Points to Ponder

“Politician”, “statesman” and Cassam Uteem

A First Point:  

A barrister was appearing for a person who had allegedly uttered some defamatory words concerning a politician. The first point that had to be thrashed out was whether a politician could ever complain of being defamed. Unfortunately, that matter was not to be decided for some legal reasons. The case for the plaintiff was still on; the barrister appearing for him was conducting his examination-in-chief and he was using the words “politician” and “statesman” interchangeably. The magistrate who was a very learned person, asked counsel what was the difference between these two words or whether he felt there was no difference whatsoever as he was using those two words interchangeably.  

Counsel gave a reply, in all seriousness that left the magistrate wondering whether he should have put the question in the first place. He said: “Your Honour, there is a difference and if I have been using the two words “politician” and “statesman” interchangeably, it was my mistake. I apologise to your Honour. The difference between a politician and a statesman is that the leader of my political party is always a statesman whereas the leader of your political party is always a mere politician.” In Mauritius, who is a statesman and who is a mere politician is to be guessed.

I have heard that Paul Bérenger has given out his opinion that a past President of the Republic cannot get involved in politics and so he cannot ever claim to be a candidate for an election in the political field. If he has said so, he deserves to be congratulated because now we see that he has come to understand that we are operating in the Westminster system in which the office of President is not the same as the office of President in a presidential form of government. A President or a past President has to preserve the dignity of the office. He is or was the President of the State, of all the Mauritians and not of a particular party or of a group of citizens only.

However, we have to analyze the situation in which Cassam Uteem finds himself after having said that if his health permits and if his services were required, he would be prepared to stand as a candidate for the MMM at the next general election. Let us wait for the reaction of Cassam Uteem, if there is one, and then we shall comment the matter further. But I am very happy that Paul Béerenger has set matters right, even though Cassam Uteem, somebody very close to him, holds a different view.

Lo and behold! The reaction of Cassam Uteem to what Paul Bérenger said has not been slow in coming. He now gives a different story, not anything like what he said originally. He says that Paul Bérenger is right. He will not be a candidate for the MMM at the forthcoming general election. Therefore I put the question as to whether Cassam Uteen was right the first time or is he right now? Many people had come out against him when he said that, on certain conditions, he would be a candidate if he were given the opportunity and that he would not forgo his pension and other perks even if he will be elected as a Member of Parliament. Can we know what he really thinks about a previous President of the Republic going back to party politics and enjoying all the favours that his previous office provides him with? Were the persons who were critical of him, at times very critical, right in their judgment of Cassam Uteem? What would Cassam Uteem now say to those who were critical of him? 

Whatever happened to Dinesh Ramjuttun?

A Second Point: There is now the case of Dinesh Ramjuttun. Paul Bérenger himself attended a meeting of those responsible for Constituency No. 5 Pamplemousses-Triolet to gauge the feeling of MMM party-members on whether Dinesh Ramjuttun could be fielded as the party candidate for the general election. Apparently there was no objection and now it remains for the leadership, at the level of the Comité Central, after the approval at the level of the Bureau Politique, to endorse his candidature. It is a foregone conclusion that, as matters stand, Dinesh Ramjuttun will be the MMM candidate in Constituency No.5.

What will then happen to Sham Mathura, the one who has been sent to that constituency since quite some time as the candidate of the MMM? He has been made to work in that constituency after being designated as the likely candidate for the constituency. I cannot imagine a situation where both Dinesh Ramjuttun and Sham Mathura are chosen to fight that constituency for reasons well known to much of the public. Or will Paul Bérenger take a chance? Would he be prepared to sacrifice one whole group of the Hindu community just to accommodate two candidates of just one group? My opinion is that Sham Mathura will be sacrificed on the altar of expediency, he will be asked to move to some other constituency or if he will refuse, he will be simply thrown out of the party.

Why should a good politician like Dinesh Ramjuttun be wasting his time in Constituency No. 5 when he has a good chance of getting himself elected in a constituency like La Caverne-Phoenix or Vacoas-Floreal where there is a substantial number of MMM electors? Anyway, he should be a candidate where he has the best chance and if he thinks that he is better off in Pamplemousses-Triolet, I cannot tell him otherwise, but at the moment, there are very few MMM electors in Constituency No.5. Of this much I am sure.

One is led to wonder whether Paul Bérenger is really serious about the candidature of Dinesh Ramjuttun and whether he like to see him elected as a Member of Parliament in the forthcoming general election. I am mentioning this because I have my doubts. Paul Bérenger himself has said that Dinesh Ramjuttun is not and will not be a member of the MMM; he would simply be a candidate of the MMM-Union Nationale-MMSD Alliance, that is the alliance of Paul Bérenger, Ashock Jugnauth and Eric Guimbeau. Why is it that Dinesh Ramjuttun is not being accepted as a full-fledged member in his supposed new political party, the MMM?

How can he function by being outside the party while also maintaining that he is responsible for the electoral campaign in three constituencies in the north, that is in Nos. 5, 6 and 7? There are three parties in this supposed alliance and yet Dinesh Ramjuttun is not in the Union Nationale, he cannot be in the MMSD and the MMM says that he is not in that party. To which party does he then belong? Maybe he does not belong to any party. Or is he a party all by himself, a real one-man party, not like the others who make as if they have one or two followers? But this is not what Paul Bérenger says.

Anyway, Dinesh Ramjuttun must clear this point before proceeding any further, otherwise people will say that that he will never be accepted as a politician in the MMM, and this judging from what Paul Bérenger himself has said of him in the past. Does Paul Bérenger still believe in what he said about Dinesh Ramjuttun previously or has he changed his opinion about him now, in the sense that Paul Bérenger now accepts that he has lied right through against his good friend now? Both Paul Bérenger and Dinesh Ramjuttun owe us some serious explanations because they cannot take the public to be fools but we know somebody who actually is one.

I still remember when Dinesh Ramjuttun said, not that long ago, that the prime ministership will be shared between himself and Paul Bérenger, and I had understood that each will be the Prime Minister for a period of two and a half years. Does that arrangement still hold good or has somebody reneged on his promise? And both leaders have to tell us what is the truth. And we want to have the truth and nothing but the truth.

Is the MMM waiting for Navin Ramgoolam to pronounce on an alliance between the Labour Party and the MMM before approving the candidature of Dinesh Ramjuttun? If there is such an alliance, what will be the fate of Madun Dulloo, of Ashock Jugnauth and of all those who have been given the promise that they will be candidates in their respective constituencies? And above all, what will be the fate of Dinesh Ramjuttun?

Anyway, the MMM is pinning its hopes on such an alliance and at the same time, it is trying to show that it would prefer a three-cornered fight. Or is it a three-cornered alliance that he is working towards? One does not hear from or about Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo or Rajesh Bhagwan these days. Are they still in the MMM? People should stop bragging and bluffing at every turn or corner. At least that much is expected of a good politician. 

Dhanilal Seewoo deserts the MMM

A Third Point: And then we have the case of Dhanilal Seewoo. He was a faithful member of the MMM, and he was very close to the leader. For the election of year 2000, he was denied a ticket, but then after the election, he was made our High Commissioner in India. He served in the position until the election of 2005 when, with the change in fortune of his party, he came back.

He was then asked by the leadership of the MMM to start working Constituency No.4 with a view to being the candidate for the next general election. Dhanilal Seewoo was satisfied with what he obtained from the MMM and set to work to win over all the three seats of the constituency for his party. He reorganized the various committees there, revived those that were moribund and gave them a sense of direction. He was in constant touch with the MMM opinion leaders of the constituency and I am told that the ex-President and the ex-Secretary of the Comité Régional were with him but now they are no more with the MMM.

Unfortunately, it would appear that the party has decided that he should not be given a ticket for the next general election. The MMM has chosen to field Pradeep Jeeha instead. Dhanilal Seewoo knew the constituency inside out as he comes from that very place and all his relatives still live over there. Pradeep Jeeha is a relative newcomer and he will have make his way before gaining the acceptance of the electors. Be it remembered that he was the candidate of Constituency No.6 where he was well considered. But with the arrival of Madun Dulloo from the Alliance Sociale on maybe because of some nebulous promise by the MMM, Pradeep Jeeha had to move to another constituency because both Madun Dulloo and Pradeep Jeeha cannot be candidates together in the same constituency. (I will ask our readers to compare the situation in constituency no.5 where Dinesh Ramjuttun and Sham Mathura are the two candidates of the MMM).

Pradeep Jeeha was shifted to Constituency No.17 to start with, but then because the MMM followers over there did not want him for some reason best known to those who control the MMM vote bank, he was forced to migrate to Constituency No.4. This is how Pradeep Jeeha landed there at the expense of Dhanilal Seewoo. But I am told that Dhanilal Seewoo has a substantial number of followers of the MMM still loyal to him and I wonder whether they also will leave the party and will follow Dhanilall Seewoo in his new party. He has chosen to join the MSM. We cannot blame him for having deserted the MMM nor can we find any fault in Pradeep Jeeha if he has been asked to oust Dhanilal Seewoo from that constituency. I know his task seems to be insurmountable to conquer the constituency, but who knows what can happen if he works really hard. Anyway, I feel sorry for him. 

Another hunger strike

A Fourth Point: What is this stupidity which certain persons en mal de publicité are engaging in these days, I mean in hunger strikes? Right now there is a hunger strike going on in Triolet, the constituency of the Prime Minister himself.

What is the background of this hunger strike? The persons on strike were the leaseholders of certain plots of land belonging to the State. They all have their contracts duly signed and registered. The lease was for a fixed term and I am informed that the terms of the lease include a clause to the effect that if the State were to resume possession of the lands in question before the expiry of the term, the lesee would be given compensation. All this was part of the contract.

It turned out that the State needed those lands back for the Tianli project and all the leaseholders were given due notice. And all the clauses in the contract were respected. But the leaseholders were given much more by way of compensation than what the contract specified. Even then, some of the leaseholders are not satisfied and they want more. It is like Oliver asking for more. And for this reason, those persons are on a hunger strike.

I have to make two observations here. We have Courts that are genuinely independent of the Executive or of any person. If those on a supposedly hunger strike think that the State has gone against the terms of their contract, they can very easily enter a case, get a judgment in their favour and they will get what they deserve. If they have chosen not to go to Court, then maybe the conclusion is that they do not have a case. Therefore they are just engaging in some chantage, some blackmailing, because they know that we are in the election year and expect that government will easily yield to their demand however unreasonable.

The second observation relates to the venue of the hunger strike. The Roman Catholic authorities say that they have not allowed these persons to go on hunger strike on their premises because of the fact that the Roman Catholics are observing their annual Lent Ceremony and because youngsters play football on the premises. Are these sufficient reasons not to allow certain persons when others were in fact allowed and indirectly encouraged for the same type of activity? I do not understand.

Why do people go on a hunger strike? To get some publicity, and that is all. I know the case of a politician who went to see a Minister with a request that certain sums of money owed by certain persons should not be claimed from his people because they were in a difficult situation. The Minister refused to give in to the politician and thereupon, the politician said that he would go on a hunger strike. The Minister was sympathetic to the politician and asked him when and where he would start his hunger strike. The politician gave him all the required details and eventually asked the Minister the reason for these details.

The Minister told him that a hunger strike is a sacred matter and that nobody should disturb a person who is on a hunger strike. The whole area will be cordoned off, nobody will have access to the person on strike, not the press people, not the relatives of the person concerned, nor the people from the Church either. The Minister said that he just wanted to help the politician in his quest to be go on a hunger strike.

The politician was hoisted with his own petard. He begged the Minister that not to do what he was planning and to allow him to meet people when he were to go on his hunger strike, otherwise the strike would not have any effect. The Minister told him to do what he considered to be his duty and he would do his. The politician never even thought of going on the hunger strike after that.

Would the authorities consider such a solution? It works very well provided that there is some seriousness of purpose. 

Time to do away with the tax on savings and the NRPT 

A Fifth Point: Sometime ago, Finance minister Rama Sithanen introduced two tax measures, one concerning tax on savings in the banks and in other financial institutions and the other concerning the tax on residential property. At the same time, interest on savings was drastically and dramatically reduced to the detriment of those who like saving for the proverbial rainy day. People who were affected with the two tax measures as well as with the reduction in the rate of interest on savings were dead against these measures.

People have been talking to me about these measures and they say that it is now time for government to review these measures. They say that at the time these measures were introduced, government did not want people to stop spending because then our economy would have come to a standstill. There was a fear that with the economy not moving forward, we would go into a financial turmoil from which it would have been virtually impossible to recover.

Suppose for the sake of argument that I were to accept this reasoning. The same persons who had supported the taxes when they were imposed are now saying that as the economy has started functioning at more or less its previous level, it is time for Rama Sithanen to have a fresh look at these two tax measures.

For tax on interest on savings, this tax now should be done away with. Instead of encouraging spending, the time has come to encourage saving. And this can be done by removing this crippling tax. If the Minister is not prepared to remove the tax on all savings, he should exempt from tax at least an initial amount of saving of say three million rupees; anything above that amount can be taxed.

And the interest that a person who saves is given is so low that everybody wonders if it is worthwhile saving. Government has to show some concern about this. Those who save are not concerned about your repo-rate or the other fanciful stuff your people talk about. All they know is that they are getting pittance for their savings. And they also know that when they borrow from the banks, they have to pay a hefty rate of interest. So the question is why they are given such a low rate of interest on their savings but at the same time those who borrow from the banks or other financial institutions have to pay a very high rate? Is the system fair and reasonable especially in so far as the ordinary persons are concerned?

Whose duty is it to see to it that there is a fair and reasonable system when it comes to saving and also borrowing? Is it the responsibility of the Minister of Finance or of the Governor of the Bank of Mauritius? Some measures must be taken to give satisfaction to the people and if this demands legislation, then government should go ahead and introduce the relevant legislation very early in the National Assembly.

And my opinion is that there should be a difference of less than two points in interest rates between saving and borrowing. If the saver gets say 7% as interest, then the borrower cannot be made to pay more than at most 9%. I am sure that banks and other financial institutions can operate and also make a reasonable profit on the 2%. But now it is not like this and no wonder that the banks and other institutions are making millions and billions of rupees under the so-called appellation of profits. We would like to know what goes on in the business of “bonuses”. Are these ever disclosed? Or are they paid out of slush funds? How good are our accounting standards?

I know that Rama Sithanen does not like to follow the advice of others. However, if there would have been another Minister of Finance, I would have advised him to listen to the voice of reason and suspend the operation of the National Residential Property Tax. Get some specialist on the matter to advise him on this matter, and if he has already received what he considers to be some good advice, get further advice. And then have a better look at the social as well as the political aspect and if need be come again with a revised legislation. I am not talking to Rama Sithanen, the present Minister of Finance, I am talking to some other Minister who is prepared to listen, as I said, to the voice of reason.


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