Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan has reportedly stated that government spending money on the sugar industry was the main reason why enough funds were not available to upgrade and improve prison conditions or the prison itself.
People I have spoken with believe that corruption, wastage, salary increase for ministers, and general misspending of money are the factors that led to diverting scarce resources from the prison and other critical projects. And they also ask whether scholarships for ministers, the corrupt drug bond, $500K a month rental for housing for ministers aren’t factors that short changed the prisons and sugar industry.
As I travel around, in conversations, people almost unanimously disagree with the explanation offered by Minister Ramjattan for not upgrading the Camp Street prison because of his claim that “the money was largely spent on the sugar industry”.
Voters feel the Minister would have been better off not offering a comment or explanation for the riot rather than make that poor excuse for the deteriorating conditions in the prison that led to the riot and jail break.
People say that the government has not implemented the recommendations of the COI on the last prison riot a year ago. People are very fearful for their lives as a result of the jail break and blame the government for the current state of affairs regarding prison conditions. Almost everyone is concerned about the crime situation saying the government seems unable or incapable of addressing it.
Current and former sugar workers say the sugar industry had nothing to do with the prison riot. A bulk of the sugar industry money has come from grants from the European Union rather than from national revenues. But the sugar workers have not seen the money. The sugar industry and its workers have been taken for a political ride. The current and former sugar workers complain that this and the preceding government neglected and marginalized the sugar community that resulted in its present condition.
It is noted that some US$130 million from the European Union meant for sugar workers was diverted into the national budget. The coalition received over $5 billion from EU. Why was it not infused into sugar? Had the PPP and the coalition governments efficiently utilized the resources at their disposal meant for the sugar industry, it would have been operating at a profit. Since private cane farmers have been cultivating sugar at a profit, there is no reason why the State can’t grow sugar profitable.
Citizens are urging the Security Minister and the government to look at the real causes for the prison riot and break out rather than casting blame on hard working innocent sugar workers.