Independence and Constitutional Reform


 A Call for Reflection and Renewal

As Mauritius celebrates 56 years of independence, it is a fitting moment to reflect on the journey traversed since the formal adoption of its Constitution which came into force on 12 March 1968. With more than half a century of constitutional practice and case law, the time has come to assess whether the foundational principles that shaped the Constitution are still relevant or if there exists a compelling case for comprehensive constitutional reform. This introspection is crucial, especially in light of recent challenges that, if unaddressed, could pose risks to constitutional democracy, the rule of law, and good governance.

Undoubtedly, the harmony, peace, and progress witnessed in Mauritius over the past 56 years owe much to the guiding principles enshrined in its Constitution. The commitment to values such as the rule of law, a system of checks and balances, an independent and respected judiciary, freedom of association, and religious freedom has been pivotal. However, recent instances where executive powers seem to infringe upon the constitutional order raise concerns and underscore the need for a critical evaluation.

The areas in need of constitutional re-examination can be summed up as follows: The Constitution provides protection for officials operating in crucial areas like law and order and justice. However, recent incidents, such as executive interference or hesitancy in exercising powers, indicate a need for a closer look at ensuring the proper balance of powers and accountability mechanisms. Second, the conduct and organization of elections, including the compilation and updating of electoral registers, warrant attention. Delays in resolving election petitions and addressing complaints, contrarily to the Indian model, contribute to gross inefficiencies in the electoral system that need urgent rectification.

Moreover, the past years have witnessed irregularities in government procurement processes, often influenced by arbitrary decisions, a lack of transparency and abuse of Emergency procedures. The St Louis Gate scandal is but one among so many others that exposed shortcomings in the system, emphasizing the need for a robust constitutional framework to prevent corruption and ensure accountability. Despite promises, the long-awaited Freedom of Information Act has not materialized. A comprehensive framework for transparency and access to information is essential to deter abuse and foster accountability. The Constitution should provide citizens or NGOs, irrespective of their locus standi, the right to question the application of the law or unjust administrative actions. Establishing a specialized Constitutional Bench, as proposed by legal experts, would expand the scope for seeking constitutional validation before action is taken or redress after.

The challenges faced by Mauritius include attempts to undermine political opponents, free media, and social networks. The IBA and ICTA need an in-depth rethink and all CCTV operations or new NIC cards or the registration of SIM cards that may be connected to central databases should be under a single strong judicial oversight structure. The Police force, essential for impartial application of laws without fear or favour, has unfortunately not lived up to those ideals, while drug infestation has scarred many villages and towns.

The independence of institutions, such as the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Office, has been under relentless attack. We could add the processes for recruitment or appointment at key institutions such as the Bank of Mauritius, Mauritius Telecom or Air Mauritius, amongst others, need a review. These issues, combined with external assessments downgrading Mauritius’s democratic standing, necessitate urgent attention.

As Mauritius reflects on its democratic journey, the accumulated experiences highlight the need for a modernized democratic state. The call for constitutional renewal comes from various quarters – experienced observers, non-governmental organizations, legal minds, and the broader body politic. Establishing a think-tank or platform for constitutional reform, inclusive of diverse perspectives within or outside Parliament, is imperative to meet the aspirations of the population.

Mauritius stands at a crossroads, 56 years after gaining independence. The Constitution, while foundational to the nation’s success, requires careful scrutiny and adaptation to contemporary challenges. The path to constitutional renewal involves collaborative efforts, public engagement, and a commitment to upholding democratic values. Ultimately, any reform to our Constitutional framework can only come from the political establishment. The political leadership of the country owes it to the present and future generations.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 8 March 2024

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