Is it a fact that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim cannot receive medical treatment abroad? Is it a fact that the law does not allow prison inmates to do so?
Utusan Malaysia has reportedly quoted Supri Hashim, the Prisons Department deputy director in charge of prison policy, as having stated “that Section 37 (1) of the Prisons Act 1995 clearly stated that a prisoner could only be treated in government hospitals, and not private hospitals, let alone overseas” (The Malaysian Insider, 10 November 2015)
But Section 37(1) does not seem to support his contention. At best, it is only his opinion and it is a matter of his interpretation of Section 37 (1). That is all – and nothing more!
What does Section 37 (1) of the Prisons Act 1995 state exactly?
37. Illness of prisoner:
(1) In case of serious illness of a prisoner confined in a person in which there are inadequate facilities for the treatment of that prisoner, the Officer in Charge, or in his absence, the next senior prison officer on duty, may, on the certificate of a Medical Officer, make an order for the removal of the prisoner to a government hospital.
There is no mention whatsoever of “private hospitals” or “overseas” in this section. It does not specifically state that prisoners cannot be treated at “private hospitals” or “overseas.”
It does not state why prisoners cannot be treated at “private hospitals” or “overseas.” It does not state that the only treatment available to prisoners is the “general hospital” and nowhere else.
This only means, as we understand, that cost is involved when prisoners are referred to “private hospitals” or “overseas” for treatment and that the government is not obliged to pick up this expensive bill.
That is the only reason why “government hospital” is mentioned. That is a fair stand to be adopted by the authorities.
That additional cost involved must be borne by Anwar if he chooses to be treated elsewhere. That cannot be passed on to the taxpayers.
But the worrying fact remains that Anwar and his family and supporters harbour fears and misgivings about his treatment locally, especially when it involves general anaesthesia.
They have publically stated, “We don’t trust the system, because the system can deny Datuk Seri Anwar basic treatment like physiotherapy.
“We don’t trust the system to do an operation where Anwar would be under general anaesthesia, and so on.”
The Parliamentary Opposition Leader has taken a strong position in this matter as well. “We don’t trust the system here, because even the attorney general can be transferred without his knowledge,” Dr Wan Azizah was quoted as saying.
The issue of trust highlighted by the Parliamentary Opposition Leader is a serious one, particularly when it involves the life of a Malaysian, any Malaysian for that matter.
The government must immediately move to address this issue if it believes in the saying that “where trust is thin, suspicion is thick”.
In a ‘trust deficit’ situation such as that alleged by the Parliamentary Opposition Leader, should anything untoward occur through an invariably innocent human error, that innocent oversight can take on a life of its own that the government does not need.
The government will be well advised to allow the treatment of Anwar to be performed in a private hospital overseas since this effectively means transferring the risk attendant in the this situation. The simple expedient is for the appropriate Minister to designate the overseas private hospital chosen by Anwar “as ‘a general hospital’ pursuant to section 37 (1) of the Prisons Act 1995”.
The government need not fear that Anwar would abscond himself once he is outside the country for treatment. If he wanted to be free, he would have fled the country and sought asylum quite easily.
But he deliberately and freely chose to remain in the country and face the consequences. There is no reason to believe that he would abandon his principles and betray the trust of Malaysians and turn tail and abscond.
As it is, there is no law prohibiting Anwar from receiving treatment overseas. All that is required is a compassionate consideration, in the name of humanity, to allow Anwar to seek treatment of his choice.
Will the government show such humanity in the name of decency?
Aliran executive committee member
11 November 2015