By Jan Arden
Last week this column commented as observer: “We have here neither condoned drug trafficking nor assumed that Laurette’s allegations of deliberate ‘political harassment’ or ‘victimisation’, in particular by the Police Headquarters Special Striking Team (SST), are vindicated by numerous lapses and inconsistencies in the Police case as reported in the press.”
The stringent conditions set by the Senior Magistrate in Moka District Court, while granting bail to the politico-social activist, have been widely viewed as unprecedented in scale and severity and there was relief from most quarters that the ODPP, after due reflection, notified the Court on Monday that there were not sufficient grounds to appeal that decision and thus keep depriving Bruneau Laurette, only an accused at this stage, of his basic freedoms for a further 3-4 months.
When all other key “institutions” have failed to attend to their higher callings, that decision of the ODPP forms part of the cardinal rights and prerogatives of an independent Office that, together with an independent press, an independent judiciary and brave magistrates or judges who dare apply the law without fear or favour to all, including the high and mighty, are what separates us from a banana republic.
The Commissioner of Police Anil Kumar Dip has, in a press release of his PR Office issued this Tuesday, taken considerable umbrage at the DPP’s decision, calling it an “evil precedent” and that the senior magistrate’s judgement, accepted by the ODPP, might open the floodgates on 337 detainees on remand for drug trafficking whose lawyers may similarly apply for bail. The CP intimates in what looks like an unprecedented attack on the ODPP, that somehow this is a nasty legal precedent which endangers the Mauritius Police Force’s mandate to “protect the population from all forms of crime and drug scourge” despite the “difficulties and criticisms”.
We recognise willingly with the CP that this mandate entails risks and is certainly far from easy, the more so as the Prime Minister has himself admitted over the weekend that the drug mafia may have infiltrated some institutions of the country. This has sown some confusion and only reminds everybody that despite the recommendation of the Lam Shang Leen Report on drugs to dismantle and reorganise the Anti-Drug Smuggling Unit, he has continued to rely on the latter and the controversial SST as main pivots of the police’s drug strategy. Like the vast majority of the population, we would also like to recognise the track record of the Mauritius Police Force as a credible, professional, effective paragon of a relentless virtuous fight against crime that is bringing results and confidence in the population. For many reasons, such a view may not be shared as widely as would be desirable in the population.
The multiple whammy of the PM’s admission about “mafia infiltration”, the impression of a raging internecine turf war between competing and conflicting institutions, the 337 drug suspects still awaiting closure of police investigations, the apparent failure of regional drug fighting collaborations and the absence of any significant policing and court results in major drug cases hauled in since 2017 should be enough to explain some of the misgivings.
Public cooperation is indeed necessary in that vital fight. But then, some ask: Why are those 337 detainees still under police custody and since how long? The daily and weekly revelations by ICAC investigations-cum-arrests of a network of drug importers and dealers on the west coast in the Franklin affair should call the CP to urgently review any failings in his own services.
The recent ‘Lettre pastorale’ of Cardinal Piat has highlighted the expansion of the drug scourge and the associated search for quick bucks suggesting we have reached a “crisis of moral values”. Even if political powers in place may ignore the Leader of Opposition’s scathing comment that we are nearing a narco-state, or the biting attacks of the Labour Party and the Opposition in general, and make light of the moral grounds of anxiety from the Cardinal, neither the knee-jerk responses of the ruling alliance nor the impression of increasing dysfunctions in state machineries that should be in full collaboration mode, nor the Police track record of successful investigation and legal closures on major drug hauls, can as yet reassure us.
As synthetics and other drugs ravage many youths and destroy families in all segments of the population and in all areas, we would dearly wish otherwise.
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Last Sunday’s Labour Party Congress marked the celebrations around the 87th anniversary of the venerable party in the context of ongoing talks with other political parties (MMM and PMSD) and forces towards the next general elections. The challenges of straddling differences in political culture and history are not to be underestimated. The risks of money politics and the MSM’s considerable war chest seducing some frustrates from any Opposition party are real. Equally important, the intricacies of realpolitik in agreeing on conditions necessary at overall and constituency levels to concoct a winnable formula. Communal and even caste considerations even after half a century of independence, and maybe its waning strength in younger strata, are still realities that every party or alliance seems condemned to take into account.
While the urban vote against an MSM alliance that looks reticent to the holding of overdue municipal elections, may be relatively conceivable, it has to be achieved without giving room for the MSM to manoeuvre and instill doubts in a rural electorate that has been and may still retain a strong legitimist strand, privileging stability and a “presidential” type run-off between two political leaders, in this case Navin Ramgoolam and Pravind Jugnauth, vying for their vote.
There are many other unknowns on either side of the political divide and in particular how the several non-traditional parties like Resistans ek Alternativ, Linion Pep Morisien, the Rassemblement Mauricien of Nando Bodha, the Reform Party of Roshi Bhadain amongst others or even the latest to throw a speculative hat for PM-ship into a crowded arena, Bruneau Laurette who had been a successful social organiser after the Wakashio disaster and has just emerged on bail in a drug-related case, has yet to formulate ideas and directions about his own political role. Getting a stable and credible Opposition to gel and set its combined machineries in marching order will be no easy matter.
The key message of the LP leader was one of unifying the Opposition forces to rid the country of the current dispensation and provide hope that the Labour Party has the credentials, stamina, competencies and ground strength to lead such an alliance. There lies perhaps many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip. More detached observers may have ingrained that the economic and financial conditions that either the MSM- or the LP-led alliances might inherit in two years, in particular, a currency under pressure, soaring public debt and central reserves at a low. Both would have to tread with caution the path of campaign pledges of goodies and freebies that the economy and its structural weaknesses may not entertain without heavy risks.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 3 March 2023
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