Can of Worms


Jean Hubert Celerine, also known as Franklin, could not have imagined that his decision, ill-advised for all intents and purposes, to go public in a bid to run down social activist-politician Bruneau Laurette would open up such a can of worms that has caused more harm to himself – and it now seems to some high-profile individuals as well – than what he bargained for. The worms that have come to the surface to date have shed light on the extent of drug importation, proliferation and trafficking in the country, especially along the western coast, together with its attendant money-laundering activities as revealed by the current ICAC investigations. They have also brought to the fore the alleged “mafia infiltration” of key public institutions as stated by the “best informed person of the country”, the Prime Minister himself.

The latest furore that has come to light relates to corruption money to the tune of Rs3.5 million having been traded for the renewal of a Shooting and Fishing and Eco-Tourism Lease to the benefit of Eco Deer Park Association for some 250 hectares of forest land in the immediate vicinity of Ganga Talao, commonly known as Grand Bassin. This latest revelation comes in the wake of veiled attacks levelled by Bruneau Laurette about rave parties organised on ranch premises built on the leased lands with the alleged participation of people close to power. More details have come out about the presence of one Senior minister, a Parliamentary Private Secretary, a high-level civil servant, one or more female gentry and other middle-men at a secret feast held on 12 September 2020, and who would be allegedly involved in the money transaction relating the renewal of the lease. 

The presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial are basics that anybody in a democracy is entitled to, and caution has to be exercised until guilt is established on the basis of solid evidence pertaining to the transaction that culminated in the lease renewal. It would seem that none has been furnished to date, and it would be up to the competent authorities to establish the guilt or innocence of those targeted by whistle blowers and other parties. There is no doubt that we do have the legal and institutional framework to go to the bottom of the case, and the institutions have the authority to seize mobiles and request phone and bank records of all parties involved as would be expected of them. Delays would only heighten suspicions and doubtsthat palatable narratives may be on the kitchen stove to save some skins. This is wherethere is a hitch as regards the intent of those institutions to deliver results in the wider public interest, despite our country being under the scanner of the EU and now the US State Department.We are not aware if there are unexplainable complexities and factors that are acting as a cloud over the operations of such investigative agencies, but it bears repeating that ICAC’s track record on this score leaves much to be desired – starting with its inexplicable turnaround in the MedPoint case, and extending to numerous affairs where it is yet to be known where its inquiries stand, such as the Dufry scandal (2015); the Alvaro Sobrinho scandal (2018); the Yerrigadoo/Bet 365 scandal (2018); the Glen Agliotti affair (2019), and finally the Serenity Gate/Film Rebate Scheme scandal (2019). We need not document the perversion of Public Procurement procedures in major purchasing ministries or even the CEB’s St Louis Redevelopment Project flagged by the African Development Bank. All these pending inquiries highlight the absence of a credible and respected investigative agency capable of handling white collar crime independently of political proximity.

As regards the political fallout of this case, much will depend on how the Prime Minister will handle what looks like yet another scandal with the potential to cast a huge cloud over his government’s integrity and accountability credentials. Ivan Collendavelloo, who earlier had received the PM’s marching orders in the wake of the CEB’s St Louis Redevelopment Project scandal must be watching with some glee the unfolding drama within the rank of the government he still forms part of despite his demotion from Deputy PM to simple MP — much before the ICAC could complete its investigation into the St Louis affair. Its report anyway is yet to be made public.

Meantime, in his Sunday Easter speech that has gone viral, Cardinal Piat has been unusually forthcoming in his criticisms of a government, more cruelly so with regard to the drug proliferation business, a moral theme that may have garnered far wider support than just within his folk. It is symptomatic of the strength of that moral plea that the current DPM was apparently despatched to meet the Cardinal at the Eveche and the PM has agreed to meet representatives of the Catholic church on Wednesday last.

Whether this will bring some change or more of the same, the country can only watch and pray that easy money and greed have not become the sole engines of our development.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 7 April 2023

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