Points to Ponder
About our 5-Star Prisons
A First Point: I have been told that the time of service of the Commissioner of Prisons will be over by the end of this month. In the circumstances, government has two options, either to renew the contract of the present Commissioner for a further term or recruit another Commissioner. If it chooses not to renew the contract of the present Commissioner, then also it will have two options. Either recruit yet another Commissioner, more likely from overseas or have a local recruit, someone with experience of prison work. I mean someone from the Prisons Department itself.
I know that the present Commissioner of Prisons has adopted a very soft attitude with the prisoners, but this very soft policy was started by the previous Commissioner Bookhun. Prisoners were given the food they wanted, at fixed times. They were given fruits every day even if fruits were scarce; they were given a balanced diet and if they were given lentils one day, they could not be given lentils the next day.
They were given a first-class medical treatment at the slightest complaint of some pain or ache and they could rest in the hospital. They were given all sorts of facilities for sports and physical activities and they were allowed plenty of leisure hours. And this state of affairs is still continuing.
If I were to say that most of the prisoners, more than 95% I would say, do not enjoy such facilities in the privacy of their homes, would you believe me? Nobody would be surprised that these people prefer to stay in the prison rather than in their homes.
The present Commissioner is following the same policy that his predecessor has put in place. And so he does not have any major problem with those in the prison. However, the situation in our prisons is, to say the least, chaotic. But those officers in the Prime Minister’s Office, who handle the file of that department, are blind to the prisons’ shortcomings. Let me ask them just one question: are people scared to spend some time in the prison for having committed some crime and therefore sentenced to a term of imprisonment? Nobody is afraid of being sent to prison nowadays.
And there are two reasons for this. The first one is the good life inside the prison, and the second is that a prison sentence no longer carries with it the social stigma that it used to in the past. People do not feel that they are being punished for the wrong that they do to society or to members of society. They have committed a crime, so what? This is the reasoning.
I have been told that many gangs of criminals are formed inside the prisons and once the prisoners who form part of a gang are released from prison, they start their criminal activities better informed and with renewed vigour.
I would suggest that somebody from the top ranks of the prison services should be appointed as the next Commissioner, but that somebody must have the guts to put some order in the service. He should forget about the facilities that the prisoners enjoy. Let a strict discipline be maintained. Prisoners should know and be made to feel that they are being punished for some crime that they have committed.
They should not be given anything free. They should be made to work and they can use the money they receive in exchange to buy themselves special foods and other luxuries. Those who will not work will not have any such foods, if they so choose. This is done in one of the States of the United States.
What is this policy that when a person is sent to prison, his relatives are given a pension? The prisoner should be made to work hard in order to feed the members of his family. Why should the State take the responsibility of the family of the prisoners?
Now some people who are in favour of prisoners rather than in favour of the innocent victims of those prisoners have been shouting from the housetops that the human rights of the prisoners should be better protected. What human rights are they talking of? All such rights that ordinary human beings enjoy should be suspended for the period that the prisoners are undergoing sentence and I am pretty sure that if a referendum is held on this point, at least 70 to 80% of the population will approve such a measure.
I am told that the crime bosses and gang leaders continue to run their criminal organisations from within the prisons, mostly through cell phones or through their contacts inside or outside the prisons. It would be good to know whether prisoners are officially allowed to use cell phones and it not, could the authorities tell us how many illegal such phones have been seized say during the past one year. How are those cell phones smuggled inside the prison cells?
It is said that a few rogue prison officers are in the business of smuggling cell phones and other prohibited articles for pecuniary benefits. Is that true? Have any such officers have been caught in such illegal transactions? The authorities must try to find out what the situation is. One rogue prison officer is one too many in the service.
I have written on this subject before, but I find the situation so serious that I feel called upon to write about it again. It concerns the security of us all and goes to the credibility of the institution. We need the collaboration of the Prison Services, the different ministries, of the State Law Office, of the Judiciary and of the Police Department. Would all these institutions collaborate? Would the Attorney General collaborate, knowing his partiality for the prisoners? This is a well known matter.
Two questions to the Minister for Consumer Protection
A Second Point: Let us ask the Minister responsible for Consumer Protection two simple questions.
The first is about flour. There are, I am told, three types of flour and each type is used by different persons, depending on their wants and their liking. I am talking of the Mauritian context only, because I know that in other countries there are about a hundred varieties of flour. You have the white flour, which is used by most consumers, to make their rotis, faratas, puris, bread, cakes, etc. Then you have what is normally called “farine de blé” or “wheat flour”, even though we know that all flours sold in Mauritius are wheat flour. And you have also “whole wheat flour” and this type of flour is not available in Mauritius apparently.
White flour is easily available in all the shopping centres. When it comes to the ordinary wheat flour, at times it is available and at other times it is not. But “whole wheat flour” is not available in Mauritius. And this is the best flour that should be used by the consumers. The other wheat flour is not that bad, but that is not always available. It seems that they the manufacturers of our flour have not heard of “whole wheat flour” and maybe this is the reason for the non-availability of this type of flour.
The difference between the three types of flour is simple to state. In white flour, there is no husk at all. In “wheat flour”, part of the husk is to be found in the final product. In “whole wheat flour”, there is a lot of husk and it is common knowledge that this type of flour is best for health reasons.
The price of whole wheat flour should be should be far lower than those of the other two types but would the manufacturers give satisfaction to the consumers or are they only interested in their profit? Can I ask the Minister responsible to look into this business of flour? Or is he concerned only with other items of food that concern only some chosen few? I know the Minister will not dare answer for those chosen few are keeping a close watch on him.
The second question relates to milk, both in the powder form and the liquid form. The question is simply an assurance that we want to the effect such cargoes of milk that are imported from the different countries are free from a substance called “melamine”. Melamine is a substance that is added to the milk for reasons I do not know, but it is widely reported in the international press that this substance is not conducive to good health — on the contrary, it is injurious to health.
For powdered milk, you do not know what it contains for the container does not mention anything, because that type of milk is mostly sold after having been locally packed. For the liquid milk also, you can never know if melamine has been added to it except by laboratory analyses.
The Minister responsible should tell us if imported milk contains melamine. Ask the suppliers first and at the same time, it is your duty to carry out a proper analysis to find out the contents of the milk that is sold to Mauritians generally.
We are waiting for the Minister to answer these two simple questions — that is if the Minister cares for the people.
Farewell my friend
A Third Point: James Burty David, a stalwart of Mauritian politics and one of the Labour Party’s chief spokesmen on all matters, is no more. Politics is so much the poorer in his absence. He could speak on any subject in any forum.
I remember that on one occasion Burty David attended a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference. A member from another country was scheduled to speak on a particular subject and that member did not turn up on time. I asked one of the officers working at the conference that the particular subject had to be dropped as the member concerned has not put in an appearance. That officer, who was from Sri Lanka, told me that we should try to get another speaker in his stead. I said that it was not possible for someone to talk on the particular subject without thorough preparation. That officer told me that there would be no problem as Burty David was there. He had no need to prepare and he would make a good speech. And this is what in fact happened. The speech was very well received and the day was saved.
That was the man that Burty David was. Such happenings have been legion in his life, far too many to write about.
Burty came on the stage of life, did what he had to do and now he has moved to pastures new. Who knows, maybe he has been called for other matters that are more important and also because his time on this earth has been up. Maybe he will come again, who knows?
To all those who miss him, we say such is life. One minute you are here, the next minute you are gone. Such is the Law of God and of Nature. Only God knows what he is doing.
Can we say with Shakespeare’s Anthony about Caesar:
“His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up,
And say to all the world ‘This was a man!’ ”
I am sure that these are fitting words to qualify Burty David. He was a friend who multiplied joys and divided sorrows. It is very rare that a person comes across such a friend.
Death struck him like a traitor, without warning and without so much time as to say goodbye.
I will only say to him, “Farewell wherever you are my friend.”