MedPoint Saga – Act II
A submission was placed by the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) before the DPP requesting the latter to consider prosecuting Mrs Maya Hanoomanjee, former Minister of Health and Messrs Om Kumar Dabidin, the Acting Permanent Secretary at the Ministry for Health and Quality of Life; (c) Yodhun Bissessur, Director of Valuation Offices; and (d) Aneerood Jeebodhun, Government Valuer, under sections 7(1) and 9 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (the Act).
Section 7(1) of the Act states that “any public official who makes use of his office or position for a gratification for himself or another person shall commit an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to penal servitude for a term not exceeding 10 years”.
On its part, section 9 which relates to the act of influencing a public official, states as follows: “Any person who exercises any form of violence, or pressure by means of threat, upon a public official, with a view to the performance, by that public official, of any act in the execution of his functions or duties, or the non-performance, by that public official, of any such act, shall commit an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to penal servitude for a term not exceeding 10 years”.
It will be recalled that Paul Bérenger, Leader of the Opposition, spoke out in early 2011 to the effect that a “scandale du siècle” would have taken place in view of the fact that, following a second evaluation of the MedPoint Hospital, a property belonging amongst others to members of the Jugnauth family, the property, intended for the setting up a geriatric hospital in the public health services, would have been acquired by the government at twice its originally evaluated price. Reza Uteem subsequently drew attention to the fact that the deal might also have been hurriedly concluded in view of the fact that it was settled prior to the coming into effect of a tax on capital appreciation, i.e., on 1st January 2011, something that had just been introduced in the budget presented in November 2010 by Pravind Jugnauth as Minister of Finance.
In view of the allegations made, it was necessary for an investigation to be made to establish whether an act of corruption had actually taken place. The ICAC therefore took up the investigation and submitted its findings to the DPP’s office for further action. It may be observed that, in the course of the investigation, the ICAC decided to put Maya Hanoomanjee and the others above-named under arrest under provisional charges of offence having been committed under section 7(1) and/or section 9 of the Act.
The Prime Minister, who was out of the country at the time, advised that in view of her being put under arrest by the ICAC, it would be better for Maya Hanoomanjee to step down as Minister until the matter has been sorted out. But the MSM which formed part of the Labour-MSM-PMSD coalition government decided otherwise, after a short lapse of time during which it decided to stay in government but giving up ministerial portfolios its members were holding in the government. Some days later, it was the turn of Pravind Jugnauth himself being put under arrest by the ICAC, most probably under the same provisional charge of having used public office for gratification. By then, the MSM decided to quit the government as it was under the impression that it was being victimized by the ICAC for reasons unknown. All this was taking place in the first half of 2011.
It is against this background that we have to look at the communiqué issued by the DPP on 9th April 2013. The communiqué states that it has been decided not to proceed with the prosecution of Maya Hanoomanjee under sections 7(1) and 9 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 2002 in the absence of hard evidence to establish the case of the ICAC. Concerning Om Kumar Dabidin, the DPP has recommended disciplinary action to be taken for having breached a number of procedural safeguards and improperly interfered in the bid evaluation process; however, he has found no evidence of him having taken a bribe or his having intended to offer a gratification to the shareholders of the MedPoint Hospital. In the case of Yodhun Bissessur and Aneerood Jeebodhun, he holds the view that the evidence discloses an offence under section 7 of the Act and has advised prosecution accordingly.
Had Maya Hanoomanjee agreed to step down at the time, the current decision of the DPP would have cleared her by now of having offended the law outright in the MedPoint scandal. It may be pointed out that the DPP is of the view that the evidence gathered by the ICAC against her would not stand the test of a law court.
Unfortunately, the decision of the MSM to quit the government on this issue has taken a toll in the governance of public matters. The agenda on which the Labour-MSM-PMSD government had been voted to power was abruptly diluted by the breakup of the government. Minds got concentrated on other issues such as proportional representation, with even a risk that the MMM and Labour could have contemplated getting together under the pretext of electoral and constitutional reform. The country has come out fragilized from this episode. On quite a number of occasions, the political power structure threatened to totter during the interval. The MMM having decided subsequently that it was no longer clear that the MSM would have orchestrated the MedPoint transaction with a view to private gain, has led to a rapprochement between the MMM and the MSM in the shape of the ‘Remake’. On the other hand, the distance between Labour and the MSM has kept growing, putting the PMSD in a stronger position in terms of numerical forces represented in the House.
While Maya Hanoomanjee may feel comforted at this new turn of events, a lot of collateral damage has been caused. Much time has been spent discussing the private motivation of individuals engaged in politics and the play of the power game. Part of the matter remains yet unresolved to this day in view of the fact that Pravind Jugnauth, the leader of the MSM and former Minister of Finance, has also been provisionally charged under section 7 of the Act and his case is taking more time to be determined than that of Maya Hanoomanjee in view of his recourse to the courts for access to some Cabinet papers relating to the MedPoint transaction. It is not quite clear whether access to the documents being sought for is possible and, if so, in what timeframe. In any case, that would amount to further delay in the final determination of the case.
It remains to be seen whether the cases to be set up Messrs Om Kumar Dabidin, Yodhun Bissessur and Aneerood Jeebodhun will not unfold into other unsuspected twists and turns to the case. MedPoint has not said its final word yet.
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MITD: Findings of the Fact Finding Committee
There was a row in Parliament towards the end of last year about the alleged abuse of a minor student by an instructor of the Mauritius Institute of Training and Development (MITD). The Ministry of Education has responsibility for the MITD.
The Opposition, the MSM in particular, was up in arms claiming that the Ministry would be tolerating such a case of paedophilia and that the instructor would have gone scot-free despite his involvement in the case. It was stated, among others, that the instructor would have had sexual intercourse with the minor in a ‘pensionnat’ and that this would have been to the knowledge of the Ministry. Part of the local media advertised the case liberally, pointing an accusing finger to a possible case of complicity whereby the Ministry would have acted in concert with the alleged perpetrator of the outrage to let him get away with crime.
Matters came to such a point that a minister of the government gave a statement to the police to the effect that Pravind Jugnauth, who had qualified the government as one which was encouraging paedophilia, would be fomenting ‘false news’ against the government. This being an arrestable offence, Pravind Jugnauth was convened by the Central CID to answer the charge being levied against him. He gave a long statement to stay his case. The police did not proceed with arresting him thereafter.
The Ministry of Education, on its part, requested the Government to establish a Fact Finding Committee (FFC) to throw light on the various allegations made. The FFC, presided by Mrs Veronique Kwok Yin Siong Yen, Presiding Magistrate, Intermediate Court (Criminal), started hearings in January 2013 and has now submitted the report of its findings. According to a statement made by the Minister of Education in the House during the sitting of Tuesday 9th, April, the following are the findings of the FFC:
- None of the 28 witnesses, who deponed during the hearing, came forward to say that they had seen Instructor N.C. and Minor V.A. together involved in an inappropriate behaviour;
- No independent evidence has been adduced to support the allegation of abuse. The then owner of the “pensionnat” where the acts were alleged to have taken place, had declared that the “auberge” had already ceased operation a few years ago;
- In view of the medico-legal report submitted to the Fact Finding Committee, it has been found by the Committee that the issue of sexual intercourse between Instructor N.C. and minor V.A. cannot stand. According to this medico-legal report, the examination of the minor on 25 February 2013, has revealed that there could not have been any sexual intercourse upon her in view of the intact genital conditions. The Fact Finding Committee finds that this medical evidence is crucial to put an end to speculations.
The conclusions of the FFC show thus show that, on the basis of evidence adduced before it by the witnesses who deponed, no wrongdoing as it was being alleged by the Opposition has actually taken place. The FFC goes on however to recommend, according to the Minister, that –
(i) Police should act promptly upon receipt of a complaint especially when a child is involved in order to reinforce public confidence;
(ii) To protect children from being exposed to harm, Staff of a school or a medical or a paramedical staff must notify the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare as per section 11 of the Child Protection Act;
(iii) The Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare should communicate more with other institutions and improve its standard practice with regard to provision of information;
(iv) In light of the information to be obtained from telecommunication service providers as per section 32 of the Information and Communication Technology Act 2001, the Police should pursue its enquiry and refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecution for any further action.
The Minister plans to ask for an inter-Ministerial Committee to be set up to give effect to the FFC’s recommendations. It appears to all evidence that the FFC has sifted the wheat from the chaff. If the Opposition is not convinced about these findings, the rule of democratic governance requires it to stay its case, based on alternative facts and evidence with which it could dispute the findings of the FFC. It remains to be seen whether it will pursue this matter in that direction. If it does not proceed further, this should put an end to rumours. More importantly, the part of the media which had blown up the allegations made in the matter when the Opposition had put it to the House by way of a Private Notice Question, should be duty bound to state, in all fairness, the findings of the FFC and put the matter to rest.
* Published in print edition on 12 April 2013