We are not privy to the contents of the draft judgment of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the matter opposing the Director of Public Prosecutions to Hon Pravind Jugnauth in relation to the MedPoint case. But if we go by what has been ventilated by private radios and newspapers and posted on the social media, including by no less than a Minister of the current government on Facebook, it is now public knowledge that Hon Pravind Jugnauth would have finally won his case – nine years down the line since the “Scandale du Siècle” (as qualified by the MMM) involving the purchase of the MedPoint Clinic by the Government was thrown up by Paul Bérenger in the public domain.
The disclosure of the draft judgment of the Privy Council, which amounts to a “breach of the duty of confidentiality”, has vexed the Judicial Committee, and an investigation is presumably underway to situate responsibility and report thereon to the Privy Council. What happens next is not known at this stage, and it would be best left to legal minds to analyse thoroughly the nuances and fine point details in the formal judgment when it is pronounced. What is of concern to most observers and political analysts – and the Mauritian electorate in general – are the political consequences of this judgment.
It is beyond doubt that a favourable judgment for Pravind Jugnauth will give a major fillip to an already staggering government given its track record as far as breaches of good governance practices are concerned since its coming into office in December 2014. The son who has taken from his father has a different style of functioning, and besides the sidelining of those controversy-prone and trigger-happy elements who showed the then Alliance Lepep in a negative light, it looks as if he has methodically thought out the way to entrench his power base. There appear to be well-thought out strategies and resources put into service to achieve his political objectives. Indications lately point to an improvement in the image of the MSM-led government as perceived by the common man in some sections of the electorate. The National Minimum Wage, the anticipation of an increase in Old Age Pensions, the daily images of “développement” happening across the country as projected by the MBC-TV into the homes of a large swathe of the Mauritian population are some of the items being touted to show the government in a favourable light. There is more to come from a government apparently in no hurry to go to the polls; there are also the goodies that will come with the next budget…
That is not to say that this ‘victory’ of Pravind Jugnauth in the MedPoint case will give the MSM the necessary clout and electoral muscle to go it alone at the next general elections. Aware of its own limitations, the MSM does not harbour such an ambition for the time being. Like in the past when it had successfully staked its claim for the PM’s seat and some form of power sharing at the level of government, it is likely to seek another piggy-ride to attain the same objective. In the meantime, from what we hear it would appear that attempts are afoot to rope in a number of prominent members of opposition parties to the MSM’s fold. This notwithstanding, clearly the only option for the MSM is to seek an alliance with the MMM, itself weakened as a result of the internal divisions that have surfaced and the departure of several members.
However, such an alliance is not a given, as Paul Berenger is known for his support of the sugar industry-owned bagasse-but-mostly-coal powered energy plants, and the abandonment of the CCGT project would most likely come in as a major condition, amongst many others, for an MMM-MSM alliance. The MSM seems to be trying to accommodate the MMM’s interest in the sugar industry energy plants, even going to the length of publicly disavowing the DPM and Energy and Public Utilities minister – through a Ministry of Finance circular aimed at imposing its authority on the public enterprises’ borrowings to finance their investment projects. Ivan Collendavelloo’s persistence in favour of the CCGT project appears to be a desperate attempt to put a spoke in the wheel of an eventual MMM-MSM alliance that would exclude his Mouvement Liberater.
The question however is whether the MMM leader will be prepared to prop up the MSM. The Privy Council judgement will mostly enable Paul Berenger to take a final decision about going it alone or not next time round. The view expressed earlier was that either way it’s quite likely Berenger would go it alone. If Jugnauth falls, there is no reason why he should go out to prop him up. In any case how will he sell to the ‘militants’ the idea of an alliance with a party whose leader has been censured by the Privy Council? But given the changed circumstances, with a ‘win’ by Pravind Jugnauth at the Privy Council, Paul Berenger might see a window of opportunity opening up for him to be victorious against two parties of more or less equal weight, politically speaking, in a three-cornered battle. In this case, the division of votes will do the trick for him. As an observer from afar has said, it looks like the planets are finally aligning for Paul Berenger… though as we know the planets can do all sorts of strange things in a fairly short space of time!
The next issue of importance is the place or role of the Labour Party in all this. It is clearly stagnating with no internal paradigm shift having taken place what with its leader hanging on to fate pending the determination of his remaining cases. By now, it is the party’s interest both in a historical and a national perspective that ought to have been the overriding guide. There is no question that Pravind Jugnauth, requinqué as it were, would not ambition to pitch the MSM into the space occupied by the LP, given that they draw from roughly the same electoral base. And why not? That is the challenge that LP’s leadership must ponder it they are keen on retaining their political relevance.
* Published in print edition on 22 February 2019