An Unending Mess

Three police officers call at the residence of a senior adviser of the Minister of Finance early in the morning. This action is apparently prompted after the Minister of Good Governance made a statement to police many days earlier to the effect that the senior adviser would have wrongfully acted to sabotage the Heritage City project. The scene is played out during the absence of the Minister of Finance from the country.

Barristers of the senior adviser intervene on time to prevent his arrest as contemplated by the police officers. He is saved in extremis from the humiliation of being arrested with respect to a case the Minister of Finance had made known, right at the start of the controversy, his full support to the senior adviser.

The most stunning thing about this episode is that the boss of police investigation department, the CCID, and the Commissioner of Police are not in the picture about the landing of the three police officers at the residence of the senior adviser. After the matter comes out in public, action is taken at the level of the police department to transfer the concerned police officers elsewhere. Did they act outside their brief? Did they have to keep their upper hierarchy informed before proceeding to take action against the senior adviser of the Minister of Finance during the latter’s absence from the country? Or, did they act under “orders coming from higher up” and were conveniently disowned when the matter became too embarrassing?

Given this important act of open intimidation, how many senior government officers would take the risk of giving frankly their opinion on any public issue? Clearly, we should not, in the circumstances, expect an objective and outspoken public servant taking a stand on any matter that would risk becoming the subject of a political controversy. The public service would not dare give the best of itself if it was exposed to this kind of treatment. It would become atrophied – and it is the country that will suffer.

In the same chapter, it is worth recalling the recent re-issue of a second Cabinet communiqué giving an “incorrect” revision (in the words of the PM) by the Minister of Good Governance of a previously issued communiqué regarding the same Cabinet meeting. Does this episode reinforce or impair public trust in the governing team?

In the wake of such developments, the PM announced that a Cabinet reshuffle was due to take place and that he would be succeeded by Pravind Jugnauth (PJ) as PM. Some people in the opposition and elsewhere have argued that it was not in the government program that SAJ would be succeeded by PJ or that the electoral outcome might have been different if this had been spelt out in the program.

Now, things being what they were in the heat of the electoral campaign of 2014, anyone can speculate on the consequences of such a disclosure in the environment which then prevailed. Would a disclosure to this effect have swayed voters to vote in favour of the Navin Ramgoolam-Bérenger tandem? It is open for anyone to have his own opinion.

But the angle from which this issue would have really mattered is the fact that although the Supreme Court (SC) has lately cleared PJ of guilt in the matter of conflict of interest in the MedPoint affair on the grounds that they could not establish mens rea i.e., guilty mind, PJ is still subject to a possible ruling eventually by the Privy Council against the judgement given out by the SC. Was it correct on the part of SAJ to pronounce PJ as being fit to occupy the PM position while the Privy Council is yet to pronounce itself on the case in the event the case is taken to it by the DPP? Public opinion may feel entitled to entertain doubts about the proposed appointment from this angle.

The leader of the PMSD, a coalition partner in government, has stated that he has no objection to the PM’s decision about PJ being called upon to take up the PM position. The leader of the Muvman Liberater (ML) would also have no objection in the light of the Constitutional provision that the next person commanding a majority in the House can be called upon to assume prime ministerial responsibilities if the incumbent were thinking of relinquishing the position for reasons best known to himself.

On the one hand, the PM is courageously taking up the Chagos issue to the UN for which he has the nation’s support. On the other, the refusal by an Italian court to grant the government’s request to extradite Nandanee Soornack is casting doubt about its bona fides in taking up the case with the required competence against the former favourite.

It is the role of the opposition to raise a tumult against what it believes are government’s wrong decisions. Thus, the leader of the MMM has questioned the “moral” aspect of the decision to pass on the PM position to PJ, given that unlike the explicit statement that was made before the polls were taken in 2000 that the Prime Ministership will be shared between him and SAJ for pre-agreed terms, whereas in the present case no such explicit statement was made. Voters cannot be taken for a ride, according to this interpretation.

Similarly, the leader of the Labour Party has been gathering strength among his past followers who had repudiated him forcefully at the 2014 elections. He has used the serial gaffes involving members of the government to whip up support for himself to the point of rallying a significant crowd Sunday last in his constituency, Triolet, announcing a forceful electoral comeback. Just as he had given ample reasons for voters to vote resoundingly for L’Allians Lepep in December 2014, it is the latter’s current loose governance of public affairs that is giving him the magic potion to make a possible comeback on the political scene.

Any uncertainty increasingly clouds the future of the government against this sombre background involving the tolerance of serial misbehaviours by certain members of the government, projecting an image of a chaotic state of affairs in the management of government affairs.

This continuously weakening stance caused by internal divisions within the ranks of the government is a great disservice to the nation. Were the government meaning business, it would have acted decisively to stop disruptive forces within its ranks. It would have acted about succession to the prime ministership at the appropriate time without opening up the doors to speculation about the pros and cons of the decision. It would not have allowed a PM torn between his Minister of Good Governance and his Minister of Finance to expose a fatal flaw that the opposition is fully exploiting to resurface in popular esteem. All this ends up showing in public that the government is not in control of itself. Such a situation can be extremely damning for the government if it were to endure.

M.K.

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