The MedPoint Jinx

Harish Boodhoo liked to state that he had masterminded the election-winning MSM-MMM alliance of 2000 in the premises of the then MedPoint Clinic of Paillotes belonging to members of the Jugnauth family. This alliance trounced Labour-PMSD 3-57 in the elections, a disconcerting outcome for Navin Ramgoolam, the Labour leader.

After five years, when the MSM and the MMM, once again in alliance, presented to voters, the result was catastrophic for the MSM: the Labour-PMSD alliance secured 42 seats and the MSM-MMM alliance 24. The MMM and the MSM started casting the blame on each other for their defeat.

It proved to be a “crossing of the desert” for the MSM until 2010 when, in alliance with Labour, it formed part of the government, only to drop out again in 2012 against the background of another MedPoint Clinic affair. Once again, the MedPoint Clinic proved to be the stumbling block.

The Labour-MSM-PMSD government was contemplating at the time the purchase of the Clinic with a view to converting it into a geriatric hospital. Somehow, its valuation had got inflated in the process and questions arose as to whether its over-pricing had been manipulated and, if so, by whom?

At the time, Pravind Jugnauth was Minister of Finance in the government. In this capacity, he approved an authorisation for the reallocation of funds pertaining to the purchase by the government of the Clinic at the higher valuation. It turned out that this decision was conveyed only days before the coming into force of a Budget decision to impose a capital gains tax on plus-values of property transactions with effect from 1st January 2012. This tax would have been leviable on the plus-value of the Clinic against the original owners of the Clinic, but was avoided just in time.

There was, however, more to this. The Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) found the Minister’s approval so given to be in contravention of section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 2002 (POCA), which ICAC administers. Its plea before the Court was that the Minister, having family relationship with the owners of the Clinic, was involved, as a ‘public official’ in a case of ‘conflict of interest’ in accordance with that section of the law.

In protest against the arrest to which Pravind Jugnauth, leader of the MSM, was subjected in this context and which resulted in his resigning his position as Minister, other MSM members also resigned from the government. A couple of opportunists broke ranks and preferred to stay with the now Labour-PMSD government. Thus, the MSM found itself dismembered and out of government barely a year after having been in power. The MedPoint Clinic had once again been the trigger of the unwholesome situation the MSM found itself in.

The case instituted by the ICAC against Pravind Jugnauth was tried last year by the Intermediate Court, which found him guilty of conflict of interest under section 13 of the POCA. The court sentenced him to 12 months in prison, which was later commuted to 12 months’ community service.

The consequence of this judgement was to make Pravind Jugnauth resign once again from a ministerial position, notably as Minister for ICT in the newly constituted government of L’Allians Lepep of December 2014. He was being positioned by his party, the MSM, to succeed SAJ as Prime Minister in due course when this judgement came to upset the applecart.

He appealed against the court’s decision. The appeal was heard by the full bench of the Supreme Court (SC) constituted by Chief Justice Keshoe Parsad Matadeen and Judge Ashraf Caunhye on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Judgement will be delivered at a later stage.

We cannot pre-empt the decision the Appeal Court will reach eventually. It could either confirm the conclusion arrived at by the Intermediate Court last year or find that the judgement was flawed on one point or other and throw it aside. If confirmed, Pravind Jugnauth may secure the option to go on appeal again before the Privy Council or, if not confirmed, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has the option to appeal the SC judgement before the Law Lords.

The path travelled since the MedPoint affair started has been strewn with uncertainty for the MSM leader. His political career has been put in jeopardy at several points. It still remains uncertain, and depends on whatever judicial decisions are given out.

Seen from the political front, relations between Labour and the MSM have kept deteriorating. This has been the case since long enough now, probably after the 2010 elections when the MSM claimed that it would have been led into a carefully organized trap by its then ally in government, Labour. Be that as it may, it cannot be denied that the MedPoint Clinic has been the major issue behind all the rumble and tumble.

But the political struggle does not concern the MSM alone. Since the government of L’Allians Lepep came to power last year, Navin Ramgoolam has equally been facing serial arrests on as many provisional charges levelled against him by the CCID. He finds himself pitched; it would appear, in a fight-to-the-end course against his main political challenger, Pravind Jugnauth. The latter may be harbouring similar views about Navin Ramgoolam.

There is a contrast, however, in the two parties’ positions. The MSM is currently in power. On the other hand, Labour is not only in a weak opposition situation since last year. Its weakness has also been aggravated by the continued leadership of a Navin Ramgoolam beset by many police cases against him and much loss of personal credibility since the last electoral campaign.

Intractable harsh rivalry between Pravind Jugnauth and Navin Ramgoolam has left the common pool of voters from which the two parties draw their support in complete disarray. It may have reached a point of no return. There would be as many of such traditional voters against Pravind Jugnauth today as there are against Navin Ramgoolam. The breach so made in the voter base seems to be increasing by the day, giving rise to a perfect opportunity for the ‘divide and rule’ formula to be opportunistically applied to the mutual loss of both the parties.

In light of this context, perhaps Paul Bérenger, leader of the MMM, has seen an extraordinary opportunity opening up to him, according to an interview he gave to a foreign newspaper. He must be a seeing in all the “pagaille” created by the two leaders in the wake of the political harakiri surrounding the MedPoint affair, his clearest chance to make a triumphant comeback after his disastrous defeat in the company of Navin Ramgoolam last year.

This is the kind of situation, which could involve significant power redistribution in the country. It would only be fair game if Paul Bérenger took advantage of one political leader finishing off whatever remains of his party and another fighting his way up, not because of popular appeal, but by winning cases in court, if possible, or losing it out altogether if even the courts repelled his argument.

Although Paul Bérenger only threw up the MedPoint scandal in public in 2011 after the value of the property was doubled, he stands today to reap the dividends out of the immaturity of his traditional political rivals. Who can blame him for this? For offering him the prize on a platter?

 

* Published in print edition on 15 January 2016

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