Corruption Index & Freedom of Information

Editorial

Mauritius takes the 49th place on the latest Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The country progresses by one point and falls below the bar of the 50 least corrupt countries in the world. Mauritius moves up to 4th in Africa with an index of 54, doing better than Rwanda. Even though money laundering is not among the crimes taken into account by the Index, Transparency Mauritius maintains that the measures taken by Mauritius to get out of the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has undoubtedly had a positive, albeit marginal, effect on the country’s ranking.

This is not really cause for rejoicing since ground realities here and the present government’s track record of fighting corrupt and fraudulent practices tell a different story. The perversion of Public Procurement procedures through various means by marauding top echelons in major purchasing Ministries as evidenced by the most recent Emergency Procurements of drugs and medical equipment, the CEB corruption scandal highlighted by the ADB are now on record. So too were the shenanigans around useless Pack & Blister oxygen ventilators during the 2020 period of the pandemic or the wheelings and dealings at the STC. Set against such glaring evidences of financial misdemeanours, the record of ICAC to fearlessly track and tackle wrongdoers, leaves much to be desired.

We need not also recall either the absence of concrete results in many major cases where no inquiry has even been felt necessary (high-risk loans at the State Bank of Mauritius or the earlier high-voltage financial losses of the national carrier) and the general absence of any prosecutions, still less sanctions, in all the aired high-profile cases of white-collar crimes. One wonders whether the inquiry into the St Louis case, what appears to be a clear-cut case of massive corruption involving a “complot” at our administrative levels to thwart the public procurement process, will prove to be yet another pointless and utter waste of time, or whether this matter is not being politically instrumentalised to keep on a tight leash one former minister and an opposition leader whose names have allegedly been mentioned in the never disclosed ADB report.

As for its sister agencies, the CCID and MCIT, charged with investigating fraud or other criminal activity, their track record in what has become the tragic and cold-blooded murder of an MSM activist who threatened in frustration, it seems, to spill the beans on corrupt practices to which he was party, the Kistnen saga, has seen the summum of unknown unknowns despite the DPP-ordered judicial enquiry.

True it is that the inclination towards corruption, or the perception thereof, has been apparent since a few decades. 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, influencing public bodies to do so, enhancing benefits or reducing costs in favour of the targeted few. Emergency conditions around the pandemic have allowed a thorough by-pass of public procurement checks and balances enabling many well-heeled individuals and companies to enrich themselves fabulously and without any qualms.

It is the power politicians and bureaucrats give themselves that facilitates acts of corruption. The more loosely rules and regulations and laws are liable to be interpreted, the more the abuse by means of corruption, especially in the world’s most morally decrepit countries. Often, citizens have seen our politicians ride high (especially during electoral campaigns) to proclaim their so-called attachment to a corruption-free state. 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? A call for such a legislation has been made since decades now and is also on this government’s manifesto, and we are still waiting! Does that not reek of cynicism and taking the people for a ride? 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. By the way, why should the Declaration of Assets by body politic and high mandarins be state secrets if we are aiming for transparency as a normative parameter of public life?

The present government has 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 as a demonstration of the government’s seriousness and concern over financial misdemeanours that have engulfed the country under the law of omerta.


* Published in print edition on 28 January 2022

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