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SATURDAY, 25 JANUARY 2020

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Friday, November 29, 2019

Catering to life behind bars



“He has started early today, chief,” says the man in uniform to his boss. “He placed an order for American breakfast and now wants a full English breakfast spread.”
The unwanted intrusion to the chief’s tete-a-tete with this writer bothered him. “It always comes from those in executive class. They make demands – which on some occasions cannot be met. Last week someone demanded lobster thermidor for dinner and sparkling mineral water to wash it down. We had to order from a five-star hotel.”
Another, a former high-flying banker wanted only quinoa to be served for his meals. That’s his substitute for rice and it costs six times as much as beras panjang Siam.
“We provide everything for those in executive class. Cost is not a factor. While it costs only RM8 per head in traditional government-run facilities, the sky is the limit here. We charge for all the extras,” the chief adds.

We are seated in a room with over 100 TV monitors which cover the entire nine-bungalow complex. All doors are electronically controlled and every opening and closing is clocked. Welcome to the country’s first and only privatised prison.
“I am called the “governor” of this facility. We have discarded the old system of “director-general” and director this and director that. The heads of the various sections are called “major-domo” instead of head warden.
“The deputy home minister who visited privatised prisons in the United Kingdom, mooted the idea last week and we are off the blocks in a jiffy. It was then that the company, Private Prisons (Pvt) Ltd (PPP) was incorporated in the Virgin Islands to manage this luxury facility where everything comes at a price.
“Our directors and shareholders are former top civil servants – not the kotor type who were involved in amending, hiding and falsifying documents. They were 100 percent clean and that’s why they got the contract.”
Some history: There was a cluster of seven bungalows built in Shah Alam some 15 years for senior politicians, but had been unoccupied for years. A long-term lease was entered into, and they were quickly converted into rooms for executive class. For the economy class, the walls were broken down and made it into a dormitory, the governor explained.
The governor proudly told of the instant success. Initially, they only had a few involved in crooked financial deals, but many others have made advance bookings in anticipation of verdicts in court.
These, said the governor, includes politicians, bankers, a few personal aides, senior government servants and many a crooked businessman.
PPP is also contemplating a long-term reservation for one block exclusively for a former minister, his wife, step-son and two lawyers.
“We anticipate such an application, judging from what we are reading in the newspapers. PPP will be guided by advice from orang atasan.
“Upon conviction, they are cruelly and wrongly referred to as convicts or prisoners. But in our case, we refer to them as “guests” who are “under our care”. From the time they check in until they check out – maybe years later - they will be treated in a manner which mirrors the quantum of their payments,” he said.
There are no facilities for women yet because “there is no demand,” but one block has been earmarked for the fairer sex in economy class. And if there is demand, we may have a salon with facilities for facials, spas and hair-dos,” said the governor.
Since PPP has full control of the situation, they are free to set their own rules and regulations, but out of courtesy, they have to consult the government. In the UK, prisoners are allowed conjugal visits and temporary home leave, but in their case, it has to be guided by the government.
“We have set aside two rooms for “short-term day-use” and supply and demand will dictate the way forward. But we have to keep a close watch so that those China dolls don’t set up businesses under the guide of being our guests,” the governor said.
How does one use this facility instead of being sent to one of those over-crowded penitentiaries? On most occasions, the governor explained, it would be a last-minute thing.
“When the court passes sentence and adjourns, our guest relations officers will be outside the courthouse to offer our services. The booking is made on the spot and payment is accepted – cash or via credit card. Then the legal process takes place and we take it from there. But we also accept advance bookings.”
As we conclude our interview, a bulky guy in Levis jeans and a St Laurent polo shirt appears in the governor’s office. The major-domo stands at attention and announced: “Guvnor, his credit has been used up. He will have to revert to roti kosong with kopi-o for breakfast.”
The bulky guy said, “No problem, chief” and asked for use of the governor’s mobile phone. He punches a few numbers and then barked: “Jho, how come you allow my platinum card to be dishonoured. No credit lah! Top it up now.”
After listening, he barked: “Enough to keep me going for at least six years. Yes, get that girl in the bank to keep an eye on my balance. No more such nonsense. Lucky I am not buying a Birkin for Madam.”
He hangs up and said: “Money will be in the account in an hour.”
As a parting rejoinder, he wryly remarked: “Boss, cash is still king wherever you go - even in prison."
As I leave the complex, I wonder whether the facility has one of the big four accounting companies auditing its accounts.

R NADESWARAN believes that satire and parody are much-needed ingredients to take a break from hard, sad and, sometimes, fake news. Comments: citizen.nades22@gmail.com - Mkini

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