ICAC inquiry: “Will we be surprised when the mountain brings forth a mouse? I won’t…”

Interview: Kugan Parapen, Resistans ek Alternativ

‘Many of the MMM stalwarts think that they own the party…

a true political party can only be owned by the values and principles for which it stands…”

Kugan Parapen, economist and currently Fund Manager at AXYS group and who was fielded as a candidate in the December by-election in No. 18 constituency, expresses his surprise, in this week’s interview, that ICAC was assigned the task of investigating the Sobrinho-Gurib Fakim saga while it had been sitting ducks since the affair broke out nearly one year ago, and feels that the Commission of Enquiry set up in parallel will yield a mouse and not a mountain. He argues for true Constitutional and electoral reforms, and is of the opinion that we have inherited some lacunae in the model of Constitution that we have based on the British system of separation of powers, which is in fact not a true one. He makes interesting arguments that need serious consideration, in particular the idea that there ought to be a mechanism that allows the electorate to do away with defaulting MPs earlier than the 5-year cycle. Read on…

 

Mauritius Times: Things are moving fast, much too fast, it would seem, for the protagonists themselves to understand what’s happening all of a sudden to them – given the ICAC’s celerity, these last few days to go to the bottom of the Alvaro Sobrinho saga. It has required only a letter forwarded to ICAC by the Prime Minister for the Commission to switch on the fast-forward mode. Rather surprising, isn’t it?

Kugan Parapen: Mauritian institutions can function very efficiently when they want to or when they need to. I think right now we are in a phase where they need to.

The Sobrinho Saga has been out since the early months of 2017 and it is only now that the ICAC has deemed it necessary to initiate an investigation around that dubious individual and his activities in Mauritius. I think it is obvious that this investigation has been ushered through by the Prime Minister for lack of a better option. Following Ameenah Gurib-Fakim’s decision to set up a Commission of Inquiry around the Sobrinho affair, Pravind Jugnauth, from a political perspective, felt compelled to act.

Politics is not always about intentions, sometimes perception is all that matters. Although unconstitutional, the proposed Commission of Inquiry from the former President upped the ante from an accountability perspective and had to be matched by the opposing camp while also not putting too much at stake. That is why we are being served an ICAC inquiry and not a full-fledged Commission of Inquiry. Will we be surprised when the mountain brings forth a mouse? I won’t.

* Speaking of protagonists, those who have suddenly found themselves in the limelight, courtesy of the private and official media, we have so far seen what could qualify as the dispensable ones. There is no indication yet as to whether those who looked into the eyes of Mr Sobrinho and the latter’s ‘facilitators’ would be called in for questioning. Do you expect that to happen any time soon?

I know for a fact that local fishermen catch the small fish species first to use as bait for the bigger ones. May be our seasoned politicians use the same technique too.

Pravind Jugnauth, despite being the leader of the largest party of the Alliance Lepep was presented as a mere minister at the onset in 2014. What followed has been an intriguing political version of ‘Snake and Ladder’ whereby he first got bitten by the judiciary in the MedPoint case before finding a fireman’s ladder to land at the Ministry of Finance, conveniently vacated, I must say, by Lutchmeenaraidoo. Threatened to be bitten by Bhadain, he climbed just a few echelons this time to get through the ‘imposte’ and wrestle the prime ministership away from daddy.

Could it be that, as his clan contemplates another political season of Snake and Ladder, his current ally becomes a drag so heavy to carry that it must be sacrificed? A convocation of ‘les yeux dans les yeux’ would certainly point towards that hypothesis.

* What does the Alvaro Sobrinho Saga – and the earlier BAI mess, the mopping up of which has cost the public exchequer billions of rupees, inform you about the credibility of the institutions whose mandate it is to regulate and supervise the financial and global business sectors?

I feel a great deal of pain and sadness for the competent staff of these institutions and also for those of all the other public bodies who have to endure gross incompetence and major subordination – imposed by political nominees who themselves have been parachuted mostly haphazardly by ruling parties as rewards for the nominees’ self-interested respective support during electoral campaigns.

Why is it that the last port of recall for the judiciary is the UK-based Privy Council? Doesn’t such a state cast serious doubts on the ability of Mauritian institutions to be fully credible, irrespective of the field? In our quest towards full independence and full credibility, it is utterly important to dissect our governance evils to the root causes and address them in a pragmatic and comprehensive manner.

With respect to the financial sector, I am going to use a sport analogy here. Can a referee who has never issued any yellow or red cards ever be taken seriously, especially when we know that in the name of the game, numerous fouls are committed?

We need grand organisational reforms on the regulatory side but with the current bunch in Parliament, we had better arm ourselves with patience. We need to open our eyes to the dim reality that we will never ever solve our problems with the same political class that has been instrumental in creating them.

* There is also the suspicion that the real villain in these plots – which is not necessarily true in all cases – is the long arm of political and allegedly even presidential interference in the functioning of so many institutions in the financial sector and elsewhere. Is the power of politics so overwhelming as to reduce to submission or passivity any resistance from public officials?

We have a serious and systemic deficiency in our democracy with the blatant absence of a STRICT separation of power principle. The concentration of power in the hands of the Prime Minister is absurd. Considering the premise that only a Prime Minister can move for a Commission of Inquiry, does that suggest that the said Prime Minister is immune from a Commission of Inquiry on his person? Given that one of the elementary rules of democracy is that none is above the law, can’t we argue that we are here in the presence of a failed version of democracy?

The tentacles of absolute power are so powerful and intimidating that yes, it is overwhelming in many, if not most situations. It may be worthwhile pondering upon the separation of powers which emanates from American constitutionalists who, under the influence of the writings of philosopher Montesquieu, devised a system with a STRICT separation of the powers among the judiciary, the legislative and the executive. This is associated with a system of check and balances. The United States, unlike Mauritius and most other colonies of the British Empire, fought for their independence from Great Britain and upon the declaration of independence, aimed at creating a Constitution which would be an improved version of the British Constitution and the separation of powers principle was one which they paid a lot of attention to. Donald Trump, like all former Presidents of the United States, can be subject to an American version of a Commission of Inquiry. Is it the same case for Pravind Jugnauth, or for former Prime Ministers of Mauritius when they held office?

I would like to share with the readers the following piece from Wikipedia which I think gives an excellent account of the constitutional deficiencies which we inherited from our colonial predecessor on the principle of separation of powers and which was unfortunately not picked up by the crafters of our Constitution.

“Strict separation of powers did not operate in the United Kingdom, the political structure of which served in most instances as a model for the government created by the U.S. Constitution. Under the UK Westminster system, based on parliamentary sovereignty and responsible government, Parliament (consisting of the Sovereign (King-in-Parliament), House of Lords and House of Commons) was the supreme lawmaking authority. The executive branch acted in the name of the King (“His Majesty’s Government”), as did the judiciary. The King’s Ministers were in most cases members of one of the two Houses of Parliament, and the Government needed to sustain the support of a majority in the House of Commons. One minister, the Lord Chancellor, was at the same time the sole judge in the Court of Chancery and the presiding officer in the House of Lords. Therefore, it may be seen that the three branches of British government often violated the strict principle of separation of powers, even though there were many occasions when the different branches of the government disagreed with each other.”

There is ample evidence that our Constitution is flawed and that is why Rezistans ek Alternativ has been asking and campaigning on the theme of the necessity of a new Republic whereby such Constitutional shortcomings as the absence of a STRICT separation of powers model can be addressed.


“Pravind Jugnauth, despite being the leader of the largest party of the Alliance Lepep was presented as a mere minister at the onset in 2014. What followed has been an intriguing political version of ‘Snake and Ladder’ whereby he first got bitten by the judiciary in the MedPoint case before finding a fireman’s ladder to land at the Ministry of Finance, conveniently vacated, I must say, by Lutchmeenaraidoo. Threatened to be bitten by Bhadain, he climbed just a few echelons this time to get through the ‘imposte’ and wrestle the prime ministership away from daddy…”


* Like Alvaro Sobrinho’s ASA (Alvaro Sobrinho Africa Ltd), Jean Claude Bastos’ Quantum Global is now hogging the headlines, but these could be but the tip of the iceberg in the waters of the global business sector. Aren’t we being hypocritical about what really takes place in this locally – just like everywhere else – but we have chosen to look the other way and thus not shoot ourselves in the foot?

It depends on what you term as ‘we’. I have, from day one, been one of the fiercest critics of the offshore sector. The same can be said for Rezistans ek Alternativ. I remember an article I wrote back in 2010 criticising the economic direction Mauritius was embarking upon, under the impulse of Sithanen. Nothing good will come out of this over reliance on the offshore sector for the population of Mauritius.

Some here think that we are pioneers in that field. Wake up people! Offshore countries, especially islands have existed for so many years. Liberia, Panama, Cayman Islands, Trinidad & Tobago, Bahamas, Jersey… Offshore jurisdictions are the creation of the worst kind of capitalism – the one where greed and social irresponsibility utterly dominate.

Can’t we see what is happening around us? A full blown gentrification process… The cost of living is getting higher and higher as the offshore lobbying shifts the burden of taxes from corporates and rich individuals to the most vulnerable section of the population. Added to that, there is a growing housing crisis as the price of property skyrockets with promoters focusing on supplying premium villas to foreigners and ignore the demand of young Mauritians for a place to live.

Last but not least, our public properties are being requisitioned by the state ‘in the name of development’ to satisfy the unquenchable thirst of capitalists for increasing profitability. Our public beaches are vanishing to make way for hotels, Integrated Resort Scheme (IRS), the Real Estate Scheme (RES) and Property Development Scheme (PDS) and so on. As the welfare of the average Mauritian diminishes and the youth chooses exodus for lack of a better option, can we say that we are not shooting ourselves in the foot? To me, we are shooting ourselves in the head…

* On the political front, the MMM leader has again raised the question of electoral reform, in particular proportional representation. Politicians, however, will always be suspect when it comes to electoral reform given their interest in its outcome. Do you expect the MSM of Pravind Jugnauth to go along with Paul Bérenger’s proposals just for the sake of an electoral alliance?

Our political leaders are ready to do and say anything as long as they think this will boost their chances of getting elected. The refusal of the electorate to make them pay a political price for recurrent betrayals incites them to start all over again as we approach general elections.

An MSM-MMM alliance is always a possibility if history is any guide but surely the MMM would be hesitant to go into alliance with an unpopular departing governing party right? Have they forgotten 2014? Pre-electoral alliances are finding it harder and harder to gain popular traction and this, to me, suggests that the era of post-electoral alliances could be around the corner as the political offering increases and diversifies.

I am surely not the only one noticing that the combined score of the Labour Party, MMM and PMSD at the last by-election in Constituency 18 was a mere 55%, when nearly one elector out of two did not turn up. I would be worried if I was one of those traditional parties.


“An MSM-MMM alliance is always a possibility if history is any guide but surely the MMM would be hesitant to go into alliance with an unpopular departing governing party right? Have they forgotten 2014? Pre-electoral alliances are finding it harder and harder to gain popular traction and this, to me, suggests that the era of post-electoral alliances could be around the corner as the political offering increases and diversifies…”


* The question of electoral reform should go beyond the merits or demerits of the Best Loser system and the mandatory requirement for candidates to declare their community. There are also the issues of political financing, unequal constituency size, etc. How do we reach consensus on these matters?

A comprehensive electoral reform is one of the game changers Mauritius badly needs and it is no coincidence that political parties have been relentlessly talking of the need for electoral reforms since the 1980s without a proper bill ever presented in the National Assembly. I mean, how hard can it be to present a draft of an electoral reform law and present it to Parliament?

We are not talking about getting a bill passed here, just about having it discussed and voted in Parliament, with all represented parties assuming their responsibility. Post 1982, on at least four occasions, governing alliances have enjoyed a three-quarters majority in the House and still no electoral reform has been enacted.

Over that time, the only progress has emanated from the UN Human Rights Committee in the wake of Rezistans ek Alternativ’s complaint regarding the compulsory declaration of one’s ethnic belonging when standing as candidate for the purpose of general elections. Even that has resulted in only a temporary Constitutional amendment being adopted and, as things stand, members of Rezistans ek Alternativ are not, at this moment in time, eligible to stand as candidates should general elections be held tomorrow.

Rezistans ek Alternativ is serious about reforming the Mauritian political system, can the same be said about the traditional political parties? Progress is a function of both willingness and ability! Traditional parties have historically had the ability to enact change but have lacked the willingness. Rezistans ek Alternativ so far has the political willingness but not yet the full-fledged ability to bring change. Let’s see how these progress…

* On another note, there is the ‘congé politique’ taken by the deputy leader of the MMM Pradeep Jeeha. It has been a long time in the making, but it has finally happened: the ‘courant conservateur’ inside the MMM (Steven Obeegadoo dixit) has won the day, it would seem, and the party will keep pulling along and stay the course. What are your feelings about what’s happening in the MMM?

Where do I start? It’s a real pity to see a party which used to incarnate so much hope for change and progress on its knees and weakening further. The way it’s going, there is no end in sight but we can say that the writing has been on the wall for quite some time though.

Political parties are dynamic institutions and refusing to see them as such can only produce what we are witnessing now. Imagine a successful football team where the oldest players refused to retire and vowed to keep on playing well into their forties. Can you imagine the psychological impact on the rest of the players?

Many of the MMM stalwarts think that they own the party and I believe this to be the root cause of most of the problems they face. A true political party cannot be the property of any individual. It can only be owned by the values and principles for which it stands.

Truth be told, the MMM’s problems have been compounded by their losing streak which most likely reinforced the willingness of the old guard to stay on and attempt one more time to leave their ‘footprint’ in history books. In the meantime, the youth seems to have deserted the party and that is not a very good sign. Only boldness can get them back on the right side of history I believe.

* Mauritius celebrated its 50th independence anniversary a few weeks back. There is a view that our Constitution needs to be updated to reflect modern trends in different areas which affect Mauritian citizens. Would it be also necessary to provide for a constitutional right and instrument that would enable concerned or aggrieved citizens to challenge a government bent on passing a law or implementing an administrative decision in its favour – which it has not obtained by prior popular mandate?

One of the main measures which will feature in Rezistans ek Alternativ’s manifesto for the next general elections will be the Right to Recall Act. Representative democracy in Mauritius and in most other places around the world has failed the people. The full surrender of democratic rights to mostly unscrupulous representatives (MPs) between two elections is like giving a blank cheque to a robber.

As previously mentioned, the British democratic system which we inherited is based on the principle of ‘responsible government’ which unfortunately has not been replicated in post-independence Mauritius. The small size of the population and its obsequiousness combined with the painful legacies of colonialism have played a big role in that being the case.

We cannot hand over the custody of our house to supposed guardians every five years without having the ability to claim it back before these five years if we wish to. The said guardians need to have a sword of Damocles hanging over their head at all times. Rezistans ek Alternativ is proposing that that sword of Damocles to be the citizens’ ability to recall and invalidate the representative abilities of elected public officials at all times between two general elections.

For example, an MP for a particular constituency could face invalidation of his election should enough electors of his/her constituency petition to have him removed. This is participative democracy at work and is already a feature in many countries around the world including the likes of the United States, Switzerland and Peru.

 


* Published in print edition on 13 April 2018

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