Attorney Christopher Ram yesterday said that President Donald Ramotar’s recent comments on the ongoing Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the death of Dr. Walter Rodney were inappropriate and validated publicly expressed concerns that the inquiry was set up to serve a political agenda.
Ram said the president’s comments confirmed that his administration is not really interested in Rodney’s killing but more in serving a “narrow political agenda” and such
interventions would undermine the integrity of the commission.
On Friday, Ramotar at a press briefing pointed to the disclosure at the CoI that Guyana Defence Force weapons consigned to the Ministry of National Development since 1976 had ended up in the hands of criminals.
A statement issued by Ram, noted that President Ramotar added that the former President Jagdeo had alleged, several years ago, that weapons had been issued to “Mr. Robert Corbin” who was the then leader of the PNCR. The statement further said that Ramotar made a call for current PNCR leader David Granger to aid in the recovery of the missing weapons.
“As attorney for the Working People’s Alliance (before the CoI) , I find the comments by President Ramotar premature, inappropriate and improper,” Ram declared at a press conference yesterday.
He stated that the president needed to be aware that the CoI has not yet finished gathering evidence, let alone analyzing it, making determinations and issuing its conclusion. “He must therefore desist from premature interventions which undermine the integrity of the commission of inquiry…”
Ram further stated that the “unmistakable inferences” drawn from Ramotar’s intervention that the inquiry was set up to serve his administration’s agenda were becoming “increasingly clear”.
At the commission of inquiry last week, GDF Lt. Col. Sidney James testified that an investigation was carried out in August 2008 to determine whether weapons belonging to the Guyana Defence Force were issued to external organization. The investigation was prompted by the recovery of a number of weapons in the Mahaicony Creek, after a shootout between members of the Guyana Police Force and criminals. James had stated that two of the weapons recovered had in fact been issued to external agencies.
The weapons were issued, under the PNC Administration, to the Ministry of National Development, Office of the General Secretary of the People’s National Congress (PNC) and the Office of the Prime Minister. Two vouchers dated May 18 and May 19 1976 indicated that the issues were made to and signed for by a R. Corbin.
The issues to external agencies were made during the stewardship of Chiefs of staff Col. Clarence Price, Major General Norman McLean, and Brig. Joseph Singh. James was unable to identify any provision in the Defence Act which authorizes such issues to external agencies.
Ram stated that the PPP/C government had been lethargic in pursuing the return of the weapons since it took office in 1992. He added that under the Defence Act, the Defence Board is chaired by the President. “I have been reliably informed that shortly after 1992, the then Auditor General wrote to Chief of Staff Joseph Singh notifying him of the intention to carry out an audit of the arms and ammunition of the Guyana Defence Force. Had that audit taken place the arms and ammunition that James identified as outstanding, might have long since been highlighted, enhancing the chances of a prompt return,” Ram said.
The attorney argued that the PPP/C government, themselves, were “reckless” in recovering the missing weapons, citing it as “blatant hypocrisy”.
“While hard questions must necessarily be asked and answered concerning the weapons issued to the PNCR, successive Presidents under the PPP/C, including President Ramotar, have failed to treat these serious security breaches in a responsible manner. In fact the PPP/C-headed Defence Board not only failed to act but compounded a dangerous situation by authorizing further issues to external agencies, and for the first time, to private sector companies,” Ram stated.
“It’s frightening that their record keeping is still bad,” he added.
He stated that citizens needed to be concerned about the missing weapons but the matter should not be used by the government or any political party for partisan purposes or to distract from the principal purpose of the CoI—to ascertain the truth about the death of Dr. Walter Rodney.
“It is imperative that we do not squander the opportunity of this Commission of Inquiry not only to seek answers to Dr. Rodney’s killing but to make it the occasion to create a living legacy to his quest for which he lost his life,” Ram said.
When questioned on his views about the extension of the CoI, Ram stated that he was not too concerned about the extension but thought the pace of the commission should be stepped up. The CoI which was scheduled to last for six months, was extended to September 30. However, at recent sessions it was publicized that there would be no sessions in September and it would commence instead in October.
Ram posited that when the six months timeline was set it might have considered a more concentrated form of evidence gathering. “The truth is such a commission of inquiry can go on for a very long time. So while we are concerned, quite legitimately, about money being spent, I don’t think we should.The money we spend is not in vain,” he said. “I think coming out of this would be recommendations on how the GDF should maintain arms and ammunition; how the security forces should operate… so it would be money well spent.”
He further stated that a number of persons could be affected, so it is important that proper rules of procedures be observed “because if you are tarnished here you are tarnished for life.”
Ram hinted that the next session of the inquiry might include the evidence of the family of Dr. Rodney. “But the commission secretariat could change their mind and pursue other persons,” he said.