In the course of a recent interview with a group of journalists of La Sentinelle, the Minister for Good Governance, Roshi Bhadain, stated, amongst others, his view that the current Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is a “monster”. As illustration of this view, he went on to state that the DPP had various family and political affiliations that would put him in a position of conflict of interest, whether he decided to prosecute or not certain cases involving the Leader of the Labour Party.
In support, he stated that the DPP’s father was a former Labour leader just like his brother is today. The fact that the DPP has sole discretion, according to the Constitution, to decide whether to prosecute or otherwise such cases could be given political interpretation. He was of the view therefore that, given all this, the discretionary power conferred on him may give rise to abusive decisions on his part.
It was as if one could ascribe a temporary change of the rupee’s exchange rate to the fact that a person placed in the position of deciding on the exchange rate policy of the country would change its course in his favour depending on circumstances, abstracting from the public duty to maintain a good stewardship of the same in the public interest.
The thrust of the Minister’s argument was that the powers conferred upon the DPP by the Constitution of 1968 were excessive. In other words, it could be inferred that such powers needed to be curtailed for the sake of… “good governance”. It was clear that he was pointing the finger against the incumbent DPP and that he wanted to cut him down to size. It was vacuous on his part to infer that because the Constitution is old, it would not be cognizant of today’s realities and needed therefore to be changed as regards the DPP’s powers. Old Constitutions perform very well.
Mauritius is a rule of law country. Ministers have their own ambit. Normally, they do not, as holders of a public office, cross certain bounds of good conduct. It would be rare for a Minister to bash up a public institution, such as that of the DPP, in public. There might have been serious differences of opinion between politicians and decisions of the various DPPs we’ve had, but parliamentarians would observe limits of public conduct that would maintain unsullied the good standing of the DPP’s office and our key public institutions.
Commonsense would require that if a parliamentarian found certain defects in the powers conferred upon a public official, duly appointed by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC), for carrying out his/her public duty, he/she should propose amendments to the law to vary those powers. If the proposal carried enough conviction among the required numbers of members for the Constitution to be amended, so be it. Otherwise, there is a duty to stick to what obtains. There is no need to direct a public offensive against the holder of the post or against his professional integrity.
The provisions of our Constitution may not be perfect. But we have to agree that they have stood the test of time. The powers of all DPPs to prosecute or not, without being accountable to anybody for the decisions they make in this regard, has been unquestioned to this date. The system has held together because the public have implicit trust that the DPP’s decisions are taken after mature consideration, on the professional plane, without regard to any other consideration.
The DPP’s job is to take up a prosecution if it stands a good chance of being vindicated in law and that’s the end of the matter. For this, he owes nobody an explanation for reason perhaps of legal strategy. In fact, the present DPP has relinquished his absolute right not to be made accountable for his decisions. He decided to go public to explain the wherefore of certain of his decisions.
It is easy to paint an office holder in bad light and to attribute to him colours he doesn’t have but fairness requires our parliamentarians not to play with fire. The latter should not, reasonably, come out in public to discredit a holder of a public office on the basis of questionable assumptions about personal affiliations or kinship or supposed proximity to political parties determining his professional decisions. Politicians haven’t travelled this far in the past. Private opinions politicians hold about an office holder do not give them the licence to change laws as it suits their convenience or to publicly cast the present DPP as a potential political opponent, as it was the case during the interview.
At this stage, it is important for Mauritius to project a sober image of itself. We have a duty to hold ourselves to a sense of personal discipline and not transgress bounds of good conduct which the public interest should impose on all holders of sensitive offices.