By TP Saran
It must not be thought that the judgement of the Privy Council means that the MedPoint affair, qualified as ‘le scandale du siècle’ by the leader of the MMM Paul Bérenger when it was exposed, has reached closure.
It never will, but instead will ever be remembered as a large black stain that tarnished the image of the country. Though it may appear very baffling indeed to the layman as to how and when during the process before the Privy Council the point at issue became no longer the conflict of interest on the part of Pravind Jugnauth but instead, it morphed into whether or not his sister Shalini Malhotra had any interest in the reallocation of funds. Nevertheless, in line with the legal framework within which we have agreed to function, the fact of the matter is that the judgement of the Privy Council is the final say in the matter.
But the judgement can also be looked at another level as merely a different interpretation of the point that was appealed, namely a conflict of interest on the part of the then Minister of Finance Pravind Jugnauth who is currently Prime Minister. The point is that the very fact that there can be two diametrically opposed interpretations of the same facts in relation to any event means that none of the interpretations is the final one.
In summary, the judgement of the Privy Council, for all its learnedness, is not an absolute one. It merely indicates which version of the argument presented by the two parties the Privy Council accepted. And, as is the case in western philosophy, such argumentation is akin to what the French would call ‘sophisme ratiocinant’ – meant not to seek the truth, but only to debate about it.
Seen from a different perspective, MedPoint is also about the loss of taxpayer money if we look at the incontrovertible facts of the case:
- There was a Cabinet decision to buy the MedPoint Hospital.
- The initial evaluation of its price was Rs 75M.
- There was a re-evaluation which nearly doubled the price at Rs 144M.
Questions raised by common sense are: Who was/were not satisfied with the first evaluation? Who instructed or ordered a re-evaluation to be carried out? From a reliable source, it would seem that MedPoint Hospital had cost about Rs 25M at the time, nearly 25 years ago. At the very minimum therefore, the loss to the taxpayer is the difference between the evaluation and re-evaluation price, that is Rs 69 M, which ‘covered’ a bunch of obsolete, and therefore non-utilisable equipment fit only for the solid waste dump. We must add to this all the legal costs incurred all these years since 2010, plus the resources used up in the processes of arrest, etc., and of course the no doubt huge sums needed to reach to Privy Council level. From Rs 69 M – already a substantial sum – we are probably looking at another Rs 20-30 M.
After the Privy Council judgement therefore, what is left are the tens of millions of rupees of loss to the taxpayer – money which could certainly have been better used elsewhere for their benefit. The irony is that the crowd of baying supporters who were there to shout victory are so naïve as not to realise in their euphoria that they were flagellating themselves to the tune of tens of millions of rupees lost to them!
In a nutshell, therefore, MedPoint is also about loss of millions of taxpayer money and wastage of the country’s scarce resources. It is not the people, but the those who pushed this deal and their legal team who have laughed their way to the bank.
As for the political consequences of the judgement, there have already been a number of speculations. But there are only two streams: either it strengthens the MSM and its leader Pravind Jugnauth politically, or it has no or a marginal impact. The first scenario allows him to negotiate an alliance from a position of relative strength – but with whom is the question. The second scenario means that the same games will continue, with a three-cornered fight a distinct possibility, in which case the MMM will see an opportunity of rebound. Another political fallout of the judgement is that it mutually weakens the MSM and the Labour Party, which broadly draw from the same electoral base.
Either way, any dream of a renouvellement had better be forgotten. It’s going to be old wine in old bottles again. As always, it is the masses that will be the losers and les dindons de la farce. Nothing will be able to stop march of the triad of politics, power and wealth from steamrolling on over their already broken backs.
* Published in print edition on 1 March 2019