In the wake of a raging crisis in the prisons system following the destruction of the Camp Street jail and the escape of high-profile prisoners, the AFC yesterday voiced confidence in Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan who is its immediate past leader and current Chairman.
In a statement following its third National Executive Committee meeting on Saturday at the George-town Club, the AFC, which is part of the governing coalition with APNU, said a motion was unanimously passed that the party “reposes its full and complete confidence in its chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan, as Minister of Public Security”. It said that the motion followed events of July 9th when a prison warder was shot dead, the main Camp Street prison burnt down and six prisoners escaped and events subsequently, which “brought national focus and attention on the public security sector”.
Those events included the escape of 13 Camp Street prisoners on July 24 from a holding area at Lusignan after they dug a tunnel. Eleven have since been recaptured and one was shot dead. This was followed by the shooting of 16 prisoners with pellets and rubber bullets at Lusignan on July 29th during a disturbance and then the shooting to death of a prisoner on Friday at the Timehri prisons as he reportedly attempted to flee.
Observers say the uprising in the prisons should have seen Ramjattan’s resignation or dismissal from the post. President David Granger has since said that Ranjattan is not to blame and this was also the line taken by the AFC yesterday.
“It was noted that despite the challenges, public order has been maintained and that the recapture of most of the escaped prisoners was done in a relatively short period of time and largely without incident. The motion specifically noted the decades long historical and systemic difficulties relating to the public security sector”, the AFC release said.
While the majority of the prisoners have been recaptured, two deemed to be the most dangerous, Royden Williams and Uree Varswyck remain on the loose four weeks on. Williams is suspected to be the mastermind of the plot that destroyed the Camp Street jail. He had recently been sentenced to death in relation to the Bartica massacre of 2008. Varswyck was said to have used a gun during the uprising.
Despite the support from the government and his party, observers have argued that Ramjattan is now in a tenuous position and any other serious disturbance in the security sector could force his departure.
The AFC release yesterday also cited several other major issues discussed on Saturday.
It said that its youth arm, Youth for Change (YFC) made “robust and vigorous representation to the NEC and the party’s leadership for review of the laws relating to marijuana possession”. The release said that the case was presented by YFC President, Cynthia. Rutherford, who urged the party’s leadership to lobby for reform of the laws on this matter. The release said that during extensive discussions, it was noted that the current laws result in many young people, particularly young men and mothers of young children being imprisoned for possession of small quantities of marijuana, at maximum detention facilities alongside hardened criminals.
The release said that it was agreed by the NEC that modification of the existing laws, will, among other benefits, lend to reduction of the overcrowded prison population. The YFC urged changes to the law as it relates to mandatory imprisonment for possession of small quantities of marijuana, a revamping of existing guidelines for sentencing and the granting of bail for narcotics offences.
The release said that this issue has been “championed for a number of years by party veteran, community activist and executive member Michael Carrington, Member of Parliament”. The AFC appears not to have garnered support from its governing coalition partner, APNU for the legislation to be proceeded with.
The release said that the NEC unanimously reaffirmed its publicly known position that the party was and is against the Parking Meter contract in its current form and until otherwise advised the party will remain in “vehement disagreement with the said contract”.
A report on the controversial parking meters is to be discussed by the Mayor and City Council shortly.
The release added that Political Advisor and Elder Statesman, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo presented a report to the NEC on three major advances on governance matters at the national level namely (i) Constitutional Reform (ii) Code of Conduct for public officials and (iii) passing of the Broadcasting Amendment Bill 2017.
Critics have lambasted these as long delayed and falling short of expectations.
“The Prime Minister emphasized that these successes formed collective evidence that the AFC was keeping its covenant with, and promise to, the people to advance these fundamental matters in the interest of all Guyanese for a modern society”, the statement said.
It added that a comprehensive report was presented on the Cummingsburg Accord and the NEC “reaffirmed the united strength of the Coalition Govern-ment. The NEC further urged implementation of inter-coalition mechanisms for regular and routine dialogue amongst parties”.