On Tuesday last, Pravind Jugnauth, leader of the MSM, announced his party’s decision that the six MSM Ministers were resigning from the Cabinet. On official mission in Switzerland, he cut short his visit precipitously in view of a stressful situation that had been building up after the refusal of the MSM Minister Maya Hanoomanjee to step down in the wake of her arrest by the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) in the MedPoint affair. He explained in the course of a press conference on Tuesday last that this resignation en masse of all the MSM Ministers was based on their collective conviction that Maya Hanoomanjee had nothing to reproach herself in the matter and that the decision reflected their solidarity against her indictment by ICAC. He added that the MSM would nevertheless continue as a member of the Alliance de l’ Avenir, a coalition of Labour, the MSM and the PMSD, currently in power. He assured the MSM’s continuing support to the Prime Minister even as the MSM would sit in the Assembly as backbenchers. The departure was not attributed to political differences; it was triggered by the “manner of proceeding” of ICAC in the MedPoint investigation.
This coup d’éclat on the part of the MSM has given rise to a political problem in view of the fact that the MSM has been seen as a senior partner in government, having been entrusted with key ministries such as Finance, Social Security, Tourism, Health, the Civil Service and Industry. The government thus stands fragilized barely 14 months after it was elected to power.
The Prime Minister has been away on official mission and is expected back in the week end. It is in his absence that this drama has unfolded. It is clear that things must be sorted out at the earliest between the two coalition partners for serenity to resume at Government House. With an unclear international economic situation prevailing, the time is not appropriate to sort out housekeeping matters between the partners in alliance. There are bigger priorities for the country.
The question then arises as to how the matter could be sorted out without endangering social stability. If the grievance of the MSM is that ICAC would be misdirecting its investigation, MSM is free to think whatever it wants but the investigation should not allow itself to be influenced by anything apart from the facts it has gathered so far. ICAC will fail in its duty if it did not pursue the leads it has gathered so far to their logical conclusion(s). An objective investigator is not deterred by the likely political fallouts of its findings; its sole mission is to uncover the truth and present it to the DPP and through him to the court for trial. It would be utterly inappropriate for any third party, including politicians, to interfere with its work even if that meant it were to indict important political figures. Having been trained as a lawyer and respectful of the independence of institutions, the Prime Minister cannot be expected to tell ICAC what it should do. Any intervention would compound the problem as that would be tantamount to influence peddling in a matter that is already taking too long to sort out. We rule out therefore any political intervention with ICAC that might have helped the MSM Ministers to come back on their decision to resign.
In the normal course of things, accusations levelled against persons by investigators can be quashed in courts if they are insubstantial. We have seen various examples of that happening and we should trust our courts to do their part in the event frivolous accusations have been laid down. ICAC would therefore be well advised to cast its evidence in stone in order to keep up its credibility. If following this route meant that more than one high-flyer in the MSM were to be caught up in ICAC’s net, there should be no hesitation to pin down the person(s) concerned. It is immaterial to ICAC as to what would be the political fallouts of its investigation. Its main job is to get the question raised by Paul Bérenger as to who gave the instruction for the second valuation of the MedPoint property such a short time after the first valuation had been carried out, and why so, answered through supporting evidence. We know that there was no earth-shaking change in land prices or any massive price-uplifting developments in the area during that short interval to justify increasing the price of the property in question by two-thirds between the original and second estimated prices.
It is therefore out of the question that anybody should interfere with the normal working of institutions. In that case, the political rift following the MSM Ministers’ decision to resign will need to be addressed on its own merits and in the appropriate forum, namely at the political level. The PM cannot give any immunity to the MSM against the work of the investigating agent. With ICAC pursuing its action, there is the risk that it may find more leads into the MSM. If that is so, the nuisance value of the MSM to any potential ally can only increase and that includes the present government minus the MSM. In such a case, it may not be necessary to cajole the MSM Ministers into reviewing their decision. It is true that the government majority will be sharply reduced to a couple of votes at best if the MMM stayed put in opposition and the MSM failed to give its support in toto to the government. But the government, even with a reduced simple majority, will survive under this scenario. It may come under pressures exerted from within the fold by persons seeking to bargain their votes but it may also be able to attract support from across party lines. The situation will require manoeuvring carefully to get bills passed.
One would not like to live under stressful conditions where there would be much uncertainty regarding the government’s ability to drive its agenda forcefully under the circumstances. One should be reminded however that such a situation would not be of the making of the government either. It is the price to pay to allow institutions to do their work independently. No doubt, this situation will prompt private sector lobbies to gain ascendancy in determining the profile and policies of government by promoting specific coalitions to rule the country. We have to reckon however that such an unsettling situation could not have been ruled out altogether in an era of coalition politics. All that the present situation demands is that things be put back in place without compromising the agenda on which the government was elected. It is going to be hard but not impossible.
* Published in print edition on 29 July 2011