Mauritius takes the flak, again

Editorial

After the European Commission’s decision to include Mauritius in its revised list of “high-risk countries with strategic deficiencies” in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing frameworks, here comes another piece of depressing news relating to alleged corrupt and fraudulent practices unfolded by the African Development Bank (ADB) and relating to the tender for the redevelopment of the CEB’s St Louis Power Station.

In a press release, dated 8 June 2020, the African Development Bank Group announced, pursuant to a settlement agreement, the debarment of Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor, for a period of 21 months , for engaging in “sanctionable practices” in a power generation project financed by the Bank in Mauritius.

In 2014 and 2015, Burmeister & Wain participated in tenders for the redevelopment of the Saint Louis power plant in Mauritius, a project financed by the Bank. An investigation conducted by the Bank’s Office of Integrity and Anti-Corruption (responsible for preventing, deterring and investigating allegations of corruption, fraud and other sanctionable practices in the Bank’s financed operations) has concluded that “it is more likely than not that the company engaged in fraudulent and corrupt practices in the context of this project”.

It further states that “evidence supports a finding that Burmeister & Wain, on a balance of probabilities, financially rewarded members of the Mauritian administration and others, through the intermediary of third parties, for providing access to confidential tender-related information which allowed them to tailor the technical specifications of the tenders to its offering, thus gaining an undue competitive advantage over other tenderers”. Burmeister & Wain would have also concealed the arrangements it had entered into with the third parties, in breach of the rules governing the tenders.

The ADB however adds that by imposing a debarment of 21 months, the Office of Integrity and Anti-Corruption recognizes Burmeister and Wain’s extensive cooperation with the investigation, the company’s transparency in dealing with the sanctionable conduct and the efforts that it has made to enhance its integrity compliance program since uncovering the sanctionable practices.

Responding to the PNQ of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, the Prime Minister revealed that the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development requested on 9 June 2020, a copy of the report on the investigation; this was turned down by the ADB given that investigation reports compiled by its Office of Integrity and Anticorruption are, as per its guidelines and policies, “confidential in nature and cannot be shared outside of a referral process to law enforcement authorities”. Hon Jugnauth also stated his government has adopted “a zero-tolerance policy against corruption” and that the Central Electricity Board has referred the matter to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on 9 June 2020. Tough and stringent actions as may be warranted by ICAC will be taken against any person who is found to be involved in any of the alleged acts of fraud and corruption, stated the Prime Minister.

This is serious matter, since it does not emanate from the ranks of a hostile opposition bent on pulling down its adversaries, but from the ADB – a “respected guide” in the development of banking and financial standards as well as the strategic partner of the African Peer Review Mechanism. It behoves the Government to walk the talk given its track record of fighting corrupt and fraudulent practices. Not much has come out from the inquiries conducted by the ICAC into allegations of corruption/fraud slapped on ministers of the previous MSM-led government. Mauritius’ reputation as a country that abides by the rule of law, transparency, good governance is increasingly at stake, the more so when it gets tarnished by respected multilateral agencies and regulators in Europe and India, and now Africa.

The inclination towards corruption had been apparent since quite some time – whether it’s under the present or previous governments. Contracts have repeatedly been awarded to certain specific beneficiaries for public works, sometimes by splitting them in order not to fall under the scrutiny of the central procurement agency. In other cases, favours have been granted to specific persons or bodies through acts of coercion and collusion, influencing public bodies to do so. It is the power politicians and bureaucrats give themselves, as well as loose rules and regulations and laws they themselves make that facilitate acts of corruption.

Strong public institutions headed by persons of high integrity – and backed by an equally credible political leadership – standing in the way of corrupt administrative and technical cadres as well as politicians have the power to stop this abuse. We’ve got to get back in our public institutions in particular regulators as well as parastatal bodies strong-willed individuals endowed with a better vision of where Mauritius should be and determined to arrest the corruption that has crept into the entire system.


* Published in print edition on 12 June 2020

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