Medical conditions

GIVEN lack of clarity around the circumstances leading to the early release from prison of businessman Schabir Shaik on medical grounds, the integrity of the country's parole system will obviously remain in question until there's resolution on this matter.

GIVEN lack of clarity around the circumstances leading to the early release from prison of businessman Schabir Shaik on medical grounds, the integrity of the country's parole system will obviously remain in question until there's resolution on this matter.

This shall also be the case as long as prison authorities fail to clear the cloud over suspicions that Shaik unfairly received preferential treatment over more deserving inmates because of his being connected in high places rather than the disputed graveness of his illness.

That Shaik has reportedly been sighted at public places looking relatively healthier than when he was stretchered - apparently very ill - back homefrom prison a few months ago, has inevitably not helped to raise the credibility of the parole system or ease pressure for his re-incarceration.

For her part, Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has correctly read the public mood over the affair and swiftly attempted to restore the tarnished image of the parole system with specific reference to the application of medical parole.

Notwithstanding that the decision to release Shaik was taken under her predecessor's watch, this development suggests that the minister appreciates the damage that may have been caused to the integrity of the parole system following the Shaik affair.

However her utterances last week show that she has somehow missed the point, as illustrated in this comment: "Medical parole refers to people who are terminally ill, people certain to die, but I don't know how you can know for certain that someone will die".

Either the minister or parole boards understand the term "terminally ill", which means just that, or they don't.

She speaks as though the condition is reversible when she adds "... but I don't know how you can know for certain that someone will die."

Whether a person is terminally ill or not is a determination that can be made only by doctors, which the minister strangely seems to doubt.

By alluding that no one is capable of making that determination, the minister not only deliberately obfuscates matters but also contradicts herself while being disingenuous.

What's paramount is that either an inmate is terminally ill or not, which should determine his or her chances for early release on medical parole.

Whether a terminally ill prisoner, who is freed on medical parole, later traipses about and dines in public to his or her heart's content is immaterial to the condition of their release.

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