Commission of Enquiry: What for?

Editorial

It was American President Abraham Lincoln who famously said: ‘You can fool some of the people all the time, you can fool all the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.’

The people may be taken for fools, but they can no longer be fooled. For they are discerning enough to be asking themselves the very pertinent question: Another Commission of Enquiry: What for?

The Cabinet decision is to set up a ‘Commission of Inquiry to be presided by a Judge to inquire into, inter alia, the circumstances in which the contract for transport of petroleum products to Mauritius (Contract of Affreightment) was awarded to Betamax Ltd and the circumstances which subsequently led to the termination of the said contract.’

Besides the fact that such a CE should ideally – for ethical reasons and to avoid embarrassing a sitting judge – be chaired by a retired judge, one would have thought that the circumstances are already known. In this connection, there a few pertinent points of interest:

  • After the 2014 elections, several arrests were made in connection with the Betamax case. They included the former Prime Minister Dr Navin Ramgoolam, Minister Anil Bachoo, three public officials including a lady PS, and the CEO of Betamax Ltd. All of them were charged. But the office of the DPP did not find any incriminating evidence against them. In an extensive document that was made public, it stated that “the evidence gathered by the police as contained in the file submitted to the ODPP did not reveal the commission of any offence by the suspects”.
  • At the time of the award of the contract, Pravind Jugnauth was Minister of Finance and Economic development, and therefore also a member of the Cabinet which gave final approval.
  • As Lex points out elsewhere in this paper, ‘The Leader of the Opposition, Xavier Duval, who pressed for the setting up of a commission of inquiry, was a member of the Ramgoolam government in 2009 and he is deemed to have consented to the award. He was also a member of the Sir Anerood Jugnauth government when the contract was rescinded. Though he has publicly stated he was against the rescission, he did not resign when the contract was rescinded. He also did not publicly make known his disagreement with the award of the contract to Betamax.’ Further:
  • Showkutally Soodhun was also a minister in the then Ramgoolam government. He stood up in Parliament to say, in reply to a question addressed by Paul Berenger, that there was nothing objectionable to the contract.
  • Roshi Bhadain, perceived to be the prime promoter behind the rescission, is now an ally of both Paul Bérenger and Xavier Duval.

In other words, practically all the circumstances pertaining to the award are already known, and one is hard put to guess what else might be uncovered that will enlighten the public further – for it is they who need to know since it is out of their pockets that the payment has been made following the judgement of the Privy Council.

And it is important, lest we forget, to underline that that colossal sum: Rs 5.7 bn is not the end of the matter. There are the legal fees for the arbitration in Singapore and for taking the case to the Privy Council, and they will run into hundreds of millions. Add to that the fees for the proposed CE and heads start to spin. So much to go down the drain, without any perceivable benefit to the public, to the country in view?

But there is more: instead of this CE, there ought to have been CE to investigate Britam and the CEB’s Saint Louis Power Plant Redevelopment Project scandal with the Rs 700 M that are still to be brought back to the public exchequer, the two cases that come to mind.

Politicians should know that the people can read into the political game that’s being played out, but one wonders how long this futile power struggle will last. Has politics been so corrupted as only to serve the pecuniary and self-aggrandizement interests of a power-hungry political establishment across the board – a far cry from the ideals and personal commitment of our earlier generation of political leaders?

Like it or not, this whole episode is being widely perceived not as a battle of the best ideas for the country’s advancement but as a fight to death between two dynasts who ought, instead, to see each other as political adversaries rather than enemies to be eliminated at all cost. There can be no winners here.


* Published in print edition on 29 June 2021

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