Urgent actions needed
Debates in the National Assembly this week have addressed a few issues where urgent actions are needed if we really want the country to move forward in a ‘holistic and integrated’ manner – an approach which should not only apply to ‘effectively address the drug problem’ (as recommended by the Committee to look into the problem of drugs among the youth) but to all the problems the country is facing.
As far as the drugs issues is concerned, specifically there was a PNQ, and the first part read as follows: ‘To ask the Honourable Prime Minister…whether, in regard to the proposed elaboration of a National Drug Control Master Plan, he will – state, if in cases of possession of cannabis for personal use, it is proposed to: abolish custodial sentences; provide for non-inclusion thereof on the Certificate of Character; and authorise medical cannabis (cannabidiol), in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation’.
In his reply the PM referred to the four strategic pillars of the Master Plan drafted by an expert from the the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, namely Drug Supply Reduction; Drug Reduction (comprising drug use prevention, drug use disorders treatment, rehabilitation and social reintegration); Harm Reduction; and Coordination Mechanism, Legislation Implementation Framework, Monitoring and Evaluation and Strategic Information (establishment of a National Drug Secretariat – NDS – under the aegis of the PM’s Office as an apex body).
He also stated that ‘as of now the World Health Organisation has not recommended cannabidiol for medical use’ and that ‘the WHO Expert Committee will undertake a comprehensive review of cannabis and cannabis related substances in June 2018.’ As such, he added, it would be premature at this stage to take any decision and that the WHO Expert Committee Report would be awaited to guide further action by the government. He concluded his intervention by saying:
‘I stand unflinchingly by my solemn commitment to clean our country and spare our people from the scourge of drugs and drug trafficking. This Government has been and shall continue to be ruthless against the drug barons and drug traffickers. The war waged by this Government against them is being won. The increasing number of drug seizures and the arrest of drug traffickers over the last 3 years is testimony of the determination of this Government to put an end to the illegal and harmful activities of such criminals.
‘I wish to point out that Government is also eagerly awaiting the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Drugs whose recommendations will no doubt be of invaluable assistance and guidance, along with the National Drug Control Master Plan, in consolidating our fight against the drug scourge in Mauritius.’
What is worthy of note is that at least the issue of cannabis use for medical and, eventually for recreational purposes is taken up seriously and being discussed at national level. However, while the cautionary approach adopted by the PM may have its merits, we must also remind ourselves that ‘too much analysis leads to paralysis’. In fact, the WHO website ‘Online Q&A’ of December 2017 about cannabidiol (compound of cannabis) notes that ‘Its legal status in countries is something for national legislators to decide. Some countries have eased regulations around cannabidiol, to consider products containing CBD to be medical products. These include Australia, Canada, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America’ (italics added).
What this means is that, as a Sovereign State, Mauritius can take an autonomous decision on cannabidiol as the countries mentioned above have done, while awaiting the WHO Report on cannabis as a whole. Even here, it may still be guided by the ground experience of other jurisdictions (Uruguay, Portugal, several states in the US) which have not necessarily awaited WHO recommendations that sometimes take too long to come.
However, as the WHO Expert Committee is meeting next month, fair enough let us wait for its Report which hopefully will come soon enough, but we reiterate that this should be considered along with evidence from the other jurisdictions mentioned. It may also be pointed out that the programmatic approach allows for course corrections following upon close monitoring of implementation and evidence gathering as a programme rolls out, so government has always an option to respond accordingly. This can speed up actionable measures and be more effective in tackling this complex drug problem.
Audit Report and the Need for Accountability
By the same token, the PQ addressed also to the PM, ‘Whether, in regard to public funds, he will state the immediate measures that will be taken, if any, to prevent further wastage thereof, following the adverse comments made by the Director of Audit in her last report, indicating if consideration will be given for proposed amendments to be brought to the existing legislation to increase the accountability of those responsible therefor?’ elicited the reply that all Ministers have been ‘requested to: (i) analyse all issues raised by the Director of Audit concerning their respective Ministries/Departments; and (ii) come up with an Action Plan proposing measures to address those weaknesses and shortcomings’(italics added), and that ‘the Office of Public Sector Governance (OPSG) has been mandated to closely monitor and report on the implementation of these remedial measures’.
Agreed that this is the institutional mechanism available to the government. Unfortunately though, the bureaucratese within which it functions can be over-heavy and by the time an action plan is ready with indicators, etc., the next budget is already at the door. So it is better to proceed by incremental steps based on the problems identified, in a sectoral manner at the level of each ministry under a designated focal point. This is more likely to achieve quicker results, and it is a humble suggestion. At least it must be given a try – for the sake of the country!
* Published in print edition on 18 May 2018
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