A public war of words has erupted between acclaimed Barbadian lawyer Sir Richard Cheltenham, QC, and Guyana’s attorney general Basil Williams over writing fees stemming from a commission of inquiry into the killing of noted Guyanese historian and political activist Dr Walter Rodney on June 13, 1980.
Rodney’s death from a bomb blast was ruled “accident or misadventure” by a coroner in 1988. However, it had widely believed he was assassinated.
The government of Guyana announced in 2013 that it would launch a commission of inquiry, which began in April 2014 with Sir Richard as chairman of the three-member panel.
Signs of a row emerged last week when the Guyanese attorney general told the media that the commission’s final report was left with his confidential secretary in a “disrespectful” manner – and not at the President’s office as was expected – and the three commissioners left Guyana shortly afterwards.
One publication quoted Williams as saying that Sir Richard and his team had left the government puzzled by requesting a writing fee for completing the report.
“In any inquiry, the end of such inquiry is culminated by the presentation of a report. That can only be done after it has been written up; that should have been included in the fees charged. So we don’t know about a separate writing fee when it is subsumed in any remit of any inquiry that they have to write up the report and hand it over,” the attorney general was quoted as saying.
Williams also declared that he was “fed up with the entire situation” after the commissioners failed to present their report to President David Granger on Monday, February 8, 2016 as previously agreed, citing a lack of ink.
However, Sir Richard has hit back, telling Barbados TODAY in a press release that the terms and conditions for the inquiry, including the writing fee, were agreed with Williams’ predecessor Anil Nandlall, “who, at all times, was acting on behalf of the President”.
The noted Queens Counsel said while there was no signed contract – not uncommon in commissions of inquiry – he was careful to put the agreed terms and conditions in writing and send them to Nandlall in a the letter dated February 10, 2014.
“One of the elements of our engagement included a writing fee for the commissioners, as is the norm. A writing fee is a standard part of the engagement of commissioners. It reflects the reality that commissioners have to spend considerable time, separate and apart from hearing the evidence, in analyzing and writing up the report. It is the fee paid to commissioners for the final phase of their responsibilities,” the top lawyer stressed, adding that all three commissioners had agreed to a cut in their fees.
Sir Richard explained that the writing fee was due to be paid in full ten days before the delivery of the report, adding that he had provided a letter “setting out the terms with respect to writing fees” to the administrator, at the administrator’s request, during the commission’s last sitting in August 2015.
“The chairman reminded the attorney general in writing on 20 January, 2016 that a writing fee was due to the commissioners. Notwithstanding that, none of the writing fee was paid. The commissioners went to Guyana determined to discharge their responsibilities under the terms of reference and have done so.”
In the release signed by Sir Richard and fellow commissioner Seenath Jairam, the panel members contended that numerous efforts to meet with Granger to hand in the report proved futile, including a last-ditch effort on the day after the deadline when the chairman went to the president’s office and was told by a member of staff that Granger was otherwise engaged and the report should therefore be taken to the attorney general’s secretary.
The commission chairman also explained that the report was submitted a day late because the ink ran out during printing. He said it was being printed “through private printing facilities” at a hotel because the government had failed to provide the commission secretariat with proper equipment.
“At about nine on the morning of the Monday the 8 of February, 2016 when the typed version of the report was being printed at the hotel through private printing facilities, the chairman received word that the ink had run out,” the release stated. It noted that nearly three hours later, printing was resumed after an individual used his own money to purchase ink.
“We became aware on Monday night that a public statement had been made by the attorney general to the press to the effect that the president was fed up with the commission . . . the statement gave the distinct impression that it was the responsibility of the commissioners, and particularly the chairman, to make provision for ink and that the running
out of the ink was the fault of the chairman . . .
“In commissions of inquiry, the provisioning of the commission secretariat, staff, physical office and office supplies is done by the executive, not the commissioners,” the release concluded.
The Walter Rodney Inquiry had a price tag of GUY$500 million and held its first public hearing on April 28, 2014.