Trinidad and Tobago bar whose professionalism is not in question, we are of the view that, in these highly charged political issues, his past representations may not free him from the appearance of bias. As you are well aware, proper due process cannot ever entertain the slightest appearance of a conflict of interest. We urge therefore that the appointment of Mr. Jairiam be revoked and a more suitable Commissioner be appointed in his place.
Finally, the granting of an absolute pardon to all persons “in respect of or incidental to all acts of things done, including offences committed in connection with or in relation to the death of Dr. Walter Rodney” would seem to have the Commission of Inquiry tip-toe in the direction of a Truth Commission, even while the Terms of Reference and the prevailing conditions fall far short of the complex requirements of a Truth Commission. Perhaps it is enough, at this stage and in our conditions, that it pins the flag of reconciliation on its mast.
Having waited for more than 3 decades for this Commission of Inquiry, it would be disappointing if, in the words of the ICJ on the infamous Inquest, it were to be “marred by grave defects.”
Signed, for WPA Executive Committee,
Prof. Clive Thomas
Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine