In a comment on the 10th edition of the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) – Africa in July 2019, Transparency International addressed the issue of corruption in Mauritius — ‘Is Mauritius at a tipping point in the fight against corruption?’ – wherein it highlights the general perception of Mauritians that it is ‘institutions and groups like parliamentarians, the police’ etc., who are seen as corrupt, ‘given recent scandals and issues with corruption, impunity and nepotism’. Further, it adds that according to the same barometer report 60% of Mauritians think that corruption is on the rise and the government is doing a bad job of tackling it.
Although the report notes that in the previous 12 months only about 5% Mauritians had to pay a bribe to access public services such as health and education, as a result of ICAC’s driving ‘systemic change that drastically reduced bribery rates in government institutions’, it says that ‘the national anti-corruption strategy (…) did not rid Mauritius of nepotism and cronyism. It is common for public sector positions to be filled through political connections rather than ability — many top public officials are relatives of ministers’. It also refers to the resignation of Justice Minister Ravi Yerrigadoo ‘in connection with money laundering’, of ‘then President Ameenah Gurib Fakim ‘after a US$27,000 spending spree’ with the credit card of an ‘NGO funded by a notorious Angolan businessman who had acquired a Mauritian investment banking licence shortly after laws had been conveniently changed to make this easier to do’. The report highlights that ‘these scandals – which were followed by resignations rather than prison sentences – may be reasons why Mauritians feel that unchecked corruption is on the rise’.
No wonder therefore that the report notes further that if ‘Mauritians benefit from some integrity in public institutions and some very effective anti-corruption strategies, but they are right to worry that corruption is rising and that those in power aren’t serious about tackling it’. On this score, the record of ICAC leaves much to be desired. Its inexplicable turnaround in the MedPoint case has thrown doubt on its will to deal with corruption, as much as the list of affairs where it is yet to be known where its inquiries stand, such as the Dufry scandal (2015); the Alvaro Sobrinho scandal (2018); the Sugar Insurance Fund Board’s highly excessive overpayment of land v/s valuation scandal (2018); the Choomka affair (2017); the Yerrigadoo/Bet 365 scandal (2018); the Glen Agliotti affair (2019), and finally the Serenity Gate/Film Rebate Scheme scandal (2019).
The actual list is too long to compile. But all these pending inquiries highlight the absence of a credible and respected investigative agency capable of handling white collar crime (financial scams and frauds, massive and complex corruption cases, money-laundering of the proceeds of drug, gambling or other illicit money sources…) independently of political proximity. We need not document here the perversion of Public Procurement procedures through various means well known it seems by marauding top echelons in major purchasing Ministries as the most recent CEB corruption scandal points to.
We need not recall either the absence of concrete results in many high-profile drug importation enquiries, nor the major cases where no inquiry has even been felt necessary (high-risk loans at the State Bank of Mauritius, or high-voltage financial losses of the national carrier) and the general absence of any prosecutions, still less sanctions, in all the aired high profile cases of white-collar crimes.
The alternative to sending a case to ICAC is the setting up of a commission of enquiry. Unfortunately terms and time-frame can be very loose and its mandate to make findings and recommendations are immediately challenged and contested by protagonists in long drawn out court battles. More often than not embarrassing Commissions are simply left to wither away or their recommendations simply set aside and no remedial actions initiated, let alone judiciary proceedings initiated or convictions made.
Will the St Louis scandal prove to be yet another pointless and an utter waste of time and resources at a time when we are desperately trying to get out of the announced EU blacklist of seriously deficient financial jurisdictions and when all funding agencies will be scrutinising our response to what appears to be a clear-cut case of massive corruption involving a “complot” at our administrative levels to thwart the public procurement process?
* Published in print edition on 16 June 2020