Chasing Trifles

Mauritians appear to be losing their cheer. Most of the time, they are up in protest against one thing or other these days. The feeling of joy that accompanies accomplishments is no longer a pervasive feature of public life.

Yet, it is barely seven months back they voted, out of nowhere, a government to power with a thumping majority, 47-13. They believed in the promised “economic miracle”, least suspecting the current sense of loss of direction in national affairs. A feeling is gaining ground that the present government would be employing the same abusive system the preceding government had been employing on several fronts and for which it was sorely beaten up at the polls last December.

As things stand, we do not quite know the state of health of the Prime Minister who left Sunday last for the UK for three weeks.

One would have expected that, despite not being at the top of the governmental hierarchy, Pravind Jugnauth would have held the fort together for the governmental alliance in power in the circumstances. But he is himself fighting up against a verdict of culpability in a case of conflict of interest under the Prevention of Corruption Act. He has appealed against the verdict and sentence of one-year imprisonment inflicted by the Intermediate Court in this case. He has also left for the UK, presumably to canvass the services of a specialized lawyer in the appeal he has lodged against the Intermediate Court’s judgement.

On the other hand, attention is focussed on another case involving Satyajit Boolell, who is the currently the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Mr Boolell is sought to be taken in by investigators for a potential case of conflict of interest in a matter having to do with his presence at a meeting in 2011 at the Ministry of Housing and Lands where representations would have been made to the Ministry, along with another director of the private company he would be representing, on a matter of the quantum of rent for state lands leased out to the private company.

Having been chased up by the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC), and facing the risk of being put under arrest, the latter has sworn an affidavit to explain, among others, statements made to him by certain high ranking officers of the ICAC that there would actually be nothing substantive against him in the matter but that two Minsters would be putting the ICAC under pressure to investigate him further.

Along with other preceding events, some interpret the situation in which Mr Boolell is finding himself as part of an attempt to unseat him from his position as DPP. It is in this capacity that he would have recommended in 2011 the prosecution of the case in which Pravind Jugnauth was found guilty of conflict of interest by the Intermediate Court earlier this month.

A lot of executive time and public attention has been monopolised by this contest between the DPP and those in the government who would presumably have him vacate the office of the DPP. The legal imbroglio has yet to be sorted out. The question is being asked about whether the incumbent DPP would appeal, before the Privy Council, a Supreme Court judgement eventually granting the appeal made by Pravind Jugnauth against the verdict of the Intermediate Court If so, such a decision would have the potential to create an even longer uncertainty about succession at the highest level of the government. The struggle has become so bitter that one government Minister has recently obliquely referred in this connection to any reverence that would be due to the DPP’s given his personal belonging in the social hierarchy. It shows the low level to which the public debate can come down these days.

What all this shows is the importance personal considerations have assumed in the public debate. The collective interest appears to have surrendered to this series of political games. Settling of scores, it appears, has gained preponderance over other more important issues. One also has a sense as if the real struggle is to try to fashion up the institutions of the country to make them convenient and fit to deliver according to desires of those who are ruling over us.

Little by little, doings by certain government members in these regards but also on a wide range of other issues of public life have been sending a subtle message to the public that one had better endorse the actions and views of the political establishment in power. The exercise of power appears to have become oppressive enough to inspire fear among any that would dare hold contradictory opinions publicly that the political establishment would not approve of. Thus, it would be anathema to pronounce any opinion that the government would be wasting its time over trifles and thus putting in jeopardy the grander scheme which it should instead have been concentrating upon.

Barely seven months old, cracks have started appearing in the government alliance. In the absence of SAJ, the Deputy Prime Minister, Xavier Duval has assumed the office of Prime Minister. The Eid festival was celebrated by the Muslim community of the country last week. The PMSD, of which Xavier Duval is the leader, has caused posters to be displayed publicly felicitating the Muslim community on this occasion. This has apparently not been approved of by Showkatally Soodhun, the Minister of Housing and Lands in the present government. He has denounced this demarche by Xavier Duval who has, in turn, expressed his thanks to a PMSD supporter for putting up the posters.

This looks like a direct affront between a Minister and the Prime Minister currently in office. We do not expect and haven’t seen such a public affront at this level for a long time now. Not only are the rules of etiquette and high standard of public conduct by holders of high offices not being respected. The risk is the creation of a perception that the PMSD would – with the complicity of the MSM party of which Mr Soodhun is the president — be considered substitutable by alternative political arrangements.

All this smacks of the same kind of detestable political intrigues – to dispose of encumbering partners to admit new ones — that were common not too far in the past. While all this pettiness is going on, any good work done by the few competent members of the government risks going unnoticed altogether. Voters strongly repudiated last December the Labour-MMM alliance which threatened them directly. They voted instead the present government to power, being disgusted with the cinema that Labour-MMM were playing out. They may not be in the mood yet to stand witness this time to a transfer of power in favour of a new political convenience that would find it convenient to throw out the PMSD from the government alliance they elected to power barely seven months earlier.

The government is yet to deliver on the wider parameters of economic and social administration of the country. The MMM is increasingly finding enough fodder for its cannons against the government’s miscarriage of several key dossiers. Will the government collect itself and start addressing the real task for which it has been elected? Or, will it, like Labour and the MMM, lose its sense of direction and fudge it up further? It may be time now to get on with the work at hand and not divert so many energies to what should amount to sheer trifles at the level of the national agenda.

  • Published in print edition on 24 July 2015

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