The new Global Corruption Barometer – Africa 2019, released on African Anti-Corruption Day by Transparency International and Afrobarometer, reveals what most people have long suspected to be the case in Africa generally and in Mauritius in particular. A majority of citizens surveyed in 35 African countries think that corruption is getting worse and that their government is doing a poor job of fighting it, the report indicates. As regards Mauritius itself, 61% of respondents think corruption increased in the previous 12 months, whilst 62% think the government is doing a bad job of tackling corruption.
What makes for further depressing reading are the ratings of ‘Corruption by Institution’, that is, the percentage of respondents who perceive that most or all people in the following institutions are corrupt: President/Prime Minister: 22%; Members of Parliament: 23%; Government officials: 14%; Local government officials: 18%; Police: 19%; Judges and Magistrates: 13%; Religious leaders: 8%; NGOs: 12%; and Business Executives: 18%. This is of course a matter of perception, as would any public opinion survey detail to us on the people’s view on corruption and bribery. But that the Corruption Barometer should come out just when the matter of political financing is being debated and the focus has been on occult financing by private sector and kickbacks should not help matters for the political class. The more so given the perception of the respondents that comes alongside their views as to whether the government is doing a good or bad job of fighting corruption: only 32% think it’s doing a good job; 62% think it’s bad, and 5% don’t know.
Should this come as a surprise given the present Government’s track record of fighting corrupt and fraudulent practices? True, besides the politicians and officials of the previous government who were hounded at the beginning of the current one’s mandate – the provisional charges of which have for the most been struck out by the Director of Public Prosecutions – not much has come out from the inquiries conducted by the ICAC into allegations of corruption/fraud slapped on ministers of the present government, two of whom have nevertheless had to step down.
True also it is that the inclination towards corruption, or the perception thereof, has been apparent since quite some time – whether it’s under the present or previous governments during the last 30 years. State lands have been given to selected cronies. Contracts have repeatedly been awarded to certain specific beneficiaries for public works, sometimes by splitting them in order not to fall under the scrutiny of the central procurement agency. In other cases, favours have been granted to specific persons or groups, to the detriment of all, through acts of coercion and collusion, influencing public bodies to do so, enhancing benefits or reducing costs in favour of the targeted few. We have said it before that it is the power politicians and bureaucrats give themselves that facilitates acts of corruption. The more loosely rules and regulations and laws (they themselves make) are liable to be interpreted, the more the abuse by means of corruption, especially in the world’s most morally decrepit countries. It is not out of the blue thus that the World Bank, which has seen corruption manifested in its diverse forms in its different member countries, has defined corruption as “the abuse of political power for private gains”.
Strong public institutions headed by persons of high integrity standing in the way of corrupt administrative and technical cadres as well as politicians have the power to stop the abuse. The first generation of our public servants is regarded highly to this day for the no-nonsense approach they displayed in the performance of their jobs, thus ensuring that fairness, propriety and the public interest prevailed at all times in the decision-making process. Somehow, we’ve got to get back in our public institutions (including parastatal bodies) strong-willed individuals endowed with a better vision of where Mauritius should be. This set-up could arrest the corruption that certain of our political leaders keep introducing otherwise in the entire system, in all its nooks and crannies, given their short-term perspective.
Often, citizens have seen our politicians ride high (especially during electoral campaigns) to proclaim their so-called attachment to a corruption-free state. As events have shown, politicians are rather mostly capable of fostering intrigues and doing exactly the opposite of what they promised – i.e., to clean up the Augean stables. It’s time that they walked the talk.
For example, why don’t they demonstrate their commitment by enacting and effectively enforcing a well-balanced Freedom of information Act and Declaration of Assets Act with appropriate checks and balances? A call for the former was made since decades now, and we are still waiting! Does that not reek of amateurism and taking the people for a ride? And the same also goes for the Political Financing Bill, which the best brains on the matter are convinced that it was so crafted as to be doomed from the word go.
The present government has a golden opportunity, and still enough time, to move in the direction of allowing a retrospective scrutiny of accretion of wealth by its members, nominees and other high office holders. Getting this done within reasonable parameters of disclosure and appropriate legal oversight, it would not only salvage at least part of the country’s reputation, but also its own too. There’s more to gain both for the country and politically by taking such eminently actionable measures promptly in response to the Global Corruption Barometer – Africa 2019 results, as a demonstration of the government’s seriousness and concern.
* Published in print edition on 19 July 2019