Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
22 May 2007

Oops, somebody must have lied

Yesterday the Inspecting Judge of Prisons, Nathan Erasmus, said that Schabir Shaik was not receiving special treatment merely because he spent the last month in hospital instead of the prison where he was sentenced to stay for 15 years. According to the Mail & Guardian:

“We checked the prison and medical records to confirm why Mr Shaik had been sent to hospital,” he said, adding that he had contacted Shaik’s own physician, Dr Somalingum Ponnusamy, for confirmation about his condition. Ponnusamy’s opinion was that Shaik’s condition warranted hospital treatment. Erasmus said that while Shaik was being held in a single ward, it was “equipped only with the bare essentials”, and he was under constant guard.

But this morning the Minister of Correctional Services, Ngcondo Balfour, announced that Shaik had been sent back to prison. The only possible reason for this move is surely that the Minister decided – after perusing the relevant reports – that Shaik was not sick enough to stay in Hospital.

This means that either Shaik’s doctor or Judge Erasmus or the Minister has been lying to the public. They can’t all be correct. Unfortunately the Minister is refusing to make public the report on which he based his decision.

This episode seems to have left a black mark against the name of the Inspector of Prisons. He was either far too credulous of Shaik’s doctor or he deliberately protected a politically connected prisoner from media criticism. Either way, his credibility is basically hovering just above that of the Public Protector at the moment and it will take some doing for me to take him seriously in future.

And doctor Ponnusamy? Questions suggest themselves: How close a friend is he of the Shaik family? Did he receive any money from said family for his diagnosis and if so, what amount? Should he perhaps be reported to the relevant authority?

Maybe he is a good man who had the wool pulled over his eyes or maybe the Minister is to blame, but how can we tell if the Minister is not telling us why he sent Shaik back to prison. So much for open and accountable government.

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