Has the Presidency reached the tipping point?

What to date has been referred to as “L’affaire Sobrinho” appears to be taking henceforth a serious turn towards scaling up to become “L’affaire de Madame la Présidente” instead

It could not have happened at a worse time, not only for the government of the day but for the country as a whole and that too only a few days ahead of the 50th anniversary of our Independence. In fact, what to date has been referred to as “L’affaire Sobrinho” in the local media appears to be taking henceforth a serious turn towards scaling up to become “L’affaire de Madame la Présidente” instead.

The latest input in this saga is the information published by l’express newspaper this week. It concerns what appear to be personal expenses that would have been incurred by the President of the Republic. She would have used a credit card with a Credit Limit of Rs One million, issued in favour of Planet Earth Institute Foundation, purportedly meant for promoting the “HE Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, PEI – Bill Gates Foundation PhD Programme”. Quite obviously, it is the highest office in the land that will take the flak on any suspicion of impropriety.

Yesterday the President has stated to Le Défi Quotidien that she has nothing to reproach herself with. We would like to believe that such is indeed the case – not only for her own sake but also for the sake of the country’s image and reputation. However, social media comments and the reactions of the different opposition parties since the publication of the details relating to the bank transactions calling for her immediate resignation might ultimately prove unbearable for the President as well as for the MSM-ML government. But it may be recalled that she adamantly refused to step down last year.

That was after the “Alvaro Sobrinho” affair had been making the headlines in the wake of information published on the Net concerning investigations and cases brought against Mr Sobrinho in Portugal and Angola, and the alleged involvement of local dignitaries and politicians in his business in Mauritius. The matter had all the ingredients of a juicy scandal and there was no fake news: suspect foreign investor, involvement of the Head of State, politicians, high civil servants, banks, regulatory institutions and above all huge sums of money. The main protagonist, Mr Alvaro Sobrinho, had been in charge of the Banco Spirito Santos, a subsidiary of one of the most important banks in Portugal, which went bankrupt in Angola, causing losses to the tune of millions of dollars to its investors and depositors. Mr Sobrinho is apparently still not out of the woods insofar as these allegations are concerned.

There have also been, amongst others, allegations of false promises which would have been made by the Planet Earth Institute Foundation to ten students at the University of Mauritius to pursue doctoral studies in prestigious universities abroad. The hope of the students was belied when it turned out that finally only one student would be able to do so, the nine remaining having to settle for their course at UOM. There is also the case in relation to the alleged filing of false or misleading information in an application for “global business licences” and “investment banking licence” from the FSC, in which matter the DPP has advised prosecution.

It would be recalled that when Mrs Gurib-Fakim did not get appointed for one of the Vice-Chancellor posts, she publicly cried foul, declaring that she had been put aside because of communal reasons. And yet pro-VCs and even VCs have been appointed according to procedures laid down in the statutes of the UOM, and which were strictly followed during these high-level exercises – as indeed is the case for all appointments anyway. She decided to take the matter to the Equal Opportunity Commission which did not find enough substance in her application, but only remarked that perhaps the UOM should review some aspects of the procedures. She went on to accept the post of President of the Republic – some would suggest that that was a choice made on the basis of political clientelism.

Anyway, as she had done so, the views of several prominent personalities were sought. One of them was ex-President Cassam Uteem. He was asked in an interview he gave to Le Mauricien whether he had any advice to give to Mrs Gurib-Fakim. He replied that he felt that the latter was intelligent enough in her own right to know what to do, and therefore he did not feel that he had any advice to give her. In retrospect, perhaps he made an overestimation, and ought to have tendered some advice – in private at least – about the crucial importance of upholding the Constitution. Certain eminent jurists opined that she had not, in the specific instance of holding the post of Vice-president of the Planet Earth Institute – which, if proved to be at variance with the Presidency, would definitely sully the image of the country.

In fact pressure had been building up against the questionable association, through Planet Earth Institute (PEI), between the President of the Republic and Mr Alvaro Sobrinho. This is because the latter was suspected of involvement in dubious financial transactions. There were therefore risks that the Presidency might find itself seriously embarrassed if material evidence pertaining to any misdealing he might have been involved in were to come out in public.

The times are such that the people are no longer willing to tolerate even the slightest whiff of scandal or controversy on the part of any public official, especially those who are at the apex of their country. And it is particularly severe times for Presidents, who have had to be removed, arrested, jailed and tried. For example, Ben Ali of Tunisia was the first victim of the Arab Spring that set the revolution going in our African region, and Hosni Mubarak did not escape the wrath of his people despite over three decades of rule which had begun in glory.

Bribery charges have forced South Korean President, Ms Park Park Geun-hye, out of office; she has been arrested and jailed, facing at least ten years in prison. For that matter, even in the USA, a Democratic senator said that an impeachment of President Trump – barely months into his Presidency – was imminent! Just to show how sensitive this issue of the behaviour of high office holders, including presidents and Prime Ministers, has become for peoples across a broad swathe of jurisdictions. Although he is still in place, a large section of the American public do not hide their dismay and their shame at his continuing misbehaviours, saying that he is not the kind of guy that should be in the Presidential Office, whose image is being severely eroded as a result.

As far as our President is concerned, with this latest information about the bank transactions, the question that arises is: has the Presidency already reached the tipping point?

 

* Published in print edition on 2 March 2018

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