…$18M approved for emergency shelters’ construction
By Lakhram Bhagirat
President David Granger, in a three-minute pre-recorded statement early Monday night, said that following the second meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) on Monday, approval was given for a four-part emergency plan to be
implemented in light of the fire that destroyed the Georgetown Prison. Up to press time, four armed and dangerous prisoners remained on the run.
“The NSC has approved the immediate implementation of a four-part emergency plan, which includes the construction of temporary structures to safely and securely house prisoners in the short term and protect the population; the completion of recovery operation to account for and accommodate every single prisoner; the implementation of legal measures to immediately reduce prison population and importantly, the immediate recapture of those inmates who escaped custody,” the President told the nation.
He informed that the NSC received up-to-date reports on the death, destruction and displacement caused by the fire set by rioting prisoners. He added that the Guyana Defence Force, Guyana Police Force, Guyana Prison Service, and Guyana Fire Service were working together to ensure public safety and that a manhunt was being executed to recapture the escapees.
The President informed that air and ground patrols were being conducted, while
vigilance has been heightened on roadways and key points to ensure maximum safety of citizens. He stated that the NSC would be convening another meeting shortly and assured that all measures were being implemented to ensure the situation returned to normalcy.
“I mourn the loss of prison warden Odinga Wickham, who was murdered in the execution of his duties and I extend condolences to his family. We will ensure that the best medical attention will be given to everyone else, who received injuries in the riot,” he said.
“The Government is continuing to implement measures, particularly the major recommendations which were made by the Commission of Inquiry in the March 2016 prison riot. These include the expansion of the infrastructure of the Mazaruni prison. The Government is committed to public safety and for the reform of the Guyana Prison Service,” President Granger added.
By the end of Monday, close to 300 inmates are expected to be safely relocated to various detention facilities across the country, including at Mazaruni, New Amsterdam and Timehri. The remainder will be housed at Lusignan, where temporary facilities are currently being installed by engineers from the Public Infrastructure Ministry. Tents, in addition to portable toilets, are being set up to protect inmates from the elements, while construction begins on three holding shelters, washrooms and reinforced gates. A budget of $18 million has been approved to execute these works.
Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan is appealing to citizens who might have information on the inmates that are on the run to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement officers. The next 72 hours, he said, will be critical in terms of implementing the four-point plan.
“We should reduce the number at Lusignan from 1000 to about 450 by virtue of what we are doing administratively and also by the process of transfers…So, it is a very complex set of arrangements that we are putting in place to ensure the safety of all as well as the recapture of those who have escaped,” he said.
Thus far, the Guyana Police Force has issued wanted bulletins for Stafrei Hopkinson Alexander; Uree Varswyk aka “Malcolm Gordon” and Mark Royden Durant aka Royden Williams and “Smallie”.
Calm and unity
Social Cohesion Minister, Dr George Norton, in a statement, called for calm and unity to prevail during the trying times.
“We condemn all efforts to use this opportunity to polarise and fracture us as a nation. This is not a time for division in our society as every Guyanese must be each other’s keeper given the current circumstances,” the Minister said.
The Ministry is appealing to citizens across the length and breadth of our country to desist from engaging in hate speech, particularly in the areas of politics, race, ethnicity and religion via social media and in their respective communities. Additionally, persons are being urged to desist from spreading rumours and unconfirmed reports, which may incite negative actions and animosity, the statement added.
The Minister is also encouraging citizens to follow important safety precautions communicated by the Public Security Ministry. He also commended the Joint Services for the work, which has been done so far and expressed confidence that ongoing efforts to recapture the prison escapees and all other approaches to restore normalcy would be successful. “We take this opportunity to offer sincere condolences to the loved ones of prison warden Odinga Wickham, who lost his life in the line of duty. In addition, the Ministry wishes to convey regrets on those injured and otherwise affected by the incident,” the statement concluded.
Around 16:45h on Sunday, the Georgetown Prison went up in flames.