Gov’t votes down motion seeking clarity on 2017 prison riot

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By Bibi Khatoon

The Government on Wednesday evening voted down a motion brought by the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) to release critical information relating to July 9, 2017, Georgetown Prison fire and jailbreak.

The motion was tabled by Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira on behalf of her colleague Member of Parliament, Juan Edghill who has been suspended from four sittings of the National Assembly.

The motion called on the Government to take responsibility for the tragedy, declare what actions have been and are being taken to reduce opportunities for such situations to re-occur and make a full disclosure with regard to the circumstances surrounding the most recent escape of prisoners on July 24, 2017.

The motion contends that the public remains in the dark as to what led to the incident and how the Government managed this situation as it unfolded and its aftermath.

Presenting his argument during the debate of the motion, Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan sought to debunk claims that persons are being kept in the dark.

Noting that he had always accepted responsibility for both the 2016 and 2017 prison riots, Ramjattan said briefs were done with the opposition and members of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) while he also held as much as eight press conferences.

“I want to make it quite clear that the very first press conference, I had, the question was directly put and about three other times, and I said, yes, I am the one responsible. I’ve always said that,” he told the National Assembly.

The Government had promised to set up a Commission of Inquiry into the incident. However, Ramjattan said, “at this point in time, yes when the two more are captured, we will have an inquiry, until such time, well it is not going to be done.”

As it relates to systems being put in place to reduce the possibility of a recurrence, Ramjattan outlined the extension of the Mazaruni Prison, support for the Criminal Justice Education System and efforts to put alternatives to pre-trial detention in place.

“Things are going to take time because that is how it is,” he said.

He added that “if we had more money, we would’ve done a lot more with the prison system.”

Ramjattan deemed the motion “not worth even the paper it is written on.”

In her closing remarks, Teixeira, who is a former Minister of Home Affairs, said she is “disappointed because I really hoped that the government would have understood that this was an opportunity given to them to make certain things public which they haven’t so far.”

The Opposition Chief Whip noted that the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on the Security Sector which examines the policies and administration of the entities has not met since July.

She further expressed hope that the motion would have been put to the House clause by clause so that the Government can be given the opportunity to show their support to at least one part of the motion. However, the Speaker put the entire motion to a vote to which the Government’s side won.

It must be noted that the opposition was already at a further disadvantage since the majority of its members are in India, attending an MPs conference.

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