By Momodou Jarju
The former Director General of the Gambia Prison Service, David Charles Colley, has told the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) on Thursday that bug infestation was responsible for prisoners contracting Berberi in prison and not bad food as claimed by several witnesses before the aforesaid Commission.
Reading from his statement, Colley said: “The case of so-called Beriberi illness resulted from bug infestation from the prison cells.”
Quizzed by Lead Counsel, Essa Faal, whether he is serious about what he said, Colley responded in the affirmative.
Born in 28th August 1958, at Kanilia village, Colley was adversely mentioned by numerous witnesses to have led many mistreatments meted out to inmates at the prisons when he was the head of the prisons system.
Food in Mile II
Colley told the Truth Commission the food served at Mile II prison was good. This is contrary to the testimonies by several witnesses before the Truth Commission.
Colley charged that in Africa, no single prison is well fed.
Testifying further, Colley said if cooks are cooking for many inmates, it would be difficult for the inmates to serve them good food.
“Is good for them because they are eating,” he however said. “We don’t have qualified cooks to come and cook for the prisoners.”
He said he doesn’t eat their food and as such he wouldn’t know whether the food is good or not. According to him, when he was incarcerated at the prison, the food he ate was good.
“But the food looks attractive,” he said. “I ate the food and I did not die.”
Asked whether he cared to know about prisoners who died in the prisons, Colley said he never received a doctor’s report stating the primary cause of death of prisoners in the prisons was connected to bad food.
Further asked whether he heard of Beriberi, which inmates said is caused by the bad food they eat at the prison, Colley responded in the positive.
Former DG said he was not an expert to ascertain whether the deaths in the prisons were caused by Beriberi because he was not a doctor.
After the Lead Counsel’s persistent questions, Colley said he knew of some inmates who died due to Beriberi, but it was caused by bug infestation as aforementioned.
Poor and Unhygienic Conditions in Prison Service
Colley admitted that he can be the biggest expert of the prison law of the country because he knew it better than anybody else.
When told by Counsel Faal that he presided over a prison system that was not fit for purpose and human beings to be housed, quoting Dr. Scattered Janneh, who testified at the TRRC recently, describing Gambia’s prisons as the worst in the world, Colley responded that the structures were there since the colonial era.
Colley admitted that the country’s prison service was close-fitting. And the government knew about it. He, however, claimed to have made efforts to deal with the issue of overcrowding in the country’s prisons.
Asked about prisoners sleeping in toilets, Colley said that have been happening before he joined the prison service. He also admitted that it was happening during his time as the head of the Prison Service and that he made efforts to ensure prisoners don’t sleep in toilets.
“It is my duty that is why I took up the responsibility to meeting the minister so that government can provide funds,” he said.
Colley’s efforts did not materialize, according to him. He said the fund the government gave them was diminutive.
Lead Counsel Faal asked him whether he at any moment considered to provide temporary shelter for the prisoners as provided for in section 4 of the prison act. Colley responded in the positive, saying he proffered the idea to his line ministry.
“I did not do things on my own,” he said.
Apart from the overcrowding, the prison in Mile II was filthy during your time, charged Lead Counsel Faal. Colley responded in the positive. He said they have prisoners who were selected to clean the prison.
He admitted that he managed to keep his office clean by using prisoner’s labour and that it was his responsibility to ensure the prisoners’ quarters were being cleaned.
“I would take the blame because the officers did not do their job,” he said.
Testifying early, Colley said two sister forces were fighting over him to serve either the then Field Force or Prison Service. He said he was later taken to the prison service.
In the beginning, Colley said he was responsible for running the bar at the prison and he later rose to the rank of director general of the prison service.
He said he was fired, rehired, fired and rehired. He opined that’s a blessing. Asked whether he has family ties with former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, Colley responded in the positive.