16 Nov 2008

Photo courtesy of MICHUZI

From the outside, the highly protected Maximum Prison, located in the southern part of Dar es Salaam, could easily be mistaken for a Toyota showroom on weekend days. 

But the compound is not a showroom. It is the current home of 13 EPA suspects who have so far spent about ten days in the tiny prison's cells, since they were arrested last week. 

Behind these highly fenced and protected walls are men who were busy men who negotiated lucrative business deals over their sophisticated mobile phones, in fabulously furnished offices or in the restaurants of the city`s expensive hotels. 

Their arrests and prosecution last week changed their lifestyles suddenly and dramatically. 

One close family member of the prominent tycoon Jeetu Patel hinted to our reporter in the prison compound: ``Boss doesn`t believe what is happening,he feels he has been betrayed by his allies in the government.`` 

The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity last Sunday, explained further: ``He was extremely shocked on the day he entered prison, but he says he has surrendered his fate to the almighty God.`` 

For some, it has been a dream shattered by their sudden arrest, but for others it has been a time for short vacation after spending months on the streets of Dar es Salaam, trying to make ends meet. 

Their life hasn't changed much, though their freedom to move and mix with their buddies and families have been terminated, as they spend their nights and days at the Prison, pending the fate of their bail applications. 

According to a week-long survey conducted by The Guardian on Sunday, despite being locked behind bars, some suspects are still managing their businesses from the prison. 

``Each passing day the businessman signs several cheques amounting to millions of shillings. 

It is business as usual, the only difference being that it is being conducted in a prison cell instead of an office,`` one senior prison official who declined to have his identity disclosed, revealed. 

In what shows the smugness of money on Sunday, the Prison`s parking yards is full of posh cars as relatives and friends gathers here to see the EPA suspects. 

Inside prison however, some of them are enjoying a relatively good lifestyle compared to their fellow inmates, one of the aspects of which is the allowance for accessing food from outside, while ordinary inmates scramble for the little, unpalatable official variety. 

And to make life easier, some of the suspects reportedly spend much time in sickbays reserved for ailing inmates. 

It is being speculated, also, that confining the suspects to the sickbays is a deliberate security measure intended to protect them from attacks by ordinary remandees who may be infuriated by the EPA scum. 

``The way they are being treated is quite different from other prisoners,`` the official said. 
One of two brothers charged in the case remarked openly to prison warders: `It is a relief for me to stay away for sometime from the taxing business engagements. Two weeks here will do me some good.`` 

Sunday is a hectic day for prison warders, as they have to cope with hundreds of well-wishers of the EPA suspects. 

``I have never experienced such a situation since I became a warder ten years ago,`` one of them remarked. According to the Prisons regulations, visitors are allowed to see their relatives on Sundays. 


Alarmed by the prominence of the EPA suspects- considering that most of them are powerful financially who can even buy their way out-on Tuesday this week, strategic measures to improve security were taken by the government. 

Assistant Commissioner of Prisons Mtiga Omari, fearing a recurrence of the early 1980s when some treason trial suspects escaped from the prison, said effective from this mid-week all visitors of the EPA suspects must secure special permission from the Prisons Department Headquarters. 

``These suspects hold financial power which can easily corrupt some of our `weak` people. 

To play it safe, anyone seeking an audience with the suspects must get a permit from us,`` said Mtiga who incidentally overheard a group of people at Kisutu Court area joking that ``the police have taken theirs, it is now the turn of the judiciary to take theirs.`` 

The relatives or friends must give in writing their identities, the EPA suspects they want to visit and the reasons behind such visits to satisfy the Commissioner for Legal Affairs and Administration. 

This will also help in keeping track of them, he explained. 

``We are careful. Some of these persons are top executives in local and international businesses, others in high positions in the Bank of Tanzania, while some are decision-makers in companies involved in the scandal,`` Mtiga said. 

``Their offices may need them for some reasons or other.`` 

ACP Mtiga said the issue of segregating EPA suspects from other remanded prisoners at Keko or Segerea is the discretion of the Principal Commissioner of Prisons, although he dismissed any favouritism.


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