Botched!

Unprecedented situation of crisis at the head of the country

There can be only one outcome to this conflict. It is time to draw lessons for the future from the crisis and take the necessary decisive steps to end it forthwith

There is a pervasive sentiment in the country that the management of the enduring crisis at the head of the State which has held the country hostage for more than two weeks has been simply botched. It has yet again created a terribly messy situation in the country. Instead of being swiftly nipped in the bud and resolved prior to the golden jubilee celebrations of our independence, the crisis has been allowed to fester and sap the festive atmosphere of the various celebratory events planned for this special occasion. The upshot is that it has profoundly marred the festivities organized to mark the 50th anniversary of our independence.

In the first instance, the crisis has obviously caused tremendous embarrassment all round as everyone from the chief guest Sri Ram Nath Kovind, the President of India to other guests invited to attend the celebrations have had to adjust to and cope with this peculiar and unprecedented situation of crisis at the head of the country opposing the government and the President of the Republic.

 


“The latest twist in the unending Platinum Card saga is that the President has now publicly announced that she would not resign from office despite the declaration made by the PM on Friday last after meeting her, that she would resign. In a country where the norm is for party leaders not to resign when disavowed by the people, this is not surprising. In short, nothing seems changed…”


Opposition parties which had demanded that the President step down and deposited a motion of no confidence against her decided on a matter of principle to boycott all events attended by the President in the context of the celebrations. Owing to the inability of the prime minister to decisively put an end to the crisis before the festivities, opposition MPs elected by the people have been compelled by the turn of events to miss out on the celebrations.

For some two weeks now the country is in the throes of this major crisis following revelations made by the local press on the details of expenses paid by the President of the Republic with a Platinum card having a credit ceiling of Rs 1 million put at her disposal by the Planet Earth Institute (PEI). This foundation is chaired by Alvaro Sobrinho, an investor who is mired in controversy and accused of various wrongdoings in Angola and Switzerland. Controversies have also involved the Presidential office in relation to permits granted to him to operate in the financial services sector.

Questions are still being asked regarding last year’s government decision to allow a company owned by Alvaro Sobrinho to acquire 12 up market villas for some Rs 355 million in a Balaclava Residential Property scheme venture subject to validation of the sources of funds despite the advice of caution recommended in the Reputational Review Report of Kroll and a private sector Senior Counsel not to allow the investment in order to safeguard the standing and repute of the jurisdiction governing our financial services sector.

Mixing apples and oranges

The Platinum credit card allocated by the board of the foundation was meant to cover the expenses related to the promotion of the PhD programmes sponsored by PEI. Instead, the Platinum card, according to credit card statements covering the period September- December 2016 published in the press, was principally used by the President to pay a host of expenses including personal purchases of inter alia jewellery, clothes and shoes during her various trips during that period.


“In a democracy ruled by a high standard of ethics and values, those in public office who breach the public trust or are accused of wrongdoings must face sanction. Not to do so is to spawn licence of every kind. The crying lesson to be derived from this is that it is only the people who can choose through general elections the leader and party they wish to entrust with the mandate and authority to run the country…”


The lack of rectitude in repeatedly using a Platinum card put at her disposal for specific expenses related to the objectives of the foundation and the scale of her spending spree with the card have obviously shocked the nation and dashed hopes of game changing ethics and standards in the country through example.

This is the more flabbergasting as the President benefits from a handsome package and perks which compare quite favourably with what prevails in the world. This comprises inter alia a tax free salary of some Rs 367,000 per month, a tax free pension after the term of office equal two-thirds of the salary as well as an office, a secretariat, a chauffeur driven car for life.

The effete justification that the substantial amount spent on the PEI Platinum card has been reimbursed some six months later in March 2017 does in no way condone or exonerate the misuse of the card for spending on personal expenses such as jewellery and clothes. The more so as the payment by credit card means that funds are paid out to the account of the beneficiary (shop, restaurant, etc) by the next day and that the PEI account is debited by the amount due at the end of every month during the period.

It is noteworthy that press articles on enquiries opened by the FSC and ICAC on the activities of Alvaro Sobrinho as well his association with the President through the PEI foundation appeared in the press at the beginning of March 2017. The reimbursement of the Platinum card expenses were also made in March 2017.

The negative fallout of the crisis has been exacerbated by the coverage given to it by the international press present in Mauritius to cover the jubilee celebrations and the visit of the Indian President. The story has moved into viral mode. Social media has also fanned the sordid aspects of the allegations made. Mauritius which enjoys a good image across the world among nations and its many trading partners has as a consequence been shown in a bad light.

We must recall that the community of the President (and the Vice-President for that matter) had been announced by government before her nomination. Such an approach in the nomination of the President and the Vice-President is anathema to the multitude in secular Mauritius. Despite this, she had announced that she would be doing things and assuming her role differently.

Accountability

However, the revelations on the President have also brought to light the Rs13.1 million incurred by the State for the President’s 33 travels abroad as from June 2015, a matter which came to a head following a parliamentary question on the issue by the leader of the opposition last year. This begs the question of accountability and the resulting benefit of these missions for the country.

Politicians clamouring to serve the people as well as the President of a democratic country must have an unimpeachable conduct at all times. It is true that standard of ethics among politicians has been plummeting in the country. It must be said that indecision, procrastination and lack of acumen for decisive action have been the hallmark of the present government ever since it took office. The goal post seems to be constantly moving.

The demarcation line between probity and impropriety has been blurred owing to the lax stance towards diverse incidents of conduct unbecoming involving Ministers and MPs.

In a democracy ruled by a high standard of ethics and values, those in public office who breach the public trust or are accused of wrongdoings must face sanction. Not to do so is to spawn licence of every kind. Ministers who have had to step down still seem to be acting on behalf of government when on private visits abroad. It all very often smacks of mayhem.

The crying lesson to be derived from this is that it is only the people who can choose through general elections the leader and party they wish to entrust with the mandate and authority to run the country. It is only a plebiscite by the people that confers the authority for decisive action even when faced with the most daunting crises and to sanction the black sheep.

Twist in the tale

The latest twist in the unending Platinum Card saga is that the President has now publicly announced that she would not resign from office despite the declaration made by the PM on Friday last after meeting her, that she would resign. In a country where the norm is for party leaders not to resign when disavowed by the people, this is not surprising. In short, nothing seems changed.

The announcement now reveals the existence of ‘an identical credit card’ to the PEI card which was ‘inadvertently used for expenses not linked to her mission’ nearly a fortnight after the allegations were made. This development begs the question as to why was this admission of inadvertent guilt not revealed before? The PEI card was actually repeatedly misused to pay for a host of personal purchases over several months.

No one can hold the State hostage with impunity? A nominated President cannot defy the elected representatives of the people. Locking horns with the government, the opposition and public opinion against the backdrop of the circumstances surrounding the crisis can only end in more ignominy. There can be only one outcome to this conflict. Rectitude has no space for any mitigating circumstances. The controversial Alvaro Sobrinho connect does not help. It is time to draw lessons for the future from the crisis and take the necessary decisive steps to end it forthwith.

Disconcerting choice

The nation was flabbergasted at the disconcerting decision of the Prime Minister to deliver his message on the special occasion of the 50th anniversary of independence of the country at the French private Lycee La Bourdonnais, under the watch of the cohort of PMO advisors paid from the public Exchequer.

This was an appalling choice for such a historic event. It confounds elementary logic. Not surprisingly, the national flag was hoisted upside down. Of all the schools in the country could he not have chosen an appropriate school more apt to mark this milestone in our history?

Yet again it epitomized poor judgement which will stand out as a jarring note of the celebrations. How could there be such a patent absence of a sense of history on such a momentous occasion?

 

* Published in print edition on 16 March 2018

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