CoI report handed over to President

By Shemuel Fanfair

The report on the findings of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the deadly Camp Street Prison riots was

President David Granger receives a copy of the CoI report from Chairman of the Commission, retired Justice James Patterson on Wednesday at the Ministry of the Presidency
President David Granger receives a copy of the CoI report from Chairman of the Commission, retired Justice James Patterson on Wednesday at the Ministry of the Presidency

finally handed over to President David Granger on Wednesday.
This comes one day after the May 31 deadline. At the handing over ceremony at the Ministry of the Presidency, retired Justice James Patterson, who served as Chairman for the CoI, expressed gratitude at being a part of the Commission and urged the Government to quickly implement the recommendations.
“We should proceed along our journey with the hope that those efforts would bear fruit in a timely manner… and I would urge your Excellency with the due diligence that you always deploy, look at the recommendations that we have made. It is hoped that they will be executed in a timely manner because they deserve to be executed,” the retired Justice opined.
President Granger thanked the Commissioners for their efforts in executing their tasks.
“I am grateful, the Republic and the Ministry of Public Security are grateful to the Commission of Inquiry for doing its work,” he noted. The President described the disturbances at the Camp Street penitentiary as “the worst prison riot” in the history of the country and brushed aside the criticisms the Inquiry has garnered.
“I was a little startled by the criticisms of the Commission even before it got started, even before it took evidence… people were asking why a Commission [but] I wanted to find out what happened [and] how it happened,” the Head of State noted, adding that he does not want a recurrence of such an incident.
To this end, it was explained that reforms are needed to improve the conditions of the country’s prison system, as many of the nations penitentiaries were built in the nineteenth century, during the reign of Queen Victoria, a former monarch of British Guiana.
He further said that the Camp Street Prison will be assessed as it lies in the heart of Georgetown with many schools, residents and business places in the surrounding environs. The President noted that over the last three months, all of the meetings of the National Security Committee, of which he is Chairman, have included prison reform discussions on its agenda.
“The National Security Committee (on Wednesday) was in session examining prison reform…we want to make Guyana safe but we want to ensure that person who are put into corrections facilities do not feel that this a lifetime occupation,” he pointed out.

Opposition position
On the other hand, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo at a press conference on Wednesday condemned the negotiations with prisoners and noted that the CoI should have looked at other factors.
“The Commission of Inquiry should have predated the negotiations. I don’t agree with the Government’s policy with relation to the prisons and the management of prisons,” he noted.
The former President also expressed that Government has been found “wanting” on security matters. “Seventeen persons lost their lives there and someone has to bear responsibility, including the Minister,” he posited.
President Granger had ordered the inquiry into the events after inmates met with Minister of State Joseph Harmon and Public Security Minister Kemraj Ramjattan. This came after two days of rioting at the Camp Street penitentiary where 17 inmates died after a fire was reportedly started by inmates. The Capital A Block on March 3 was engulfed with many prisoners locked inside.
The CoI began on March 8 and was expected to conclude by March 28 but a two-month extension was granted for other witness to testify and to be cross examined. This wrapped up on May 9. However, on April 20, the Guyana Bar Association withdrew, citing time constraints in the cross examination of witnesses.
When the witness statements concluded, Commission Counsel Excellence Dazzle noted that witness’ testimonies along with many other materials which the Commission had in its possession would have been used to compile the report. The Commission was able to secure the testimonies of inmates, an ex-inmate, fire officials, Police officials, prison officials, a former prison official, a Pathologist, the Chief Medical Officer, the Chief Probation Officer, Chairman of the Parole Board and the Chancellor of the Judiciary.
Commissioners Dale Erskine and Merle Mendonca completed the three-member panel.