The three Commissioners, who will serve on the Commission of Inquiry (COI), ordered by President David Granger, were this afternoon sworn in by Chief Magistrate, Ms. Ann McLennan in the presence of Minister of Public Security, Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan and Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon at a simple ceremony at the Ministry of the Presidency.
The Commissioners are former Judge, Mr. James Patterson, who will serve as Chairman of the Commission, former Director of Prisons, Mr. Dale Erskine and human rights activist, Ms. Merle Mendonca. The deadline for the submission of their report has been set for March 15, 2016, to allow a full and complete investigation to be completed.
Delivering a brief comment to members of the media, following the ceremony and a brief meeting with the Commissioners, 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,” Minister Harmon said.
Minister Harmon, in delivering his charge to the Commissioners, said that 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.
Minister Harmon said 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.
The Minister noted that while some sections of society have been calling for the COI to be held after the 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 that the Commission will meet tomorrow, 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.
On Thursday, as news broke that the men had died, the President immediately convened a National Security Committee meeting where he instructed that the Commission be established to investigate the tragedy, which claimed the lives of 17 prisoners. (GINA)