The Private Sector Com-mission (PSC) last Tuesday met with Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan and a high-level security team on its concerns over the recent Camp Street Prison fire and prison breakouts, which it says has undermined public confidence in the government’s ability to ensure public security.
The PSC yesterday said it met with Ramjattan on the advice of President David Granger, to whom it has related its concerns about the lack of confidence in the government’s ability to ensure the security of the country and the safety of the citizenry.
According to a statement issued yesterday by the PSC, it used the occasion of the meeting with Ramjattan, acting Com-missioner of Police David Ramnarine and the acting Director of Prisons Gladwin Samuels to reiterate its concern over the erosion of public security and safety. It said too that it pointed out that the issue of public confidence in the government is exacerbated by the fact that, to date, “no one, at any level has been held accountable” and no one charged for the recent events.
“The Commission emphasised the serious damage that these events have caused to investor confidence here, at home and abroad, and to tourism and underlined the fact that scheduled business visits from abroad and planned events have either been postponed or relocated,” it said.
“The Commission further expressed its concern over the inability of the police to effectively curb the incidence of violent crime reaching into business places and homes across the country. Our citizens, the Commission stressed, are now living in a constant state of fear,” it added.
For his part, Ramjattan, the statement said, acknowledged the need for the urgent restoration of public confidence in the security and safety of the prison system and was “open and frank” in addressing the challenges faced by the country from the threat of violent crime. It said he assured that every effort was being made to recapture the escapees who are still at large and to return the security situation to normalcy.
Ramnarine, the statement added, informed that the police are conducting an active investigation into Camp Street prison fire and it is almost completed.
It noted too that Ramjattan provided a “comprehensive and confidential” brief on the current and accelerated steps being taken to put in place a fully functioning prison system, but pointed out that gross overcrowding, neglected over a long number of years, will demand substantial sums of money not readily available to construct a new and expanded system sufficient to accommodate the present prison population.
Ramjattan, the statement further said, pointed out that a major contributing factor to the overcrowding of the prisons is the extraordinary number of remanded prisoners, resulting from the “unnecessarily high” bail being assigned for “relatively minor offences.” He told the Commission that he was actively engaged in engaging the judiciary with regard to a solution to the problem.
Ramjattan also confirmed that the Prison Sentence Management Board has been appointed. The current administration had been previously criticised for disbanding the board.
Meanwhile, the statement said Samuels made a comprehensive statistical presentation in which he charted the current and historical status of prisoners both in the system and at large and largely provided answers to many of the questions asked in the public about the numbers and locations of the prison population. The PSC said it strongly recommended to Ramjattan that he make the presentation public since it would go a long way towards reassuring the public that the authorities were in control of the situation.
On the question of rehabilitation of convicted prisoners, the statement noted that Ramjattan and his team outlined the significant efforts and arrangements in place, in spite of extremely limited resources and space, to ensure that released prisoners were able to be gainfully employed on their reintegration into society. He, however, lamented the fact that, generally, in Guyana, the stigma attached to ex-convicts made it extremely difficult to find employment for them, it added.