Photo above: The members of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the recent Georgetown Prison riot, which starts its work tomorrow. Photo credit: GINA.
GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Mar 9, (CMC) – President David Granger, yesterday, dismissed an opposition call for the removal of the Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, from his government, describing the call as “totally absurd”.
General Secretary of the main opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Clement Rohee, on Monday, told a news conference that President David Granger should have dismissed his public security minister, following last week’s riots at the Camp Street jail that left 17 inmates dead and several others injured.
“If there is one recommendation Mr. Granger has consciously overlooked, it is the dismissal of Prakash Ramjattan as the Minister of Public Security of this country. Lying at the feet of Ramjattan and indeed the Granger administration are 17, not three dead bodies”, Rohee told reporters.
Rohee recalled, that when he served as home affairs minister, the then opposition had called for his dismissal in the wake of the three killings of unarmed protestors by police in Linden.
“The PPP/C had its challenges at prison locations around the country. The party would be the last to say that it has left a perfect system in place but, at the same time it would be true to say that the challenges were not insurmountable nor without solutions,” he added.
But President Granger told reporters, that “it is quite absurd because Minister Ramjattan is trying to clean up the mess we inherited nine months ago and the former minister was the Minister of Home Affairs for nine years and he never did the things he is talking about now.
“So I don’t know how he can expect us, in nine months, to clean up the mess he encouraged for nine years,” President Granger said, adding that Rohee had failed to implement several key recommendations for prison reform while he was minister.
“All the problems discovered had existed for decades,” Granger said, adding, “we are trying to put reforms in place to prevent a recurrence.
“Of all the persons who have made comments…I think the former Minister of Home Affairs is the least qualified, because he had the best opportunity to prevent what we saw last week,” Granger added.
The government has appointed a three-member Commission of Inquiry to probe the circumstances that led to the three-day rioting by prisoners.
President Granger also took the opportunity to address the issue of compensation for the relatives of those prisoners who died, amidst reports that some relatives have voiced their dissatisfaction with the funds being offered.
“The government is attempting to assist the widows and the children, by this one-off payment to bring relief to Guyanese citizens. It is not an obligation on our part but we want to ensure that children and widows are in no way disadvantaged by what has occurred,” he said of the GUY$100,000 (One Guyana dollar =US$0.004 cents) grant.
The work of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the recent Georgetown Prison riot — which will start tomorrow — will be conducted in a fair manner, according to Chairman, Judge rt. James Patterson.
The Judge and the other members of the COI, former Director of Prisons Dale Erskine and Human Rights Activist Merle Mendonca briefed the media today on how the COI’s mandate will be executed.
The Chairman stated, “We have to find out what happened and how it did happen. To that end, we will take the testimonies of the prisoners, the officers involved…” The COI will be also be looking at what “ought not to have happened and ought to have happened,” he added.
The Standard Operating Procedures will be examined and the aids used by prison officers and police ranks will also be assessed.
Despite having the powers of a high court judge, Chairman Patterson said, that certain aspects of the Evidence Act would be relaxed, “but not to be overdone, once we don’t traduce the laws of natural justice”.
He added, “There are some people who think that once you access the prisons you are deemed to be without redemption. This concept would transgress certain theological principles of many.”
The Chairman made it clear that he, like others, do not believe that those incarcerated are beyond redemption, “as long as they happen to maintain their sanity whilst they are there, something can always be done. This enquiry will see about that.”
Reasons for the “interminable court delays” will also be examined and recommendations made to alleviate those, the Chairman stated.
The evidence will be collected, “marshalled and unleashed to the media and will be taken with the requisite proof by staffers attached to the COI before being aired.
Choices will be made by the COI members since, “Everyone cannot be accommodated, who wants to say something,” he further added.
Perjury rules will apply, video evidence will be taken and testimonies given in camera if necessary, the Chairman made clear.
The COI conducted an initial visit to the Georgetown Prison, on Camp Street, on March 8, to assess the conditions which were likened to that of a ‘War Zone’, which is now getting back to a state of normalcy, Chairman Patterson said.
More visits to the institution will be undertaken as necessary, he said, as part of the effort to gather testimonies and evidence. It will be open to the public, but spurious allegations will not be accepted, he reiterated.
The COI is also charged with having grief councillors meet with prisoners, family members and officers who were affected by the prison riot which resulted in 17 inmates dying and several others injured, during the March 3 incident.
The chairman reiterated that they were only mandated to come up with a list of recommendations after examining all of the evidence and not to advise the government.
The Prison COI formally begins on March 10, between the hours of 10am to 2 pm and is expected to be completed by March 28, 2016.