I feel a sense of pain, grief and sorrow on learning of the events on Sunday at the Georgetown Prisons. The Herculean efforts by the administration of which I was an integral part to carry out comprehensive prison reform went up in flames long before the flames that engulfed the Georgetown Prisons on Sunday.
This occurrence has come about because too many things were taken for granted by both Minister of Public Security Mr Ramjattan and the government as a whole. It is due largely to the incompetence of the Minister of Public Security in particular and the Granger administration in general. It is beyond the shadow of a doubt a matter of collective responsibility.
Taking for granted the security of the prisons and the prisoners; the maltreatment of prisoners; the lax attitude of the Ministry of Public Security towards prison reform; and the persistent efforts at misleading Parliament about the depth and scope of those reforms based on a comprehensive strategic plan adopted by the previous PPP/C administration have, cumulatively, resulted in the events two days ago.
The APNU+AFC coalition administration is guilty of dereliction of duty by not taking seriously the recommendations that emanated from the Commission of Inquiry into the deadly occurrence at the same prison location just one year ago. No structured, follow-up administrative mechanism was put in place to implement those recommendations, and for regular progress reports to be made available for cabinet’s consideration, especially for the implementation of those recommendations where financial resources are necessary and urgently needed.
From all the indications, given the knee-jerk predisposition of the Granger administration to set up commissions of inquiry we are likely to hear quite soon about the establishment of another CoI into Sunday’s events at the Georgetown Prisons. In the circumstances, it should come as no surprise if a fresh set of recommendations will eventually be piled upon the previous recommendations to gather dust, given the laissez faire attitude of the Minister of Public Security towards prison reform.
The Minister of Public Security must be made to answer for this serious dereliction of duty and his persistent failure to perform his functions as a minister of government to the satisfaction of taxpayers. No amount of closing ranks by the government and Mr Ramjattan’s cabinet colleagues to defend his incompetence will suffice. And the President should refrain from his well-known efforts at sheltering ministers whose performance in the eyes of the public has been less than stellar, having failed miserably in the execution of their respective portfolio responsibilities.
With the situation still sketchy in respect of the origins of the fire, the actual situation on the ground, the whereabouts of the scores of prisoners, and injury to prisoners as a result of the actions of law enforcement, the rumour mill is spinning out of control. The public relations departments of the Guyana Prison Service, the Guyana Fire Service and the Guyana Police Force need to be more pro-active in keeping the public informed as regards the unfolding situation and its security implications for the citizens of Georgetown in particular and for the country as a whole.
Clement J Rohee
Former Minister of Home Affairs