Signs of political fracture


The MMM seems to be moving towards reaping the fruits of its political perseverance. It may be recalled that this party and its friends in the media tried their utmost to form a Labour-MMM alliance for the last general elections. They came so close to their goal that it started being said that they were prepared to concede only one ticket to the leader of the PMSD, Xavier-Luc Duval, provided the Labour-MMM alliance were to exclude the MSM altogether. Rashid Beebeejaun, for one, would have been unhappy with such an alliance as his role in the government would have been drastically diminished if this alliance had seen the light of the day. Finally, Labour decided to go along with the MSM and the PMSD. This decision represented a bitter frustration for the MMM which had believed all the way that its alliance with Labour was already in the bag.

It will be one year in May this year since the Labour-MSM-PMSD government is in power. We had, early this year, the breakout of the Med Point affair in the context of the proposed centralised geriatric hospital. The MMM, smelling a scandal no doubt, raised a hue and cry about it, suggesting that the acquisition was probably made to measure for this hospital, that members of the government (notably MSM members) may have been in a situation of conflicting duties in the decision taken, that recourse was had to a second evaluation of the property the effect of which was to swell up its price and that the deal was struck in the last days of December with a view to avoid payment of a wealth appreciation tax which became effective January 1st 2011. The MMM’s efforts in this chapter were not in vain. Certain members of Labour openly expressed their dissatisfaction that there might be grey areas which needed to be sorted out. This is the responsibility that has been cast upon ICAC, which has proceeded so far to arrest two Civil Servants in the course of its investigation. Speculation is rife, especially in the Opposition camp, about higher prizes ICAC may go for on this trail, notably regarding the very source of the gratification for which the Civil Servants were put under arrest.

It may be said that the MMM has many arrows in its sling. It focussed for some time on the facilities granted under the Stimulus Package to Infinity BPO, but just for some time. Its real aim was to unsettle the presence of the MSM in the government. It tried to aim at the Neotown concession given by the government to some Indian developers; however, its protests didn’t have the extensive outreach they have had in the Med Point case. It has probably deliberately chosen not to press the matter too far as it did also regarding the Jin Fei concession, being either short of arguments after the comprehensive details laid by the Minister of Housing and Lands on the table of the Assembly or preferring not to take undue geopolitical risks. It however sought to extract its pound of political dividend from Labour backbencher Nita Deerpalsing’s parliamentary question at the last sitting of the National Assembly about the involvement of an MSM adviser from the Ministry of Finance, a former MSM deputy in Parliament, towards freezing a real time online system being developed by the Gambling Regulatory Authority (GRA). The system is intended to help government keep an eye on the activities of bookmakers and ensure that all revenues are duly collected.

In the absence of the substantive Minister of Finance, who is on overseas mission, it fell upon Vasant Bunwaree acting as Minister of Finance to confirm that the project had indeed been stopped and that it had been decided “to commission a study for an integrated system to link all gaming and betting transactions on licensed gaming machines, totalisators, bookmakers and lottery operators to one Central Electronic Monitoring System”. This answer did not appear to convince the Labour backbencher. It did not convince the MMM either, which gave her several rounds of applause at her persistent questioning of the decision taken at the level of the Ministry of Finance, which has an MSM as the incumbent Minister, to freeze the project. Suspicions were in the air again as to whether the bookmakers had successfully lobbied the Ministry of Finance to get the implementation of the project out of their way. During the same sitting of the Assembly and in the course of questions on the stoppage of this very project, it was enough for MSM Minister Shawkatally Soodhun to qualify MMM Deputy Rajesh Bhagwan as being ‘womanish’ for Labour backbencher Ms Nita Deerpalsing and Labour Minister Ms Sheila Bappoo, taking a cue from MMM Deputy Ms Labelle, to condemn him for his sexist attitude. The Minister Soodhun had to retract.

In this manner, its own persistent deliberate action as well as windfall gains from Labour members’ interventions, are helping the MMM demonstrate that a rift may be in the making between Labour and its MSM ally in government. By the same token, the MMM is recuperating some of its lost credibility vis-à-vis its traditional core voters by proving that it may still be having some teeth to tackle local problems. That should help towards getting a good crowd for the Mayday rally and building up its bargaining power were it to join in some political alliance. It may be noted that so far the MMM leader has been soft on Labour, keeping open the chance of an alliance with it if the MSM were to be dropped out. In contrast, all the efforts of the MMM have been towards establishing that there could be a culture of self-gratification in the MSM. The MMM’s campaign was strong enough during the last vacations of Parliament to force the MSM’s leader to go out on a campaign of explanation to voters, trying to refute the allegations being made by the MMM, notably regarding the Med Point affair.

This situation has created a climate of tension in the public. It has given rise to suspicion that there might be a clash of political cultures between Labour and the MSM. While it is true that an investigation is on in the Med Point matter, people are not really getting answers as to the solidity of the governmental alliance in view of the inroads the MMM has been making therein. While it is true that coalitions do not have a track record of stability in Mauritius, it is too early perhaps for the public to have to put up with so many uncertainties in less than one year of the present coalition. The best thing in the circumstances is no doubt to remove the problem at once for it interferes with the serenity with which the country should be governed. Meantime, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the population to live with the feeling that yet another political fracture may be in the making.

* Published in print edition on 15 April 2011

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