Former Speaker of the National Assembly, Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran has added his voice to concerns being expressed about the government’s decision not to publicize the names of the youths who were pardoned last year by the President.
The youths would have been nearing the completion of their prison sentences for “minor offences”, according to the government.
But the Opposition People’s Progressive Party wants more than just that assurance. The party attempted to get the Minister of Public Security to release the names through a parliamentary question but that was shut down by the Speaker, Dr. Barton Scotland.
However, former Speaker of the National Assembly, Ralph Ramkarran has stated that he does not believe that there was anything improper with the question that would have been asked by the PPP Member, Anil Nandlall.
In his weekend blog, Conversation Tree, Mr. Ramkarran said while there is no doubt that the President has the power under Article 188(1) of the Constitution to pardon prisoners, the exercise of that power is a commendable initiative and hardly likely to attract serious or sustained opposition in principle.
“But the public is entitled to know the criteria employed by the President, the names of the prisoners who have been released and the offences for which they have been charged. This is not and should not be treated as confidential information or state secrets”, he said.
Ramkarran said “the President is accountable to the people of Guyana who elected him and who now employ him and his Government and pay their salaries. He and the Government work for us and act on our behalf. We therefore have a right to ask him and them reasonable questions relating to our business, namely, the basis on which they perform their duties on our behalf and they have a duty to answer us.”
The former Speaker reminded that the pardoning of prisoners is a very important matter and “the prevailing secrecy and lack of transparency offend basic democratic norms”.
“The Guyanese people through their lawful representatives, Members of the National Assembly, are concerned. They sought but failed to elicit the information from the President. They resorted to the National Assembly”, he said.
Many of the young prisoners who were pardoned are involved in rehabilitation programmes to have them properly reintegrated in the society.
While President Granger has encouraged them to “go and sin no more”, at least two of the pardoned youths have found themselves in conflict with the law and are currently back behind bars.
During the PPP’s time in office, several prisoners also received Presidential pardons. Except for the pardon of social activist Mark Benschop, who was never convicted, the other cases were never made public by the then government.