… “CoI will not be hoodwinked” – Harmon
The three persons who will serve on the Commission of Inquiry (CoI), ordered by President
From left: Minister of State, Joseph Harmon; former Director of Prisons and Commissioner Dale Erskine; human rights activist and Commissioner Merle Mendonca; Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan; former Judge and Chairman of the Commission, Justice James Patterson and Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan after the swearing-in ceremony
David Granger following the death of 17 prisoners after rioting at the Camp Street Prison, were on Monday sworn in by Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan.
The commissioners are former Judge, James Patterson, Chairman, former Director of Prisons Dale Erskine and human rights activist Merle Mendonca. They were sworn-in at the Ministry of Presidency in the presence of Minister of State Joseph Harmon and Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan.
Minister Harmon in delivering his charge to the Commissioners, said the incident at the Georgetown Prison is one which has affected every Guyanese and as such, answers are urgently needed. In this regard, he noted that it is imperative that the work of the Commission be in accordance with the Oath of Office, which they have taken.
“This Commission of Inquiry, we believe, should be done in a very speedy fashion. While we are not trying to put any pressure on the Commissioners, it is understood that the society is looking for answers,” Harmon said.
He noted that the Guyanese people must be assured and can be assured that the Commission will not be “hoodwinked” but will ensure that its mandate is properly fulfilled.
“The Commission has been given wide scope and the instrument they received, gives them as much power as High Court Judge to summon witnesses and take evidence as you would in the High Court and I want to give the assurance to the relatives of the deceased that they can come forward and give evidence to the Commission and the Commission has full authority to take their evidence into their recommendations to the administration,” he said.
According to Harmon, while some sections of society have been calling for the CoI to be held after Police investigations are completed, the two investigations are completely different and will not interfere with each other.
After a brief meeting with the Commissioners, Minister Harmon said the Commission will meet today, Tuesday, to finalise the procedures and Terms of Reference (ToRs). Following that meeting, the decision will then be made by the Commission as to when evidence will be gathered.
The deadline for the submission of their report was initially set for March 15, 2016.
Delivering brief comments to the media, Minister Harmon acknowledged that the initial time frame may not have been adequate.
“We have pushed that back because we have recognised that that timeline is not enough for them to actually do a proper investigation so we have pushed that back for at least two more weeks. We expect that they should finish their work in about a month. They expect to take evidence from inmates from Georgetown and even from the other prisons. They will take from the relatives, prison officers and any other person who in their view can give evidence,” Harmon said.
On the evening of March 2, inmates at the Camp Street Prison started about nine fires to express dissatisfaction over living conditions there, among other matters.
In fact, the confiscation of several prohibited items earlier that day prompted the whole reaction.
The next day, the prisoners again started rioting which led to the deaths of 17 inmates.
The following day was also marred by unrest.
It was not until government officials visited the prison and negotiated with the criminals, promising to meet their demands, that normalcy was restored.