Imbroglio At The Top

The government was elected to look after government business. It increasingly looks like it is being made to closely attend to many matters which are not necessarily government business.

It has been plagued by continuing internal bickerings, such as scores being settled between Minister Bhadain and Finance Minister’s senior adviser, Gérard Sanspeur concerning the Heritage City project. This episode has started resembling a war of proxy between Roshi Bhadain and Pravind Jugnauth, with the latter determined to put some order among the rank and file of certain troublemaking government members.

One might say it was high time to stop the series of disruptive actions from which the government has been suffering almost right from the start. The disruption had travelled so far as to question the government’s mastery of its dossiers. With the Budget Speech of Friday 29th July, there came a semblance of order on the side of the government.

Not for long, however. Once Cabinet decided to shelve the Heritage City project, Minister Bhadain went to the police to make a statement against alleged malpractice indulged in by the Finance Minister’s senior adviser to convince the board of Heritage City Company that the project was fundamentally flawed.

In the public eye, all the revolt of Minister Bhadain appeared to be more than any offence that might have been committed by the senior adviser. It was perceived rather as a confrontation against the leader of the MSM, something resembling indiscipline at the party level as well as an indirect rejection of the Cabinet’s collective decision to set aside the Heritage City project.

But other stories have surfaced up which have served to keep attention away from the actual work that should be undertaken by the government. One such case relates to reproaches being made in part of the local media against what are alleged to be excessive professional fees charged by Mr Kailash Trilochun, an advocate and a recent adherent of the MSM party.

The latter was appointed legal counsel to the Information and Technologies Authority of Mauritius (ICTA). It has been stated in press reports that he would have claimed and been paid fees for professional services pertaining to one case in which ICTA is involved in an amount of Rs19 million.

An amalgam is being made between his proximity with the MSM and the not well-perceived overly high remuneration claimed. The case has been abundantly splashed in certain newspapers, especially after the Prime Minister in answer to a Parliamentary Question, interjected that he was personally shocked at this amount of remuneration.

Hardly had this matter snatched the limelight than another case allegedly involving Mr Trilochun came out in public. According to an individual who had been arrested by the police in a case of aggression with a cutter on the person of the chairman of the ICTA some three months ago, he would have stated having acted allegedly on the orders of the same Mr Trilochun given that the latter would have been aggrieved by the ICTA Chairman’s resistance to make payments to him as ICTA’s legal counsel.

All this has to be proved by reference to hard evidence, evidently. But as it has been the practice in the past, expectations have been built up in the public that Mr Trilochun who is currently in South Africa, might be arrested by police on arrival on the basis of allegations made regarding his involvement in the case of aggression of the ICTA chair. Mr Trilochun has enlisted the services of barrister Rama Valayden, who is a member of the Labour party.

In the meantime, the image of the government has suffered another setback. Mr Trilochun had also been appointed in other official positions such as chairman of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) which falls under the responsibility of Minister Bhadain. In view of all that is being reproached to him, the government was asked as to why he should be maintained as chair of the FIU. Apparently, Minister Soodhun, acting as prime minister in the absence of the latter, has written to the President of the Republic asking that Mr Trilochun be removed from that position.

All this imbroglio is hardly helpful for a government whose public image had suffered terribly in the first year and a half for several ill-inspired decisions and not much to show by way of concrete economic realisation. At one time, it has even been made to appear that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance would not be on the same wavelength regarding certain matters of public interest. One of them was the Heritage City project which was shelved – much to the PM’s regret — only after Pravind Jugnauth assumed responsibility as Minister of Finance.

As cases like the Trilochun case have come to the surface, the focus has shifted in the public to the effect that some persons surrounding the present government may have used their proximity to power to draw private unfair advantages. That they may not hesitate to go beyond decent and respectable bounds of public conduct to serve their self-interest.

We do not know if there are other sleeping dragons waiting to be awakened much to the embarrassment of the government. If so, after what has already come to pass and another case of payment of consultancy fees paid to Dubai consultants for the Heritage City project profiling itself in the hands of the corruption investigators, the ICAC, there is a growing risk of loss of credibility of the government as a whole.

This is surely not the best way to keep the focus on governing the country. Some weeding out was necessary to stop abuses and to re-place the agenda on which the government was elected at the centre of government action. Will that be possible, we do not know. What needs to be borne in mind is that the MSM government was an extreme outsider when elected to office in December 2014, thanks to the very advantageous position it was put in by Labour and the MMM going into alliance. Such a favourable tide may not come so soon.

M.K.

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