Rehabilitation and Prisons Reforms Minister D.M. Swaminathan wants three doctors to examine prisoners, to decide if they (prisoners) warrant being admitted to the prisons hospital, rather than a single doctor, as is the case presently. This is with a view to prevent the abuse of the facility by some prisoners, the minister declared. The public, no doubt, are nonplussed as to how some VIP politicians, who not so long ago were bristling with good health and vitality suddenly fall ill after entering prison. The other day, a visibly robust Sarana Gunawardena was reported to have entered the prisons hospital, only moments after entering prison. No doubt, there is something terribly wrong in the whole screening process to decide the criteria allowing politicians to enter the prison hospital.
Not just the abuse of the prison hospital, it also amounts to belittling of the court verdict that put accused behind bars. It is also tantamount to ridiculing the judge who delivered the verdict and a complete mockery of the whole justice system. Interestingly, the propensity to make a beeline to the prisons hospital, no sooner they enter prison, is an affliction common to VIP prisoners. Both Lalith Weeratunge and Anusha Palpita, who were placed behind bars after Colombo High Court Judge Gihan Kulatunga found them guilty for distributing sil redi using public funds, on the eve of the last Presidential election, sought refuge in the prisons hospital pronto, pleading they were diabetics. We are not aware of any instance of either of them receiving treatment at a state or private hospital recently.
Here were two individuals who looked quite hale and hearty and were seen practically beaming from ear to ear after sentencing, outside the court premises, suddenly discovering that their sugar levels have risen to the stratosphere, no sooner their cell doors were clanged shut. It was the same with former Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who was given the returning hero welcome by supporters at the BIA, months after his nocturnal departure overseas following his brother’s defeat on January 8. An arms flailing and wild gesticulating Rajapaksa, who looked the picture of good health, as was seen on television, suddenly developed some mysterious ailment after being arrested and thrown behind bars, promptly heading for the prisons hospital.
On a subsequent occasion when the younger Rajapaksa was again an inmate at the state guest house the practice was repeated and when questioned by a journalist as to why he always went to the prisons hospital, while in prison, said it was the result of the tension, which results in the rise in blood pressure and sugar levels. If that be the case the prison hospital should by now be bursting at the seams, given that a majority of the prisoners, particularly the first timers, no doubt, would have undergone the same tension, triggering a shooting up of their blood pressure and sugar levels. Or, is it that they being mere mortals, they are denied the comfort of the prison hospital, with the obvious application of double standards, by the examining physician?
Not just Basil, all politicians in recent times, followed the practice, so much so it has now become habit forming. S.B. Dissanayake spent the entire two years of his sentence for Contempt of Court at the prisons hospital while Duminda Silva, who is on death row, also spent a substantial period at the same facility. It is a strange coincidence, indeed, how the physician appointed to determine the plausibility of the requests of prisoners to be admitted to the prisons hospital invariably find all politicians to be eligible. It is not only abuse of the system but unfair on the ordinary prisoner who has no influence or money power. It is also a negation of the concept of equality before the law and a blatant mockery of the justice system. It is indeed revealing, as to how politicians, who after being sentenced, raise their manacled hands in a display of bravado outside court houses suddenly become meek as kittens, not having the courage to spend time in jail and always seek the relative comfort of the prisons hospital.
It is time to put a stop to this farce. Medical officers, obviously, don't want to get on the wrong side of powerful politicians, in the Opposition, sent to prison, fearing retaliation in the event of a regime change. Minister Swaminathan should factor in this possibility and make a careful selection of the panel. Malpractice too should not be ruled out in the whole affair. There is no known instance recorded where messrs. Colvin R. De Silva, Philip Gunawardena or Edmund Samarakkody ever sought the comfort of the prisons hospital during their period of incarceration. Perhaps they were made of sterner stuff than the present day politicians, who, one could only describe as cardboard heroes.
With more VIP politicians billed to enter the prison gates, soon, it will be interesting to see if the panel of three doctors to be appointed, will dare give them a clean bill of health, barring their pleas to be admitted to the prisons hospital or if the present trend continues.
Daily News, September 12, 2017