“The real progress of a country always depends on a minority within the political class…

Interview: Nita Deerpalsing

… the rest are just the ‘accessoires’ needed to make the wheel go round”

“We have an opportunity here to bring truly bold reforms… it is perhaps time to consider the idea of limiting the number of mandates for politicians”

“The more they (the PMSD) went on about that idiotic “…c’est nous” slogan, the more they provoked and irritated core staple votes without which Xavier cannot get elected!”

“I think that no one can take this government on as far as what it has achieved and what it has already laid the basis for.

The only things anyone can hurl on us as far as electoral campaign attacks are concerned, are some of the hiccups that any incumbent government in the world is saddled with; and yes, a few undesirable elements…” says Nita Deerpalsing, in this week’s interview, during which she also addresses the questions of electoral reform and Second Republic, the PMSD-inspired “…c’est nous” slogan…

Mauritius Times: It would appear that everybody in the MMM but mostly in the Labour Party, except for the two leaders, remain suspended to an announcement from Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Berenger about what they would have finally agreed upon in terms of the « holistic » electoral reform package that would accompany the setting up of a Second Republic. It looks like it’s going to be a long wait in spite of the Faugoo Committee which is presently looking into the nitty-gritty?

Nita Deerpalsing: Mr Faugoo has publicly given an indication of the progress of the works of his committee. I have no doubt that as soon as all the issues are dealt with, there will be an electoral reform bill which will be circulated. There seems to be issues that are cropping up as they go along.

Since this is a very serious piece of legislation with far reaching repercussions, I’d rather they take into consideration all the myriad of possibilities that we may have to face 10, 20 years down the road and beyond. I don’t believe this kind of legislation can be rushed. And personally, I’m glad that the Prime Minister has been consistent with his stance that any such fundamental changes to our Constitution has to be blessed by the people before it can be implemented.

What I am concerned about regarding this electoral reform bill, is whether it will be bold enough – and fair — in terms of the gender issue. The silence of the hosts of women NGOs is astounding! Everyone – except women – are being heard day in, day out in the media. Yet the most glaring and unjust democratic deficit is the grossly inadequate representation of women, not only in Parliament but also in Cabinet. Women should rightly demand that their voices be heard in this debate! I certainly hope that due consideration will be given to THE most important under-represented group in Parliament.

And lest you get me wrong, let me qualify this thought. I am certainly not claiming that a mere increase in the number of women in Parliament would automatically improve women’s and men’s lives in this country. Look at the utterly regressive stance some women MPs took on the abortion legislation. I still haven’t gotten over that! In that case, it’s better to have more progressive men like Steve Obeegadoo than some of those passéiste and incredibly selfish women MPs! That being said, it’s still not normal for a Parliament or Cabinet to be so lopsided in terms of gender representation. Even if immediate provisions can’t be made in the law, at least it would be honourable to show that the effort will be made progressively for future elections!

* Discontent within the MMM came out into the open at Rue Ambrose, Rose Hill, a couple of weeks back when Paul Berenger met with insults from his own rank and file because of his negotiations with the Labour Party (LP). The ‘base’ of the MMM seem to suffer from an allergy of whatever relates to the LP. One can always say that the leader know best, but what about the LP’s rank and file?

This is precisely the problem when political debate becomes outrageously personalized. It is clear that the Labour Party and in particular the Prime Minister has been unfairly demonized ‘à outrance’ by the opposition. Specially by the Sun Trust clan who were shocked and then furious that Dr Navin Ramgoolam didn’t cede to their request, followed by their shameless blackmail towards corrupting the MedPoint inquiry.

Today, it is visible to the naked eye, that there’s an orchestrated campaign with the complicity of some mainstream media editorialists, to launder some politicians who wouldn’t even get the time of day in respectable democracies.

All of a sudden, Mr Collendavelloo and Mr Gayan are being propelled as those who would supposedly support corruption-busting policies. Really? Do we remember whether these esteemed members of the ‘barreau’ even spoke in the National Assembly when the Economic Crime Office was being erased overnight from our Constitution? Do we remember them even whispering some form of protest for institutions-bashing by a then Prime Minister who later on his own will conceded that ‘sinon mo gouvernement ti pou grainer kuma zambalac’? Were Mr Collendavello and Mr Gayan having a nap in Parliament at that material time?

Tell me, who today can have any credibility whatsoever on principles of democracy, good governance and national unity when they ally themselves with those who have amassed a fortune estimated by Harish Boodhoo, at some Rs 8 BILLION?, those who’ve put up ‘le bâtiment de la honte’, those who openly socialized with ‘les barons de la drogue’…, those who have on their record the imprisonment of journalists and clerics, and so on?

Anyway what is being discussed these days is not about the base of the LP or the MMM. It is, as the Prime Minister has said, a ‘projet d’avenir’ for the country. Those who want the country to move forward will contribute towards it. Those who want to rot in their personal, visceral hate for the Ramgoolam name, will I guess just have to find solace in their sulking.

* There also appears to be dissatisfaction within the ranks of LP MPs in their readings of press reports about what the two leaders would have agreed upon with respect to the Reform package. An LP-MMM alliance will clearly narrow down the prospects of a number of present party members and would-be candidates towards obtaining an electoral ticket, and that could explain the discontent of some. But what about the feelings of « conviction politicians »? What about yours for a start?

I have to say some aspects of Mr Modi’s emotional speech resonated with me. He said that just as we do not serve a mother out of sense of a favour that we bestow upon her, so it is that we serve our nation, not out of some kind of favour or sacrifice, but out of a natural sense of spiritual duty. That struck a chord.

Conviction politicians know that while unfortunately politics is also about game playing, feigning, communication strategies – this is the case all over the world! – ultimately all of this has one goal. And that’s to bring one’s country to a better place, to bring the people of one’s country to a better life amidst all the challenges that this island of ours has to face in an unforgiving world economic climate.

So as long as we know how to separate the wheat from the chaff, I think the – few and far between – conviction politicians can still have their day amidst the hordes of self-aggrandizing, ego-sick, fame-craving polluted souls who pass for politicians. There are a few men and women out there who are just so insipid, so dishonest and hypocritical to the core, and yet are so hungry for that electoral ticket! But then I guess this is the case not just in Mauritius but all over the world. The real progress of a country always depends on a minority within the political class, a minority of people who are there because they truly feel they have a higher purpose. At the end of the day, the rest are just the ‘accessoires’ needed to make the wheel go round.

* Would you say that “conviction politicians” are comfortable with the power sharing arrangement between Navin Ramgoolam as President of the Republic with enhanced powers and Paul Berenger as Prime Minister for 5 years on the strength of a 50:50 electoral alliance? And with the proposed Party List that would in effect consolidate the party leaders’ already strong hold over their parties and on the political career of their party members?

I think I have already answered this in your previous question! But again, let me stress that politics is not, and should not be a career! Again, where the country is headed is what should matter most. If there is faith that the country will go to a better place under a certain configuration as opposed to another alternative, well then, time will tell if the right choices have been made. Let the people decide.

* When all this is said and done, the question arises whether the contemplated changes will really contribute to enhance the overall governance structure of the country, with our best and most independent minds put in charge of the affairs of the country, and also whether the country’s institutions will be allowed to do the work for which they are designed in the best interests of the nation. What do you think?

I think we have an opportunity here to bring truly bold reforms for our democratic architecture. I am thinking for example that when the time comes to debate what we want for a Second Republic, it is perhaps time to consider the idea of limiting the number of mandates for politicians. It is also time to give serious thoughts to more spiritual behavior – both for politicians and citizens – within a secular architecture rather than widespread rogue citizenry within a façade of religiosity. And why not a rigorous code of conduct for politicians? There are many such ideas that we will need to take forward.

It is time to tread uncharted grounds and take our dreams for our country even further. There are already a myriad of foundation stones which have been laid, spearheaded by the Prime Minister. Take the National Institute for Citizenship Education for example. This pilot project is truly fabulous and is doing wonders with the youths who have participated in this program. Not only in terms of inculcating values of engaged and responsible citizenship but also in terms of nation building. It is one of my greatest pride and satisfaction for having had the opportunity to work on this program from its inception.

On the economic development aspect, take the stride that the PM has made in terms of launching the Ocean economy. Years from now, people will realize the vision and the determination of this Prime Minister to take the nation forward by opening up new sectors of economic activities to the young graduates as well as low/semi-skilled men and women.

Another example on the social front, is the setting up of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and the Public Appeal Tribunal. I hear some people talking about discrimination. But who had the political will to actually bring the legislation and set up these ground breaking institutions if not this PM, i.e. Dr Navin Ramgoolam?

I heard Mrs Perraud’s comments which she didn’t have the courage to actually substantiate regarding the public sector. Does she know that Navin Ramgoolam as PM had a Commissioner of Police by the name of Mr Feillafe? And that the Head of the Civil service was Mr Yat Sin?

I need not go on about the various posts that women occupy today out of merit in the civil service and the judiciary. Can Mrs Perraud say the same about meritocracy for women in the private sector? Where are the women CEOs of the private sector in Mauritius? Where are the women senior managers and board directors? As a woman, does Mrs Perraud feel concerned about the persistent ‘invisibility’ of women in decision-making posts in the private sector?

* To come back to “conviction politicians” – these would no doubt expect that our political parties will make their finances transparent and be publicly accountable, rising above individual and private interests, and free of funding by lobbies and, futher, be ruled in future with the expected amount of internal democracy as it would be in the best interests of a truly democratic setup, isn’t it?

I was coming to that! But this is precisely what’s in the pipeline in terms of the larger constitutional reforms that the Prime Minister announced on the 24th March this year when he presented the consultation paper on electoral reforms. You will remember that the consultation paper talks about electoral reform being only a first step towards other more profound constitutional reforms. I suppose this is all being taken up in the discussions about a Second Republic. At some point, there will have to be a discussion paper published and debated as far as the Second Republic is concerned. But the consultation paper on electoral reform already mentioned that the financing of political parties would be one of the issues to be tackled.

There are of course a host of other things which forward-looking citizens and politicians would want to add on the menu! This is exactly what a democratic debate is all about. One thing at a time though.

* The latest press conference of Paul Berenger where he spelt out what his party in power would seek to achieve: « donner un nouveau souffle à l’économie et un nouveau départ à l’énergie renouvelable » without forgetting his ‘Karcher’-ing of parastals and State companies in order to weed out the « fraude, corruption et les scandales » (presumably of what the opposition qualify as “LP-PMSD cronies” at the head of these bodies) may not make the present dispensation very comfortable. What’s your take on that?

I think that no one can take this government on as far as what it has achieved and what it has already laid the basis for. The only things anyone can hurl on us as far as electoral campaign attacks are concerned, are some of the hiccups that any incumbent government in the world is saddled with; and yes, a few undesirable elements who have still not understood that being nominated to a post is a responsibility entrusted upon you and not a reward to be enjoyed. The Prime minister has always been consistent about this message. Those who still have not understood, will end up getting the message at some point I suppose.

* On the other hand, the PMSD hit-girl Aurore Perraud has come out publicly against the recruitment policies in the public sector and more or less suggested that the Party’s rank and file stand no chance to get recruited in this sector, at the airport, etc. How do you react to that?

Well it so happens that in the bigger scheme of things, what Aurore says has absolutely no impact on the Prime Minister’s intention, actions and strategy to resolutely take our nation forward.

I may not always agree with Aurore on ideas, but as a person, she’s a fine human being. However, I tend to think she’s being ill-advised in her new communication role. Some friends at my Sunday afternoon tea party opined that she’s coming across like a kid who’s just been given a ‘fusil-delo’ and is going around all trigger-happy.

What baffles me though, is that the PMSD seems unable to see that the ‘résultats’ of their puerile communication is that my good friend Xavier is being undermined in Quatre Bornes!

The more Aurore lashes at Shakeel regarding issues on which the latter is, in fact, fundamentally right, the more she alienates an important section of the electorate that gets Xavier the votes he needs to be in Parliament.

And the more they went on about that idiotic “…c’est nous” slogan, the more they provoked and irritated core staple votes without which Xavier cannot get elected!

You know when those “…. c’est nous” banners came out, I was swamped with phone messages and calls from people in my constituency. They were ready to pay for, and place banners like “Envelopper nou pa oulé, c’est nous”. Others in Vieux Quatre Bornes told me they were going to hold a press conference to say “l’Exode de l’élite créole, c’est nous”. I had to use persuasion, coercion and when even that didn’t seem to work, I had to put my foot down firmly to prevent people from going ahead with those kinds of base reactions!

So those who are ‘sur le terrain’ in Quatre Bornes can see how their actions are backfiring on Xavier; I suppose those who are sitting in the PMSD press conferences are unable to ‘constater’ just how much harm they are doing to their own leader!

 


* Published in print edition on 30 May 2014

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