On Wednesday last, a private radio station broadcast what looks like a recording between Raj Dayal in his capacity as Minister for the Environment and a businessman. The latter would have approached the Minister with a view to securing an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate for his development project at Gros Cailloux. If the recording is to be trusted, the Minister would have solicited financial support in exchange for considering favourably the application for the EIA certificate.
The case has been referred to the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) for investigation. The Prime Minister has asked Raj Dayal to step down as Minister until the investigation establishes the facts. This has been done. Mr Alain Wong, Minister of Civil Service Affairs, has been entrusted with the Environment portfolio as well.
We saw the delicate situation in which the Minister of Finance, Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo, was finding himself in the previous week after his banking transactions relating to a Euro loan were leaked out in the press. The Prime Minister then took the decision to shift him to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after himself taking over the portfolio of Finance. Mr Lutchmeenaraidoo is still hospitalised for bronchitis and has barely attended to his new duties. Questions are being asked.
At about the same time, Sangeet Fowdar, a deputy hailing from a coalition partner of the government, the Muvman Liberater, refused to withdraw the allegations he had publicly made on radio concerning the “government’s inefficiency and mismanagement of public affairs”. Last week, he threatened to provoke a by-election in the Constituency in which he was elected should he be pressured to do so.
The Raj Dayal affair of this week represents thus an escalation of a series of mishaps visiting upon the government since quite some time now. It has helped to raise questions as to whether the Prime Minister will be able to ride over this inept situation in which instead of the government attending to public affairs, as it should, appears instead to be attending to its internal flaws.
In a statement on radio, the Prime Minister stated, in answer to a question, that he was not unduly concerned if by-elections had to be faced. The MSM on its own commands the single largest majority in Parliament. Even if a couple of seats were to be lost to the opposition in the process, the Prime Minister should be finding comfort in his strong enough majority in the House for his party and its allies to complete their mandate.
The question then is the manner in which this mandate will be completed.
It was inevitable that some “peculiar characters” should have been expected to emerge from the motley crowd of candidates the MSM and its allies had managed to pull together in a fairly short time for the December 2014 elections to confront the supposed juggernaut the Labour-MMM alliance had concocted. It’s some of such unruly members who are embarrassing the government, one or two of whom have been sanctioned already.
Moreover, the presumption has been gaining ground that, sooner or later, deeper cracks might appear as important uncertainties will come to haunt the leadership of the MSM. Another question being persistently asked is whether, given his age, SAJ will be able to hold the fort together and focus attention on real constructive work needing to be attended to. One would wish that, after the incidents we’ve seen so far, he takes full control to guide the government to achieve the true mission people gave it in December 2014.
Short of this, we are seeing already the rustlings of politics as of old. The opposition is once again keen to cash upon the gaffes of government members in order to portray itself as a potential better performer. It is pointing out to incidents like those Raj Dayal has just got involved in and accusations of alleged malfeasance being levelled against Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo, to claim that the pendulum should now swing in its favour.
If voters went on switching from government to opposition, back and forth, the same story risks repeating itself. The fundamental weaknesses the system is riddled with will be carried forward and the whole thing will continue being devalued, as past scenarios are replayed. We risk being back to square one. Or, worse.
The country could perhaps make some progress in the right direction, given the chaos which threatens to come into place with the current goings-on. If the Prime Minister stopped all at once the erratic behaviour of some of the government members, picked up a few mature collaborators around him, elected or not, to drive a new agenda for the uplift of the country as a whole, a welcome breath of fresh air would come. It would do his government a lot of good if it were to shift the focus to things that really matter.
* Published in print edition on 25 March 2016