The Alvaro Sobrinho Affair —
Any attempt to hoodwink the nation with lame game plans in the wake of the Alvaro Sobrinho related crisis at the head of the state is bound to create a public backlash
The dogged protection of the paramount interests of the country cannot be a convoluted affair. It has to be honest and straightforward. The test of the government’s acumen to judiciously manage the affairs of the country is determined by its ability for sound decision making at all times, for getting its priorities right and focussing on the essential as opposed to the peripheral. Any attempt to hoodwink or anaesthetize the nation with lame game plans in the wake of the Alvaro Sobrinho related crisis at the head of the state is bound to create a public backlash. After the trials and tribulations of the past weeks, the people expect government to above all be candid and upright.
The Prime Minister has announced that he had last week received a detailed denunciation letter regarding the ex-President’s use of the Platinum card provided by Alvaro Sobrinho’s Planet Earth Institute (PEI), the circumstances surrounding the approval of investment banking licences and other authorizations to Alvaro Sobrinho and questions on persons presumed to have benefitted from favours from the controversial Angolan investor. He said that he had sent the letter to the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) for investigation and invited all those who have incriminating information on Alvaro Sobrinho to submit them to ICAC for inquiry.
“The logical step of government should have been to call for an immediate freeze on all operating licences and authorizations granted to Alvaro Sobrinho. The priority should have been to first ensure through an independent audit that the procedures to assess applications, the due diligence exercise to track the sources of funds to prevent any risk of money laundering and the process of approval of permits and authorizations granted to potential investors is managed with utmost rigour. This should also mean taking every necessary step to ensure that the repute and standing of the country’s financial sector is in no way undermined…”
Is this a crude attempt to sweep a major current issue of concern to the people under the carpet?
We should recall that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has since August 2017 lodged a case in court against Alvaro Sobrinho Africa Ltd for having supplied false information in their application for an investment banking licence granted by the Financial Services Commission (FSC) in November 2016. It is only this week, in a communiqué dated 27 March 2018, that the FSC has suspended the Investment Banking licence held by Alvaro Sobrinho Africa Ltd.
It is also reported that Alvaro Sobrinho had asked for an extension of the deadline to comply with the conditions of the Board of Investment (BOI) which included the validation of the sources of funds to acquire 12 upmarket villas for some Rs 355 million in a residential property scheme venture. The deadline extended to early 2018 has now expired, and the BOI is not expected to agree to any new extension.
In any case, apart from comforting the promoters and the viability of the private residential project, in what way is a substantial investment in real estate productive and beneficial to the country? The various regulatory institutions and the government also know that serious allegations of wrongdoings are levelled against Alvaro Sobrinho in Angola and Switzerland.
Against such a backdrop, the logical step of government should have been to call for an immediate freeze on all operating licences and authorizations granted to Alvaro Sobrinho. The priority should have been to first ensure through an independent audit that the procedures to assess applications, the due diligence exercise to track the sources of funds to prevent any risk of money laundering and the process of approval of permits and authorizations granted to potential investors is managed with utmost rigour.
This should also mean taking every necessary step to ensure that the repute and standing of the country’s financial sector which is one of pillars of the economy is in no way undermined. The interests and the repute of our financial services sector have no price. Elementary rules of financial prudence require that the regulatory institutions and government have to be doubly vigilant in the case of applications from investors mired in controversy and litigation.
In such a context, the replies of the PM in the National Assembly this week basically arguing rather naively that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander is nothing short of cavalier. It has jolted the nation. How can the presumed activities of Alvaro Sobrinho in the UK or Portugal on which we have no details have any bearing on our own sovereign decision to allow or not to allow him to operate and invest in the country?
Every jurisdiction makes its own decisions based on the merits or otherwise of each case. The decision of the regulatory institutions must necessarily be made on the merits of the application submitted, the findings of their rigorous due diligence and validation of the sources of funds exercises as well as their experience of dealings with the investor.
The case lodged by the DPP for false declarations and the difficulties of Alvaro Sobrinho to comply with conditions imposed by the BOI as well as the controversies surrounding Alvaro Sobrinho, the PEI and its scholarship scheme should be red flags for any regulatory institution, let alone a government. In the face of such a track record, is it so difficult to deny permission to Alvaro Sobrinho to invest and operate in the country? Not to do so under these circumstances is to open a Pandora’s box of speculations.
Knowing the truth versus Inquisition
In the light of such a situation, the government decision to instead give priority to the setting up a Commission of Inquiry to focus on the circumstances, sequence of events and protagonists which led to the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry by the ex-President in violation of the Constitution is simply baffling. We obviously need to know the truth about the behind-the-scenes stratagems and actions of those appalling events. However, the Inquiry should not have the trappings of an Inquisition or a settling of scores.
The Commission is inter alia also to examine whether there has been violation of section 64 (1) of the Constitution and whether section 30 relating to the removal of the President and Vice-President in situations of serious misconduct or usurpation of powers in violation of the Constitution should be reviewed and to make recommendations thereon. We should nonetheless remember that whoever is incriminated in the Commission of Inquiry will always have the option to contest its findings through the courts and the judicial system which remain the ultimate recourse in a state governed by the rule of law.
This begs the question of the real purpose behind a costly Commission of Inquiry. Is it all part of a gimmick to distract attention from the real and mounting national concerns and strong reservations regarding Alvaro Sobrinho?
The pervasive perception in the country is that the provisions of the Constitution do not fit the bill. The provisions do not specifically address the present situation of a President who has had to resign in the wake of serious allegations against her including that of having violated the Constitution. The President has limited powers under the Constitution and is not chosen by the people. It therefore seems unsuitable to have such a complicated and cumbersome process for his destitution in case of violation of the Constitution or any other serious act of misconduct.
Despite the incriminating circumstances surrounding the resignation, the privileges and immunities applicable to the President remain intact. These include a handsome tax free pension of some Rs 244,000 per month, an office, a secretariat, a chauffeur driven car and a bodyguard financed from public funds, for life. The provisions of the law remain paramount. However, given the situation how can this outcome be right? How can it be explained to the multitude eking out a living in the context of their eroding purchasing power?
Under the circumstances, would it not be a sign of atonement and making amends if these privileges associated with the office of President were voluntarily relinquished?
No to inane gimmicks
Let it be clearly stated. We cannot tinker with the Constitution of the country at the drop of a hat. The imperfections of the Constitution in respect of the amendments made at the time, to satisfactorily address the specific circumstances of the recent crisis at the head of the State have been exposed. A President or Vice-President who violates the Constitution or is found guilty of an act of gross misconduct must lose all privileges and perks upon resignation or destitution.
However, two cardinal principles must steer constitutional amendments. Firstly, proposing amendments to the Constitution is not a job for the dilettante nor for pontificating local high priests of constitutional reform. They can only be proposed and drafted by recognized and experienced international constitutional jurists. Secondly, all proposed amendments have first to be explained and approved by the people through a referendum.
The country is therefore faced with a disconcerting situation. The core problem of safeguarding the integrity and repute of our financial services sector is being sidelined for the peripheral. In many ways it epitomizes the prevailing standard of governance in the country. The people however remain vigilant and refuse to be befuddled by such inane gimmicks.
* Published in print edition on 30 March 2018
65 years ago Mauritius Times was founded with a resolve to fight for justice and fairness and the advancement of the public good. It has never deviated from this principle no matter how daunting the challenges and how costly the price it has had to pay at different times of our history.
With print journalism struggling to keep afloat due to falling advertising revenues and the wide availability of free sources of information, it is crucially important for the Mauritius Times to survive and prosper. We can only continue doing it with the support of our readers.
The best way you can support our efforts is to take a subscription or by making a recurring donation through a Standing Order to our non-profit Foundation.