Oppositon parties on Friday slammed the medical parole granted to disgraced former police commissioner Jackie Selebi as “scandalous” preferential treatment, but the ANC welcomed the decision.
It would have been “insensitive” and “inhuman” of Correctional Services Minister S’bu Ndebele to ignore the decision of the medical parole advisory board, the ruling party said.
Selebi, sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for corruption in December last year, has reportedly been sick with renal failure and diabetes for years and in recent times has needed to receive dialysis.
But opposition parties remained sceptical about the claims of Selebi’s poor health, calling for full disclosure by the government on the exact details of his health.
“Given the public’s cynicism around medical parole due to the Schabir Shaik fiasco, the minister must give us assurance that the correct procedure has been followed,” said the DA spokesman on correctional services James Selfe.
Selfe said given the “huge degree of public scepticism about medical parole”, it was essential that the government “comes entirely clean” about Selebi’s medical condition and the procedure followed in determining that he was “indeed terminally ill”.
“There cannot be one law for the politically connected and another for the rest of us,” said Selfe.
Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald said the awarding of medical parole to Selebi undermined the criminal justice system.
“The message is that if one has the correct political connections, one can commit crime and if you are sent to jail it will only be temporarily,” Groenewald said.
He questioned why Clive Derby-Lewis, who assassinated SACP leader Chris Hani, had not been granted parole despite suffering from cancer.
Derby-Lewis has applied only for standard parole, not medical parole.
“It is yet another blotch on correctional services’ name and makes medical parole a farce,” said Groenewald.
United Democratic Movement president Bantu Holomisa said he hoped Selebi had “learnt his lesson”.
“We also hope that his incarceration sent a strong message that crime does not pay,” he said.
IFP spokesman on correctional services Velaphi Ndlovu called for the parole system to be reviewed.
“Investigators spent a lot of time and taxpayers’ money to investigate and prosecute Selebi. The judiciary took a long time on this case before he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Now, after spending just six months behind bars, Selebi is free,” said Ndlovu.
He said the government was “interfering with the rulings of courts”, making a “mockery” of Correctional Services, the justice system and the government.
The ANC, however, felt the decision was the humane option. “We are satisfied that the parole was granted on its merit after 12 cases were presented for consideration to the board, and that it will assist in the effective care of Comrade Selebi,” said ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu. He said SA subscribed to internationally determined practices providing for the humane treatment of prisoners.
“In this regard Mr Selebi will be able to access medical treatment without hindrance within the conditions imposed.”
Adding that the decision by the medical parole board had been “unanimous”, Mthembu invited “those who are doubtful about the correctness of the decision” to access the records.
ANC caucus spokesman Moloto Mothapo said Selebi’s parole was in line with the Correctional Matters Amendment Act of 2011, which was signed into law by President Jacob Zuma in May last year.
Lukas Muntingh, co-founder and project co-ordinator of the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative, said despite the controversy around the awarding of medical parole to politically connected individuals, the dignity of a prisoner should be preserved as far as possible.
“The decision to release somebody on medical parole is a medical decision, which foremost has dignity of the prisoner as a central concern,” he said. “The risk to society and the amount of the sentence served is secondary.”
Medical parole would only be possible if a prisoner could be guaranteed support – such as adequate health care – outside of custody. In some cases a prisoner might be offered greater dignity in a prison hospital, he said. New legislation regarding medical parole was problematic, as a prisoner needed only to suffer from a terminal illness, without necessarily being in the final phase of that illness, he added.