The National Assembly on Thursday rejected the Opposition’s proposal to appoint a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate the disturbance at Lusignan Prison on September 19, 2020.
Instead, Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn said the administration is focusing on reform of the prison system.
The motion, proposed by Opposition MP Geeta Chandan-Edmond, was defeated by the Government, which used its majority to vote against.
During the debate, Minister Benn told the National Assembly that while it was regrettable that two people lost their lives during the unrest, the Government could not support the motion.
“Although we continue to work to improve the conditions, welfare and housing of prisoners and staff, I think it would be wrong for us to be installed in the Commission of Inquiry. And, given the fact that we do not have a properly produced document in relation to the ‘where’s’ clauses and the answers, I am not in a position to support any Commission of Inquiry undertaking, ”he said.
The Minister reminded the Head of the National Assembly of the COI held to the Camp Street unrest in 2016. He added that the recommendations of that inquiry had never been implemented, and that the administration would be examining those recommendations.
“The conditions that created the situation [that] it started in September, which, in my view, led to the deaths of those people with the unfortunate fire and deaths of 17 people in Georgetown Prison, compounded by the fact that they were putting these men from Georgetown and add to those in Lusignan, mix them all together and get them under sheds, ”he said.
Minister Benn said the Ministry was working on establishing five new prison codes in Lusignan, and by the end of this year, three of those facilities would be available to house around 600 people. Cell construction at Mazaruni Prison was also resumed.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony said that a concerted effort was needed to improve the country’s prison system.
“I don’t think CoI is needed right now. What we have to do is continue to make the reforms we have, continue to improve the place, implement some of these recommendations that have not been implemented since the first COI and we need all sides to put our heads together to make sure we improve prisoner conditions in our prison system, ”he said.
Dr. Anthony after discussions with the prisoners, who complained of having to wait long periods for trials even as the COVID-19 pandemic struck, made interventions to establish 20 container courts to facilitate virtual hearings. He announced that a further 12 would be implemented this year.
Labor Minister Joseph Hamilton also slammed the Opposition for mismanaging the prison system during his time. He reminded the National Assembly that Opposition MP Khemraj Ramjattan had responsibility for the prison service over the past five years, and that during his leadership, 17 people lost their lives following the unrest at Camp Street Prison.
Minister Hamilton added that the proposal tabled by the Opposition lacked clarity, in that it did not identify the need for such an investigation, and that he had no proper recommendations on measures to avoid such an incident from happening again.