That it has taken nearly six months for a decision to be made on what penalty should be applied to Dr Mahendra Chand for his shocking conduct in relation to the teenager who was tortured at the Leonora Police Station exposes the determination of key decision-makers to protect certain persons and to avoid as far as possible the charge of torture or complicity with it.
In line with the oath he swore when he became a doctor, Dr Chand was in a perfect position to expose the torture of this youth by the police long before it became known. Many of his defenders have asked what else could he have done when the badly scorched teenager was presented to him with a rice bag covering his head.
The simple answer is that Dr Chand should have told the policemen that the patient would be treated but that the bag would first have to be removed so that a proper examination could be done and the relevant questions asked. Had the policemen demurred, it would have been the obligation of the doctor to call the police hierarchy to report the matter or to make his own efforts to have the boy immediately admitted to the hospital. To the contrary, Dr Chand avoided this course of action. He made no notes of anything but simply handed ointment to the teenager for his burns and advised the police – in whose custody the torture was administered – to take him to the hospital.
This type of conduct would lead one to immediately believe that this was not the first time that Dr Chand had witnessed police excesses. It would not be surprising as policemen have racked up a notorious reputation for manhandling witnesses, and the manner in which the teenager was tortured bespoke well-organised torture machinery at this particular police station.
However it is dissected, Dr Chand has managed to get off with a light tap on the wrist, which transmits a dangerous message that torturous conduct should not warrant appropriate responses by professionals and citizens who become aware of it, but is a matter best left to law enforcement even if its members are engaged in the most blatant acts of inhumane treatment.
It is this type of ambivalence or tacit permitting of these acts that have significantly eroded the fundamental rights of all Guyanese and exposes many persons to the risk of torture at the hands of the security forces.
Special mention should be made in this case of the role of the Minister of Health, Dr Ramsammy. From the very outset he appeared of the mindset that Dr Chand should not be punished when he famously retorted that the physician was “damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.” Thereafter, months of back and forth between him and the apparently pliable Medical Council of Guyana ensued before this travesty of justice was agreed on.
In his statement to the press announcing that he had given a no objection to the medical council’s decision to “censure” Dr Chand, Dr Ramsammy said that as the Minister of Health he was not “in the habit of disagreeing with the Medical Council or any of the other regulatory bodies.” Yet, it was the same minister who sent the unmistakable signal that he was opposed to the council’s earlier decision of a two-month suspension of the doctor by returning the report and asking the council further questions. There is only one way to interpret that demarche. Unfortunately, it appears that the council yielded to pressure and changed its mind to the satisfaction of the minister.
This episode highlights once again the subversion of professional bodies and the usurpation of their remits by politicos. It is entirely unacceptable that a professional body standing in judgement of one of its members should have to forward its decision to a minister of the government for vetting even as a fait accompli. This particular formulation would have had its genesis in the tooth-and-nail fight in the last years of PNC governance when the Guyana Medical Association sought to ensure that adequate legislation was in place to govern the profession. Invariably, reserve authority in many of these laws has been accorded to ministers, a trend the PPP/C has grown increasingly enamoured with.
Dr Ramsammy should have had no role in this decision-making process but his imprimatur is all over it. It continues this trend of professional and civic bodies being imposed upon to deliver decisions to the liking of the administration.
The bottom line is that since 2002 the security apparatus of the state has engaged in numerous acts of torture because conventional methods of investigation and interrogation have now become alien concepts. This state of affairs led to the horrific torture of a teenage murder suspect, the embarrassment of the medical profession and a most shameful censure.