The local political situation was in limbo since June 2015 when the Intermediate Court found the leader of the MSM, the majority party of the government alliance, guilty of conflict of interest in the MedPoint case and sentenced him. The government did not henceforward have a clear succession plan to hold the alliance together.
This was being aggravated by serial gaffes made by certain ministers, with no one in sight to bring them to order.
On 25th May 2016, Chief Justice K P Matadeen and Judge A A Caunhye, sitting on appeal, overturned the decision of the Intermediate Court and quashed the conviction and sentence it had pronounced against Pravind Jugnauth. Citing cases heard in several other jurisdictions in related matters, they formed the opinion that the lower court had overlooked the mens rea (guilty mind) aspect of the case which was necessary to establish that he was effectively liable of being involved in a conflict of interest, in contravention of section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act 2002.
The decision of the Appellate Court was greeted with relief by members of the government. On the very day the Court’s decision was handed down, Pravind Jugnauth was named as Minister of Finance and he was sworn in the next morning. Although, the Director of Public Prosecutions can appeal the Supreme Court’s decision within 21 days before the Privy Council if his Office comes to the conclusion that the decision was based on flawed legal principles, the government is proceeding on the assumption that the Supreme Court’s decision is the final lap in the matter.
Be that as it may, there is a resumption of a long lost serenity on the government side. There are hopes on the government side that the comeback of Pravind Jugnauth will rein in some of the impetuous elements on the government side whose actions had been a source of perpetual disruption in government affairs.
The superior interests of the country require that the indiscipline and immaturity that have characterised several government actions, some of them with irreparable consequences, needed to be arrested and firmly dealt with. Moreover, after shuffling away Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo from Finance, the impression was that the economic chapter was rudderless. With the return of Pravind Jugnauth and his appointment as Minister of Finance, the hope on the government side is that the void and disharmony at this level might now be addressed.
Pravind Jugnauth has some experience of this portfolio, having been Minister of Finance for short periods in previous governments. Observers feel that, given the seriousness of the economic challenge now facing the economy, he will somehow use his common sense and pragmatism to breathe in the measured maturity and leadership that has been sorely lacking in this space.
His task will be even more arduous towards giving the government a better sense of cohesion and fetching back within acceptable limits several economic and financial parameters which have gone out of gear. All this will have to be done without making the transition to a better management of public affairs even more painful to the public. The imperative of the moment is not to engage into a cheap power game. There cannot be any superior quest than addressing the priority of priorities to put the country back on a sustainable course.
If his actions carry conviction that he is well meaning towards the greater good of the country, it could invite adherence to the necessary repair work requiring to be undertaken to re-instil confidence in government action. That will take at least the remaining mandate of the government. If public institutions get back to working independently and much more competently in the public interest again and if performing springs are put back into the soles of the economy, that could signal delivery at last on the mandate the people had conferred upon the new government.
If so, it would spare the people the onerous duty of having to look up again for a new set of fire fighters in the same style and manner they did during the December 2014 elections.
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Shootout against French Embassy
A serious threat to the economy
Mauritius was witness to an unusual event this week. There was a random shootout of guns against the French Embassy office in Port Louis and the Hotel St Georges, which is in the immediate vicinity of the Embassy, a couple of hunting gun bullets shot against each one of them. There were no casualties and the shooter(s) disappeared in the dark of night, not before they had painted on the entrance of the Embassy their affiliation to the so-called Islamic State.
Police have stepped up security around all diplomatic representations in Mauritius and road checks have been set up to verify the vehicles plying on the roads near and about such representations. Unfortunately, the CCTV cameras appear not to have taken clear pictures of the incident. Nevertheless, all registered owners of the two types of guns involved are being investigated to identify if any one among them might have wittingly or unwittingly supported this kind of action.
Mauritius, as we well know, is far removed from the type of vindictive violence which is rife in the Islamic-State torn Middle East, producing its daily lot of violent deaths and destructions. But no one is insulated from the extreme propaganda that the extremist group keeps broadcasting to brainwash and radicalize easily influenced minds on the Net. Nor have we anything to do with the dictatorships in that region and the war of religious ideologies which are the real backdrop for the perpetual chaotic situation in place.
It is true that France has been targeted for lending support to action against the jihadist group in places such as Mali but also in the Iraq-Syria region. Last year, less than half a dozen radicalised citizens of France and Belgium killed at gunpoint 130 innocent victims who were dining out or watching a football match on a Friday evening. One has no idea how far such aggressions will escalate in places that are directly confronting the surge of radicalism in their midst.
Even though there is a French diplomatic representation in Mauritius dating back to very long in the past, it has never been the target of religious vindictiveness in Mauritius. That the gun shootout incident in Port Louis has been widely broadcast in global media mars our reputation as a peaceful country. And this is a bad thing for our economy.
It is well known that carnage and mass killings of tourists that have been perpetrated by gunners in places such as Egypt and Tunisia have severely affected their tourism industries. People no longer consider visiting those places laden with history as safe places. Hotels are empty. Employees have been laid off. The countries remain in a perpetual state of alert lest another mishap. Many activities related to tourism have suffered badly due to the uncertainty so created.
Mauritius, on the other hand, has a reputation for being a peaceful place, free from the various brands of extremism to which Middle East destinations have fallen prey. This is why our tourism sector is doing relatively well. Activities such as taxis, crafts and leisure providers are getting the benefit of this positive perception of Mauritius as a safe place. If we want not to affect all the stakeholders who participate to make our economy perform, the best thing would be to act decisively and nip the worm in the bud. If this is not done, others will be tempted to take the law in their own hands and thus bring much harm upon the economy. We have been warned. Let us stop it before it escalates further.
* Published in print edition on 3 June 2016