I start the column this week by posing two serious questions. Are you satisfied with the pace of our justice system? And secondly are you comfortable with the quality of our public health services? There are quite a few more, but we will deal for now with the two aforementioned, mainly because they impact so many of our citizens.
Our justice system is in a mess. What with 758 people awaiting trial for murder. We are forced to ask: Where is the justice here? Many years ago, we were toying with the idea of doing away with the tedious process of preliminary inquiries. Because we all know that such inquiries could take years. What has become of that? We are still to hear. This does not take into account the dozens of unsolved murders which have taken place over decades.
Now we all know of the very many vacancies that today exist in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) even though we have scores of qualified young people graduating from the Hugh Wooding Law School every year. This number doesn’t take into account the other campuses of The University of the West Indies (UWI) and to a lesser extent, other tertiary institutions.
With so many people rotting away in prison as they await their various trials, we are forced to inquire of the authorities: What is the position? There are people in prison, awaiting trial for more than a decade. Where are their human rights? Is this true justice? But then again, we in Trinidad and Tobago accept this as the norm and do nothing about it.
The sad thing is that it is not murder charges, but lesser infractions of the law and they, almost to a man (or woman), remain in prison for months or years. This certainly is not justice.
And even more mind boggling is the fact that in spite of the current crime spiral there are 277 police officers who are at present on suspension. What is difficult to understand is that 269 are suspended for criminal activity! Some of these cases are decades old but the authorities insist that the matters have not been forgotten and are still being investigated.
On the contrary a mere eight are on suspension for matters of discipline. What does that tell us about our society? Have we so lost our sense of values that men who took an oath to protect and serve, are not loyal to that oath, and somewhere along the line might have diverted from their original path? Think about that. This is hardly the justice we knew. Where did we go wrong?
The other problem that currently exists deals mainly with our public services. And we wonder whether the growing number of private medical institutions is responsible for the continued deterioration in service at the public hospitals and health centres. Daily there are horror stories about people who visit our institutions for medical help.
The problems seem numerous: waiting for hours to get simple attention; absent or late doctors; a lack of drugs in the dispensaries; appointments which are several months away; rude nurses or attendants; a total lack of compassion for the poor and disabled. These are things which happen every day at these public facilities.
Are these things done so that more patients, thoroughly frustrated, would decide to patronise the private hospitals? There have been instances when patients are encouraged to seek treatment at the private institutions.
Someone close to me sought treatment for a punctured vein. The hospital refused to attend to her unless she deposited $500. She was then put into a room and a non-qualified ‘nurse’ washed her foot and put on a bandage. The hospital took her $500 and told a relative she still owed them $85. That’s $585 for washing her foot and putting on a bandage. So much for the Hippocratic Oath.
The problems seem numerous: waiting for hours to get simple attention; absent or late doctors; a lack of drugs in the dispensaries; appointments which are several months away; rude nurses or attendants; a total lack of compassion for the poor and disabled.