Heavy Price To Pay 

for want of a collective vision

It appears that, based on information it had gathered from unknown sources, the police landed last week in the two residences of the former Prime Minister, Navin Ramgoolam. The latter was placed under arrest over two provisional charges: allegedly having misled an investigation into a theft which occurred in his bungalow at Roches Noires in 2011, and being involved in “money laundering”. For the purposes of its investigation, the police took custody of a couple of suitcases and safe cabinets found in his River Walk residence.

While the counting of the contents of the safes at police headquarters has been going on, information is being sequentially filtered out the past few days about daily and cumulative sums of money secured from them. The monies found are denominated in local and foreign currencies which, at the latest count, had crossed the bounds of a hundred million rupees.

All this has created widespread sensationalism and scandalisation, as might have been expected. While the ‘petit peuple’ is aghast at the sight of so much money in the hands of one person, higher-ups more familiar with the scale at which political manoeuvring takes place in a system such as ours, are not surprised. The latter are attuned to the evidence of much larger stockpiles of money and wealth into which major political parties have been lobbied by commercial and other interests. Major political parties heading governments or sharing powers in government have to all evidence amassed huge fortunes.

There are open questions. Have they employed the levers of political power to get into such fortunes? Have they favoured some bidders at the expense of others in the allocation of public contracts or have they allowed themselves to be requited for giving away property from the public domain to the select few? The sticking point today is that, in the present case someone seems to have been caught red-handed whereas all past abuses appear to have gone unnoticed, unquestioned, forgotten.

It goes without saying that the public display of the find at the ex-Prime Minister’s residences helps to sully the image of the ex-Prime Minister, that of the party he belongs to, and no less that of the country itself which thrives on projecting a clean international profile for doing business. It does nobody any good, least of all many of those grandstanding on principles which they would themselves have abused, given the opportunity.

This however is no reason for condoning misappropriations by recourse to inexcusable contrivances by wielders of power of any political colour.

We cannot go on in this direction. If things have come to this, it means that those who have come into positions of leadership would not have hesitated to dilapidate the goodwill behind the laborious, self-sacrificing work undertaken by past generations to give political parties their good standing and sound credentials in the eyes of the population. It makes no sense for a party like Labour which has earned its credentials through much hardship endured by past leaders to destroy those very credentials for the sake of what is perceived as self-gratification.

The culture that should have accompanied a party with a glorious and noble history, such as Labour, seems to have been severely impaired. There was a place for a responsible and cautious driver at the helm. This has been lacking.

The source of this problem of what looks like an unabashed collection of ill-gotten gains by political parties in power can be traced back to the plenipotentiary powers conferred by the Constitution on the country’s Prime Minister, irrespective of who is in power. He wields unquestioned authority in the National Assembly having powers of life and dissolution of the Assembly. By virtue of the absolute power vested in the country’s Prime Minister, a stage is reached finally when the latter not only makes himself unaccountable to the party he heads. He in fact starts incarnating every decision made, making everybody in the party subservient to his directions by virtue of holding the power to give or refuse ministerial portfolios and tickets for the elections.

 

This malady cuts across all political parties, whether in power or aspiring to come to power. There should have been a Constitutional Court to tame down the excess of power vested in the Prime Minister who can make it or break it, as things stand today. We lack this balancing counterpart in the exercise of political power and are therefore paying the price of this serious shortcoming. Surely, someone vested with so much power should be amenable to discipline? Yet, this is what our Prime Ministers have steered clear of since Independence. It gives them excess power without accountability. They can even choose to avert coming to the heart of controversial issues raised through Parliamentary questions. While in office, they run no risk of facing strictures when they exceed the limits of tolerance.

It is reasonable that a political party should have a unique and decisive centre of command and control at the risk of finding itself steering the ship of state by giving contradictory and confusing signals with no clear sense of direction when it comes to the crunch. It is unreasonable however that the centre of command and control should be accountable to nobody else in the party, being happy only to project a semblance of democracy at work at the level of constituent groups of the party. Once a political party makes itself impermeable to challenges, new ideas, views and reflections other than those of its leader-potential-prime-minister-in-the-making, it tends to confer autocratic and abusive powers upon its leader. The attendant risk is that the latter can, by his misbehaviour, lose it all and, along the way, the painstaking work of all past generations.

Events like the one we are witnessing today throw light on how fragile the future can become. When a party wrecks itself in the manner we have witnessed of late, is it only the leader who bears the consequences? No, the followers of the party are those who bear the brunt of such failure. Soon enough, the rudders which once kept the entire ship moored to defending the common cause, breaks loose and the whole edifice crumbles. This is what has been happening to the followers of Labour these days. All at once the ideals and ideology which the Party once stood for are being shattered to smithereens.

The same fate attends other political parties whose main mission, it appears, is to destroy all those likely to stand in the way of their chosen potentates’ ascent to absolute power. The irony is that while the fight for personal power and self-gratification occupies the whole stage on this side of the fence, the few others on the other side of the fence are busying themselves consolidating their already elite economic conditions. It is clear who will be the loser: the seeker after private trinkets and petty positions of personal grandeur, or the one who is chasing economic ambitions beyond the frontiers of Mauritius.

* Published in print edition on 13 February  2015

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