It began with the MedPoint affair. The Leader of the Opposition fragilized the government by unceasingly targeting the MSM in the government at that time.
Speculation was rife whether the MSM had not actually stage-managed the deal in order to get government to buy up this hospital at the highest possible price, in view of the fact that this property formed part of the family domain. This was the impression being created at first by the Leader of the Opposition.
With ICAC’s investigation proceeding in the matter, the MSM was sufficiently shaken to decide to break itself apart from the government. This was the first fruit the MMM reaped from its dogged pursuit of the MedPoint deal. It successfully broke the unity of the government, reduced its majority in the House and presented itself in such a position of force as to make both the MSM and Labour willing to set everything aside to discuss the issue of electoral reform separately with it.
This divided house was the ideal platform on which to shine to each one of the two previous partners in government the prospect of an alliance with it provided the MMM walked away with a prize it has been coveting since long. The prize consists of redefining the electoral system so that the MMM alone could in future determine the shape of governments to be. The talks have however been inconclusive so far and the Labour leader finally decided that it is he who will call the shots henceforth instead of the MMM leader. The matter is resting there for now and the Labour leader is in no hurry to precipitate the agenda.
But the Opposition Leader has other arrows in his sling. The MMM was already actively attacking the government for alleged acts of corruption before. However after the break-up of the government, it shifted its attack on the MedPoint affair from the MSM to the government. The Leader of the Opposition is due to appear before police investigators for having alleged that the Prime Minister would himself have triggered the second evaluation of the MedPoint hospital.
He was looking forward to unifying his fold around him on the back of his possible arrest by the police in the context of this investigation. This has not materialised yet. But, clearly, with the MSM not being in government anymore and the PMSD being a political lightweight anyway, it is Labour that has become the target of the next series of the MMM leader’s attacks. Should he convince his supporters on the way that the MMM’s next best bet is an alliance with the MSM, he would, by virtue of weakening Labour through this process, strengthen the MSM against Labour and gain thereby. This should explain why Labour is now bearing the brunt of his attacks.
Just like the MSM is left with no choice but to prepare for itself an alliance with another party having a significant hard core of support, the MMM knows that it cannot make it at the polls singly under the existing voting system. This has been demonstrated time and again. With no favourable electoral reform in view, the second best solution for it would be to seek an alliance with either Labour or the MSM. In the elections of 2010, it had clearly shown a preference for an alliance with Labour to the exclusion of the MSM and others. Even after the recent break-up of the government, the real mission behind the MMM leader’s meetings with the Labour leader was to craft out an alliance with Labour if possible. The zeal with which he was proceeding however on the issue of electoral reform, as if it had been bagged already, was too much for the Labour leader. Paul Bérenger appeared to be acting as calife à la place du calife.
Now that the prospect of an alliance with Labour has become more remote than before, the MMM leader has been organising a battery of assaults on corruption charges against the government. He has been making serious efforts to get Minister Jeetah who was Minister of Health at the time the bidding process for the national geriatric hospital was launched, that is, before the last general election, implicated in the said tailor-made bid proposal for the MedPoint hospital. If this were to succeed, the MSM would be offloaded from the affair and the entire responsibility for the misfired MedPoint deal would fall squarely on the shoulders of the government. Adding fuel to the fire, the MSM has been claiming recently that while it had been opposing the acquisition of MedPoint while in government, it was the others who were insistent on going forward with it. By the same token, the MSM would thus come clean out of it.
The MMM leader has announced that he proposes to roll out a series of other scandals in which the government is concerned, such a Neotown, land deals with Rose Belle Sugar Estate and others, appointments of related parties in Local Government Services Commission, allocation of public contracts, etc. He has suggested that he has a lot of them rolled up on his sleeves and will disclose them in succession. The public relishes plates like this and he must be placing all his bets on it.
There may or may not be much substance in the allegations he would make accordingly. However, we have seen how much damage the MedPoint affair has done: it has broken up the government for one and cast doubt on the seriousness with which acquisitions are proceeded with in the public sector. The real mess is when, instead of attending to its principal business, which is to govern, the government were to be distracted by things like this in serial acts of fire fighting. Such accusations also have the knack of getting the public entangled in a debate that casts doubt on the integrity of the public sector. They undermine the basic element of trust on which public life is based even if the accusations are not eventually proved. Some of the muck raised clings on to the skin despite all the washing done. If you add to this the accompanying doubt cast on the integrity of institutions which cannot accomplish their mission when deprived of a publicly held conviction about their inalienable independence, the harm done goes even further.
By dint of hard work, Mauritius has been able to build for itself a good international standing and repute for being a basically rule-of-law jurisdiction. The current crop of politicians has contributed partly to the construction of this edifice. Some of their illustrious predecessors have stuck to the rules to get us off the ground instead of being confounded with other run-of-the-mill states and thus contributed the bigger part of this goodwill. There is every reason to preserve this unspoilt image of the country and this is achieved by everyone sticking to the rules. Unless the government were to go on signalling that it will not compromise on values such as these, even if people close to it were indicted, there will be adverse readings of the situation. The government should show its will not to bend any rules, no matter the temporary adversity it will be faced with.
For all intents and purposes, the MMM opposition has begun a work of demolition as it did not get what it wanted under duress from a government whose majority was abruptly thinned down. It seems to be leaning for this on creating disaffection across the board as it was able to create in the late 1970s to win by 60-0 in 1982. The prevailing weak international economic condition also appears to be conspiring not to increase the popularity of the government by the adoption of sleek population-pleasing budget policies. However, much water has flown under the bridge since those days. Governments, however thin their majority, have stronger institutions to back them up in their honest endeavours these days. They should therefore stick to their work, honestly, no matter the ferocity of the storms being raised. Those storms do not add to GDP. They detract from it. More than ever before, the emphasis should therefore be on the continuing to have a long term vision rather than getting lost into explanations about reproaches made on past conduct.
* Published in print edition on 9 September 2011