Our ancestors` love and thirst for learning were such that they likened the closing down of a seat of learning to the opening of a dungeon. (We don`t give two hoots about folk wisdom, do we? That`s why we are where we are?on the fast track to a failed state. In a country known for ancient engineering marvels and many other achievements that were made possible by a huge reservoir of knowledge and a work ethic that our forebears were blessed with, we have had to obtain foreign help to fix even a dilapidated sewage system!) We keep closing down schools at a rate and it is only natural that we are feeling the pressing need for more and more maximum security prisons. If the crime rate continues to rise, which is quite possible, then we are likely to have the biggest prison in Asia, if not in the world, before long! Worse, we may consider that an achievement, given our monumental weakness for anything big no matter what it is. Educational standards are falling so rapidly that the critics of free education might want the existing state run schools, too, closed down. The warring school teachers and their university counterparts are making their contribution to the ruination of the education sector in no small measure. They seem to think they deserve pay hikes for that! However, today`s comment in not about schools, universities or teachers. It is about prisons and politicians.
One of our readers, in a letter published on the opposite page, reminds us of a ruse that politicians and their lackeys usually employ whenever they fail to manipulate the legal system and happen to be sent to remand prison or jail proper. They lose no time in admitting themselves to hospital, where they remain until they obtain bail or their sentences are over. We knew that politicians were a bunch of sick men save a few decent human beings among them. But, we never knew they were so sick!
They are strong enough to stage long marches, visit night clubs and fight over prostitutes, make fiery speeches from the political platform, demolish restaurants pistol-whip their rivals and above all even set upon the police. But, the moment they are brought to justice, they fall sick.
National Organiser of the UNP S. B. Dissanayake, having spent most part of his prison sentence for contempt of the Supreme Court, in hospital, claiming ill health as the reason suddenly recovered after he got a presidential pardon. He regained his strength in record time and became as fit as a fiddle overnight. Then he made a grand show of his release. (That sordid drama prompted us to ask the President in this column whether he who had displayed his power of healing shouldn`t cure all the patients overcrowding the state run hospitals, in the same way.)
There have been many other politicians and their henchmen who have done likewise. In a way, in a country where bail is granted on Poya Days?may be by way of charity?politicians can settle the crown cost and walk away after pleading guilty to fraud and criminal misappropriation and the terrorists who commit the non-bailable offence of carrying illegal arms are given bail in return for the release of soldiers in their captivity, perhaps the de facto commutation of a jail term to a stay in a comfy bed in a fee levying hospital ward is something to be taken for granted.
All citizens are said to be equal before the law in this blessed land. If so, why is it that when remanded or sentenced to jail, all are not allowed to admit themselves to hospital.
In the Orwellian Animal Farm called the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, we don`t intend to engage in the Sisyphean task of demanding that the law equally apply to the political `pigs` that are `more equal` than others. They are so powerful that they are in a position to threaten their opponents with impunity in the full glare of the media and vow to remove any obstacle on their way either by cutting, demolishing or killing. They have the audacity to threaten the media within court premises. (We were so frightened that we penned this column under a table!) This land belongs to politicians and their sons and not to anyone else. Therefore, instead of trying to take those worthies down a peg or two, we, with due respect to them, make a humble suggestion which will enable them to curtail unnecessary state expenditure and channel the savings to the extra curricular activities of their trigger happy and club smashing sons.
The state is expending a great deal of money on the maintenance prisons. That is an utter waste of precious funds because most of the criminals who should be in are out. Some of them have taken to politics and risen above the flawed legal system. And, most of all, the hospital system has evolved as an alternative to prisons. So, why should we continue to maintain both hospitals and prisons? Closing down hospitals is out of the question. Therefore, the prisons which have become obsolete must be done away with. All the inmates who are being kept there could be transferred to the state health institutes or private hospitals, depending on their financial position. The prisoners of the ilk of our bovine hero running amok may be sent to the Angoda hospital.
Then, we can boast that we are a country without prisons!