How is it no one is being held responsible for the prison fire on July 9?

Dear Editor,

Since the APNU+AFC assumed office there have been loud public outcries for at least two ministers to resign; they are Ministers Norton and Ramjattan.

And while most ministers have been called out from time to time to account for their less than stellar performances, two particular cases stand out, ie those related to Ministers Simona Broomes and Volda Lawrence. Their cases it would seem, closely resemble misconduct in public office.

But the more recent city stirrings have to do with the recent fire at the Georgetown Prisons and the questionable purchase of drugs costing $632 million for GPHC. These two issues continue to hold the interest of the public.

As far as the embattled Public Health Minister is concerned, government has adopted a different tack to exonerate her from any breaches of tender board procedures. A fall guy had been identified as the person responsible for the illegal act. The question now is, will the fall guy accept this blow as an end to his career path, or will he seek to exonerate himself by way of other avenues available to him.

In the case of the conflagration at the Georgetown Prisons, people are amazed how a whole central prison could be burnt to the ground, one prison officer killed, several injured and/or escaped and yet, not a single individual is held responsible! That we have a throwback government is fast becoming a firm belief of many Guyanese at home and abroad. This is truly an unbelievable situation. Heaven forbid what the outcome would have been had the PPP/C been in government and the APNU+AFC in opposition!

In the case of the conflagration at the Georgetown Prisons the APNU+AFC coalition administration’s response was to:

1) circle the wagons and begin shooting down questions being asked by an enquiring public;

2) blame the previous administration, claiming that the Granger administration inherited a broken prison system;

3) reject any personal responsibility on the part of the subject Minister;

4) tell the public that a public inquiry will be held only after all the prisoners are recaptured. The implication here is that if it takes 6 months to capture all of the escapees then don’t expect a CoI till 2018!

In respect to the point at 3, it is to be recalled that Mr Ramjattan had said that if he had done something to cause what happened at the Georgetown Prisons then he would have accepted responsibility and would have offered to resign. This was a desperate attempt to distance himself from any responsibility whatsoever for that fiasco.

But Mr Ramjattan must accept that he is the Minister who answers to questions in Parliament pertaining to the Guyana Prison Service (GPS). He is the Minister who defends the budget of the GPS at the beginning of every fiscal year, and that includes justification for the continued employment of all members of staff on the fixed pensionable establishment as well as those on contract/gratuity. These responsibilities by their very nature imply that Mr Ramjattan has confidence in the GPS staff to effectively and efficiently administer and manage the affairs of the five prison locations around the country. Minister Ramjattan, acting as an agent of government, is the one who employs, represents and defends the GPS on behalf of government whenever the need arises.

Are the prisons being effectively and efficiently administered? Do they have the correct balance between custodial and correctional programmes? Are there modern and appropriate internal institutional arrangements in place that allow for both staff and civilian oversight bodies to collaborate? Are there specially designed training programmes in place to cater for the various levels of prison populations?

Consistent horsing around and a harum scarum approach by the administration to these very important issues would have eventuated as they did on July 9 in an explosive situation at the Georgetown Prisons as they would in any prison anywhere in the world. A song and dance is made by government as regards the challenges of overcrowding as if this appeared out of the blue. Long before the parties in the APNU+AFC got into government they were harping on the problem of overcrowding, yet two years after assuming office they did absolutely nothing to resolve the problem. The chickens eventually came home to roost.

The PPP/C inherited an overpopulated prison from the PNC in 1992. It didn’t solve the problem, but neither did the PNC nor the APNU+AFC since its assumption to office.

However, there is a big distinction. If one were to examine the innovative internal institutional arrangements, the creative policy initiatives, the impressive financial resources as well as the strategic and implementation plan that were put in place by the PPP/C government along with a host of rectification measures in key areas such as training, infrastructure and balancing custodial and correctional functions of the prison system, it would be quite obvious to the keen observer, that had the PPP/C not been removed from office, the GPS would have moved by leaps and bounds into becoming a modern, model penal system for the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Mr Ramjattan cannot, on the one hand, want to take credit for any success story within his sector and on the other, not want to take responsibility for what happened at the Georgetown Prisons on July 9. If not him, then who should? It certainly cannot be the PPP/C or a phantom. In the circumstances, for President Granger to declare that Ramjattan “is not at fault” for Georgetown Prisons fiasco tells us that something is definitely rotten in the ‘kingdom’ of the coalition administration.

And just as Mr Granger in his position of Opposition Leader openly proclaimed in the National Assembly that he did not need  a CoI to tell him who was responsible for  the shootings at Linden on Wednesday, July 18, 2012,  in the same way Guyanese do not need another CoI to tell us who is responsible for the July 9, disaster at Lot 12 Camp street, Georgetown.

Mr Ramjattan can pretend to play the role of  Steve Urkel  so well performed by Jaleel Whyte in the sitcom, ‘Family Matters’ who, after doing his damage would turn around and ask, “Did I do that?”

The problem for Mr Ramjattan is that an audience is watching and knows quite well who is the culprit.

Yours faithfully,

C J Rohee

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