“We are not as yet ready to function as one nation”

Interview: Dr Satish Boolell

“Our ultimate aim is to have a classless society where it is meritocracy and not ethnicity which would determine elections. We still have a long way to go”

“The question of a Labour Party-MMM alliance does not arise”

What is fascinating however is the number of brokers and courtiers with dubious vested interests who seem extremely keen on deciding the MMM’s future”

* “The Michaela Harte case is the perfect example of the shortcomings in police investigation”

Dr Satish Boolell, former Police Forensic Pathologist, presently MMM MP, comments in this week’s interview the MMM-MSM remake, the Best Loser System and the law and order situation prevailing in the country. Read on:

Mauritius Times: It looks like there’s still a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the MMM-MSM’s Remake 2000 – what with one of the leaders saying from time to time that the alliance is still on, and the other lately introducing an “if ever it’s no more on” proviso in the bargain. Teething problems… at this age?

Dr Satish Boolell: We are resolutely on course in our vision of the MSM-MMM remake 2000 and we stay intensely focused towards achieving success at the polls now or anytime between now and 2015.Our goals and associated actions have all the hallmarks of a potent cleansing political weapon, targeting all those who consider this country, its assets and its institutions to be their personal property, to be disposed of according to their whims and fancies.

It is evident that the remake 2000 renders nervous those in power, namely the Prime Minister and his courtiers. They have a lot to answer for.

* Should we then understand that you are quite happy with the MMM-MSM ‘still-on’ arrangement, which looks like a better proposition any day than the elusive deal with Navin Ramgoolam’s Labour Party?

I did not join politics to speculate on elusive deals or arrangements. At party level our priorities remain in line with what the MMM mission statement has always been, a zero tolerance towards corruption and a spirit of meritocracy for one and all, consolidating the rule of law and order and promoting national unity. We are not prepared to compromise on these ideals under any circumstances. On a personal note, my profession has taught me that all men are born equal and die equal and I try to live by this credo alongside my commitment to the Hippocratic oath.

* But it did appear that the deal with the Labour Party would have placed Paul Bérenger in the Prime Minister’s seat and allowed for a more representative parliamentary presence thanks to the introduction of PR, isn’t it…

The action of the MMM is not geared towards achieving any added personal satisfaction or gratification for its membership. I have never witnessed Paul Bérenger prioritize the Prime Ministership as his ultimate ambition. He has nothing to prove to anyone whether in terms of competence, honesty of purpose or political acumen.

* It’s not always the case, but there are instances when what’s good for the Leader may not be so for the Party. Would you consider a Labour Party-MMM alliance in that light?

The question of a Labour Party-MMM alliance does not arise. What is fascinating however is the number of brokers and courtiers with dubious vested interests who seem extremely keen on deciding the MMM’s future, allegedly in the country’s superior interests!! They are the same ones who will however undermine electoral reforms upon which practically everyone agreed.

* When Sir Anerood introduces that “if ever…” proviso in the bargain, it may mean he is shopping elsewhere. Or, more likely it may be that he suspects Paul Bérenger to be still shopping around. What do you think?

This is not a time for speculation or semantic interpretation of remarks. The population has had enough of political tractations. Our priorities consist of consolidating our actions at grassroots level while providing the population through our actions in Parliament with a platform to ensure transparency and accountability. Our society has been made fragile through the rash actions and words of some. Social justice has to be a priority. Otherwise the price to pay for our shortcomings might be too high. Frustration is permeating both the public and private sectors. The rule of law is giving way far too often to unlawful actions and incendiary words by some socio-cultural groups. The Leader Maximo speaks of national unity at all religious functions and of the laicity of our society with even his party’s spokesperson being quite voluble on this issue and he proceeds to do exactly the opposite on parastatal nominations!

Our health service is imploding though poor management. It is management by crisis in some units and management by begging in others! While unemployment is rife among doctors with some working in call centres, we are still opening medical schools regardless of quality assurance. A private dental school closes down and reopens without any recognition by the Dental Council. We pride ourselves in a free health service which will eventually burst as we have no long-term action plan to optimize resources and to maintain quality. With regret I invite your readers to visit the Cancer Unit and to take stock of the unutilized spinal and neurosurgical units in the new block at Victoria Hospital . There is no neurosurgical ward with the patients disseminated across the hospital.

Municipal elections are long overdue with illegitimate councillors still in post. Meanwhile the Councillors and the Mayors are still travelling on foreign missions with generous per diems.

No action has been taken against those responsible for the hedging sagas at Air Mauritius and State Trading Corporation. The population has been anaesthetized by the number of scandals coming to light everyday and the jumble sale of public property goes on. We are yet to find out the eventual destination of the 350 acres of the Rose Belle Sugar Estate. Whichever way you look at it, there is almost no transparency in government action with an ensuing frustration at all levels.

Our educational system specially at tertiary level is a source of controversy with the unjustified opening of campuses in the name of democratisation of education. One graduate per family will soon be one unemployed graduate per family. It is high time for a radical change in this country. We deserve a better government and the sooner the better!

* If Paul Bérenger is indeed still shopping around, this may suggest that he does not consider his present ally to be entirely dependable, what with Pratibha Bholah having crossed the floor and more defections likely to be in the pipeline…

The MMM leadership certainly does not consider the lady MP’s crossover as a major political milestone. Her statements post crossover are quite explicit concerning the principles of victimisation as practised by government, pecially in the case of the lady’s agents who had been transferred for having the wrong political allegiance.

* Ok. Tell us about the decision-making process that produces the “remake” or unmake choices for the Party? Are you comfortable with that process, if any?

No decision-making process that produces remakes or unmakes can be perfect. And this applies to every political party. I am comfortable with the MMM mechanism all the more so as we do not condone or tolerate occult sociocultural pressure. There is however a harsh social reality that we have to live with during the decision process but we do not succumb to obscurantism pressure.

* Do you mean to say that there is enough freedom to go around within the Party which allows for free thinkers (like yourself and Kee Chong Li Kwong Wing, and Suren Bissoondoyal, etc.,) to weigh upon the political choices of the MMM – even if that were to run counter to the leader’s views and preferences?

Of course there is enough freedom for free thinkers in the MMM. Kee Cheong Li Kwong Wing and I are issued from the same crop at Royal College Port Louis where Suren Bissoondoyal was a teacher. Sincerely if our freedom of speech were restricted, would I be giving an interview here, in this paper where most of your contributors in recent times have had a go at the MMM leadership? I am yet to have my speeches in Parliament vetted by the party leadership. It no doubt results from having the same vision of the country. I also wish to point out that I do not have to make constant references to my leader during my speeches unlike the Labour Party benches!

* What’s your feelings about the MMM’s insistence to have the Best Loser System maintained in our electoral set-up? Do the free thinkers in the MMM support that position?

Our ultimate aim is to have a classless society where it is meritocracy and not ethnicity which would determine elections. We still have a long way to go. With electoral reforms we would have gone a long way towards reassuring all vulnerable and underrepresented groups. Maintaining part of the best loser system would be a safeguard until such time it would become obsolete. As a free thinker I find nothing wrong with that.

* Isn’t Navin Ramgoolam right to argue that we cannot go on seeking protection in separate belongings by special clauses in our electoral laws?

This country does not belong last time I looked, to Navin Ramgoolam. If special clauses were introduced in our electoral laws, there must have been a valid reason. With time the ethnic boundaries would have become irrelevant. However some sociocultural organisations would never give national unity a chance. The self proclaimed leaders of some groups which I once qualified as PONGOs (politically oriented NGOs) would sometimes even have recourse to the Almighty to do so. We have religious wars the world over. Our society is fragile. We must absolutely tread with care.

* In other words, you are saying that we are bound to go our separate ways to ensure peaceful coexistence, isn’t it?

We are not as yet ready to function as one nation. This government would not allow us to do so as it has won power on the basis of a communal campaign against Bérenger. So why should they change their attitude and promote ethnic equality or electoral reforms? On a personal note, I had been actively involved professionally during the last riots and living in Port Louis in 1967, I was a privileged witness of the racial violence and of the subsequent British Army’s curfew. Never again!!

* To come back to the defection of Pratibha Bholah – and earlier of Mireille Martin. Tell us what you think about an MP’s primary loyalty – should it be to the party or to his/her electors?

The defections of the two lady MPs mean nothing to me. They are answerable to their own conscience. Their crossing over has not changed one iota in the lives of their mandates. However the MP who claims she crossed over at the request of her electors has an obvious sense of humour!

* A free thinker MP has therefore to go along with the Party even if the latter were to take a position contrary to the MP’s convictions. Right? And that’s because that MP does not come to Parliament as an independent?

A freethinker MP gets elected on the basis of a programme. We at the MMM respect our electoral programme. On the issue of selective Abortion which was not on our programme, we were allowed to free vote and intervene accordingly. Consequently I do not feel restricted in any way.

* Let’s talk about the present law and order situation in the country. What is your reading of the current trends in the frequency and types of crime, especially what are called “crimes passionnelles”, in Mauritius?

I view with great concern the recent statement by the Police Commissioner with regard to his statistical conclusion about the reduction in criminality since 2008. I am of the opinion that some crimes have been omitted for consideration under this analysis. And as if our own criminal pool was not enough, we are now going to host the Somalian pirates and kidnappers with Kenya and Seychelles refusing to do so. Beyond political demagogy, I sincerely hope that the pirates serving their sentences in Mauritius do not add to our crime profile by providing post-graduate criminal education to our own cowboys at Beau Bassin.

The Central Prison is almost an open house with cellular phones and drug consumption. In the wake of the Dayal/Gros Derek saga, we have once again been informed of the drug mafia which operates from within the walls of Beau Bassin prison. We can only hope that in the future, Indian Ocean piracy will not be ordered and regulated from within our walls which will enable us to win yet another prize in Africa alongside our heroin consumption index and being among the topmost countries in Africa for doing business. Air France steward Caterino left the country during his bail which is quite a certificate of competence for our internal security and intelligence service, you will admit!

* Drugs have come into the picture more forcefully than ever in terms of social deterioration. Does that mean that things have to go on worsening given that punishment, imprisonment, etc., appear to have had no deterrent effect in practice?

I am quite amazed that the relevant authorities have only just now discovered that drugs could also be imported through the sea route, a fact known to almost everyone in the milieu. It makes one wonder whether our intelligence services are only concerned with infiltrating opposition meetings to report on what is the obvious. One wonders how our territorial waters can be subjected to maritime surveillance when there is a floating coast guard monument in the harbour which cannot move out to the high seas in case it cannot return.

No one seems concerned with the unexplained riches of some while the honest god-fearing taxpaying citizen gets queried and fined for a minor financial lapsus in the submission of his income tax return. Our sense of priority in dealing with drug money is blunted when it comes to going after the real sharks.

By the way we do not have a national drug policy and cannot offer a holistic approach to solving drug issues. Increased drug sentences and other forms of punishment are not the solution to drug addiction. When the MMM proposed the introduction of a new product to replace or complement Methadone while eliminating the Subutex connection there was no reaction from the relevant ministries.

Now two years later, it would seem that our proposition might be considered with someone else claiming the paternity of the project. Unless you have a drug addict within your family circle, you will never appreciate the plight of that family who has to bear day in day out the stress inflicted on all members, a living hell.

* The Commissioner of Police has been saying lately that it’s the high-profile cases and other violent crimes which have hogged the headlines these past months that is giving the perception that criminality is on the rise. Is he right?

What does the Police Commissioner expect? That the headlines stay quiet about major crimes and only report about the one pouliah consumer arrest? During my early years as a Forensic Pathologist we had one crime per month. We are now losing count of the numbers. I think that there is an indication to have an in-depth study of criminality, the ethnicity of crime, the criminal compensation required for families, the rehabilitation programmes if any and the conversion of the prison population into an effective workforce. It would also be wise to ask those socio-cultural groups ever so vocal politically to take an active part in the rehabilitation process.

* It’s true that the police, in particular the MCIT’s investigation methods, have taken a beating with respect to the Michaela Harte case. But isn’t it fair to say that the police as well as the Forensic people are generally doing their job satisfactorily?

The Michaela Harte case is the perfect example of the shortcomings in police investigation. A murder so limited in its physical surroundings and criminal possibilities which end up without a clear solution and a court conviction is almost unheard of. Our investigation procedures are outdated. The training given to CID officers is non-existent. The majority study crime on-the-job and very often it is a matter of the blind leading the blind. But then again, what do you expect from a Police Force where it takes about two years for police sergeant and inspector promotion examination results to be proclaimed? I worked in Forensic for about thirty years and tried to promote changes which were rejected by management almost as soon as they were proposed. A camera bought at my request to film murder scenes was used to film police parades and social functions! Frustration now is at its highest in the Police where even a briani intervention can lead to unwarranted transfer. Vast sums of money have been paid as compensation for deaths in custody!

* Even if the former Irish DPP James Hamilton has not been very critical in his speech at the Regional Africa-Indian Ocean International Association of Prosecutors’ conference here, about the police’s investigation into the murder of Michaela Harte, there is no doubt scope for improvement in the way the police and the prosecution conduct their respective duties. What do you think?

I have not noted any change in the attitude of the Police Authorities since the Michaela Harte affair. The Prime Minister has promised changes. But it will be business as usual and yet another museum of good intentions.

* Published in print edition on 31 August 2012

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