It must be stated forthright that the credit must go above all to the voters who decided to put in power a new team to govern the country before the start of the new year. In their majority they sensed that the Labour-MMM proposal was fraught with the risk of an intolerable power alternative. They chose therefore to take the risk with a new team many of whom had not even a track record in the administration of public affairs. The electorate’s lucidity must be lauded nevertheless for having set aside the danger that was lurking.
The only deficit which accompanies such decision is the level of expectation the public places on the humility, discipline, rigour and sense of duty and direction which a newly installed government will impose upon itself in the fulfillment of its national duties. Time and again, voters have realized their error post the elections. Thus, they have had to change previous governing teams that fell short of expectations or miscarried the national agenda.
The next set of the country’s decision-makers which deserves to be applauded this year is the Judiciary. Its dispassionate conduct has saved the country from extremes towards which it might have drifted. Had this rampart not stood in the way of potential abuse, the country would have lost much of its standing and serenity and the confidence the people have in it as a “rules-based” system.
Such is the independent spirit of its members that some of its younger ones came forth to uphold the rule of law when it was threatened. No amount of intimidation would make them budge an iota from principles. This may not have been publicized enough in the media but our Judiciary has thrown out cases in front of them based on the now notorious “provisional charges” bearing little substance or carrying no conviction to any reasonable mind. We have, thanks to this, moved in the direction of laying down the foundation of a strong rules-based evidence system.
Members of the Judiciary have, without regard to their personal prospects, delivered judgements which could have displeased some who might have taken it for granted that they would bend rules for the high and mighty of the land. We need to encourage such upcoming impartial members of the judiciary to make people, including some from the ranks of the government and the opposition, repeat that “we have faith in our judiciary”.
As in the past, there were weekend arrests based on provisional charges that take all the time before they are finally presented in a court, only to be dismissed for insufficient proof – in the eyes of the law – of the charges made. One recent notable case is that of Labour opposition member Shakeel Mohamed who was arrested on several provisional charges relating to as far back as 1996. The DPP was lucid enough to throw that out as a “no-case-to-answer” despite the high profile of the so-called “accused”.
The DPP was himself saved from arrest by the skin of the teeth thanks to the no-vacillation attitude of the judge who had previously issued an order for him not to be investigated in the case being levied against him by ICAC. It is important to highlight this aspect of things during the year, as the zeal with which matters were being pursued could have used institutions to target political adversaries of the government in place.
Had the Judiciary not stood up, serious inroads might have been made into the systems and due processes of good governance of the country. In this regard, one just has to refer to the arrest by the police of the Attorney Pazani Thandrayen on his descent from the plane after he had had consultations with his client Nandanee Soornack in Italy. The objective apparently was to seize evidence he might be having among his documents that might have been employed to incriminate star witnesses on the side of the state.
Have such zeal and excesses been sufficiently dealt with? It would be in the best interest of the country if that were the case. But the recent arrest of opposition deputy Shakeel Mohamed puts in doubt any such theory. It’s the time taken between the moment “provisional charges” are levied and the case is presented before a court that opens up space for abuse. Mauritius would be better off if the government acted expeditiously to give the police a definitive set of rules so as to prevent the continuation of a system which successive governments have identified as the source of the abuse, but have actually done nothing to stop.
It must be said that the local media played its part to prevent exaggerations by the powers that be. It became the platform for debating several controversial issues that saw the light of day under the new government. Thus, it is on the media platform that the handling of the BAI case was most hotly debated just like the controversial Good Governance and Integrity Reporting Bill. The latter have now become history but thanks to the more objective side of our media, light has been thrown on the shadier side of decisions being taken.
Having said this, we have to give the government its due where it deserves. Although there are parts of the media that have taken objection to Minister Anil Gayan’s statement that it is for the government – and no other than the government itself – to take government decisions, there is a non-personal aspect of the issue for which the government should be given credit.
Consider the case of the “marchands ambulants”. It is well known that thanks to political complicity, street hawkers have caused perpetual pandemonium on the footpaths and streets of the capital and other much frequented parts of the country. Because they have received the backing of high net worth politicians – past and present – and other powerful office holders, they have kept acting in defiance of decisions of the court. The matter was allowed to drift, getting worse year after year as their numbers multiplied in the quest for quick and easy profits by selling all sorts of wares to passers-by on streets. This government has had the courage to act. The Prime Minister, despite perhaps not enjoying the support of all, stated in a recent meeting with the media, that for him, this is unlawful and all those concerned with implementing the law should without hesitation put things in order according to law. Mr Gayan’s statement that it is the responsibility of the government to take decisions must be given an unambiguous interpretation in such a case. It is not for others to take decisions the government should take.
We are wary of the extra-judiciary powers the government has given the Executive after enacting the Good Governance and Integrity Reporting Bill because it transgresses the limits of our democratic setup. We do not know also whether it is meant to target political adversaries. But credit must go to this government for having brought into limelight the unlawful accumulation of unexplained wealth by individuals. No previous government has dared go this far. Hopefully, it will go further in this direction by requiring transparency into the finances of political parties, a major source of corruption and ill-gotten wealth.
In past years, we saw the emergence of dubious organisations picking up money from the pockets of investors who trusted them. Deviation of trusting investors’ money away from the purpose for which it is meant is bad for the country. The rot has been allowed to endure with serious risk to the country’s financial system. The future will tell whether the manner of handling of the BAI case was sheer political vendetta. Many have objected to the manner in which the group was brought down and the chaos which ensued. It was important however to send a strong signal that abuses of trust will not be tolerated. The government may have mishandled the BAI case but a strong warning has been issued to potential abusers.
Not everything has worked out for the best. Our institutional framework has been shaken but some institutions like the Judiciary have withstood the gales that were publicly unleashed. Our democracy is thankfully holding on. Should the government collect itself and attend to the task of redressing the economy for which it had been elected, the country may find its shaken confidence into the future restored and hopefully look forward to something less tumultuous than what we’ve seen in 2015.
* Published in print edition on 18 December 2015