The Year That Was
— S. MODELIAR
The year ends with the death of minister who was one of the most dynamic members of the Labour Party. The year also ends locally by that stab in the back of the Governor of the Central Bank, Manou Bheenick, following a parliamentary question on him. As rightly pointed by the Leader of the Opposition, Paul Bérenger, the fact finding committee that was announced on the Governor following the question, was done in the absence of the Prime Minister who recommends the choice of the Governor to the President of the Republic. The Board members who may owe allegiance to the Minister of Finance, who himself did not relish the appointment of Manou Bheenick, played cheap politics by asking him to step down. As TP writes in l’express dated 15 December: Failure to carry out careful background ‘fit and proper’ checks lands us in the type of toxic morass the BoM Board is currently offering the public the pathetic spectacle of. To give the bank of banks its credibility back, the guys MUST go! Will the Prime Minister pay heed in 2010?
The year also ends at the international level with the almost dismal failure of the Copenhagen conference to seal a real deal on climate change. Third world countries in spite of their political independence have almost no say in world debates. Many of the African countries are rotting under corruption and yet they go on begging at international fora for more finance without having as corollary good governance. Copenhagen must be an eye-opener to all these local pundits who open their big mouths and believe that we can, by our big empty-barrelled talk, influence the course of world events. We are at the mercy of the big powers just like the African continent. Africa with all its resources cannot dictate world events. The oil producing countries are in the same situation. We are all subjected to the policy of the big powers that have their own vested interest to cater for. The rest is just cosmetics. Will some people accept this reality in 2010?
How did the year begin? And what lessons do the events hold for us? The year began with that sensational news that ICAC through Mrs Indira Manrakhan was playing politics by indulging in selective investigations depending on the political colour of suspected offenders. Extracts of a tape recording of a conversation that took place between Mr Sanjay Bhuckory, Mr Dan Maraye and Mrs Manrakhan became the topic of endless debates. Just as in the case of Manou Bheenick who was asked to step down by a board member of the BoM, Mrs Manrakhan was asked to step down either by the Director of ICAC or the Parliamentary Committee. Just as in the case of Manou Bheenick some arrogated unto themselves and indeed usurped powers of appointment and dismissal that are not theirs to wield. Powers are to be wielded by their repositories and by none else. We do not need 2010 to tell us that.
These two examples indicate how institutional bashing has become the norm. People are just judged on rumours, flimsy evidence and hearsay and convicted at the bar of public opinion without being given a fair hearing. Yet these same people and that same press will raise hell if any of their fundamental rights is not respected or discussed. Thus a Media Commission will annihilate press freedom. A journalist who is arrested in the normal course of a police investigation is an example of a totalitarian government or police abuse. Which is which? Whose rights is the press defending? That kind of selective crucifixion of people that are targeted is itself inimical to the democratic process that we all profess to accept and respect. It is high time the press goes on an introspective assessment of its role and 2010 is not too early nor too late.
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The financial crisis has seen the world on the brink of a recession that could have been more catastrophic that the depression of the thirties. While world leaders and top brass economists were struggling to come up with immediate solutions to curtail the effects of that impending financial doom, many of our local politicians were praying for doomsday for Mauritius in the earnest hope that with doomsday coming they would be catapulted to political power. There was no patriotic surge to help muster all the goodwill to overcome or at least limit the impact of the crisis. The government steered the crisis remarkably well in spite of the vociferous demagoguery of many who are still predicting an economic catastrophe for Mauritius. During the Second World War Labour and Conservatives in the United Kingdom buried their political hatchet and formed a government of national unity to fight the common foe, the Nazis. When are we going to learn that politics is not the end of everything and that there are certain other fundamental values that we need to endorse for the common weal and for our own conscience. Can 2010 be the turning point in a change of mindset?
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When we talk about the common good we need to travel or rather attempt to travel on the path or rather the blocked path established for us by the hawkers. Whilst former Lord Mayor Mr Goondeeah took the bull by the horns and started to clear the public highways and footpaths that are meant for use by the public who pay a tax for such use, others who came after him reversed the decision. The worse is that the reversal to allow the hawkers to block the public highways and allow them to make an unbridled and free use of the public places was endorsed by Cabinet. We cannot bypass the slight hue of ethnicity in that whole episode when a Member of Parliament meddled in the case of the hawkers to express his satisfaction with the reversal of the Goondeah decision. What if the hawkers start blocking the roads and paths in the vicinity of the premises of members of the Cabinet? We saw how the Prime Minister reacted to a place of worship that was generating too much noise for his serenity and quiet life!
The year also saw the culmination of the campaign of MLA Varma against Minister Bunwaree. The press was unanimous in censuring Mr Varma for the allegations made under the cover of parliamentary immunity not so much against the Minister but against a person who is not a Member of Parliament and who cannot defend himself there. The Varma crusade goes far beyond and raises a matter of great significance that needs to be looked into after more than 40 years of independent parliamentary rule.
Mr Varma is not the only one to make an abuse of parliament immunity to cast aspersions on people and cast a slur on their reputation. R.V. suggested in this paper that we should follow the example of the United Kingdom where the Defamation Act 1996 was enacted. In a defamation case against a Member in relation to his conduct in Parliament, it is now possible for the court to entertain such an action if the Member waives for the purpose of the court proceedings his parliamentary privilege. It will then be possible to question his conduct in Parliament and adduce evidence to that effect. If we have such a law it would be interesting to see how many Members of Parliament would submit to the scrutiny of a court of law by accepting a waiver of their immunity. It will be a battle of cowardice against justice. It is worth trying. The year 2010 might be a good starting point for statistical data on cowards and champions of justice or the starting point on how Members of Parliament should behave, that is if we have that law.
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Sects and Commission of Inquiry
The Eglise Chrétienne is again in the news following the allegations made by Mr Goddard whose daughter has been allegedly brainwashed by that church. It is not the first time that allegations of brainwashing or the sheer kidnapping of children are made against that church. In 1997 the minor children of the Alladees were entrusted to that church after the death of their mother. The father Mr Alladee was still alive and had not been deprived of his right of parental authority over the children. He applied for an order to have the children back. Such an order was made by Judge Vinod Boolell who even requested that an investigation be carried in the involvement of the lawyers acting for the Eglise Chrétienne or its offshoot or satellite, APSA. Nothing was done and the authorities just kept quiet. The then Attorney General Razack Peeroo did not deem it fit to start an investigation. The same attitude was taken by the former Chief Justice Pillay. As for the then government of Navin Ramgoolam it established a Select Committee that never came into existence. The Eglise Chrétienne was free to dispose of the Alladee children as the order of the judge was not and could not be executed, the children having been removed from Mauritius when their father had by law their custody.
The Alladee children sent letters and cassettes to the judge who made the order to show that they were both compelled into following that church. How may we ask were minor children be made to consent to leave the parental authority of their father without an appropriate court order? Paul Bérenger says that he has a file on the Eglise Chrétienne. He was in power from 2000 to 20005. Why did he not establish an inquiry into the doings of that church? It is not too late to set up a commission of inquiry as has been suggested by many recently into the acts of that church or sect as many are labelling it. But that inquiry should be chaired by a scrupulously independent judge who has no ties to any sect or to the freemasonry. Its terms of reference should including the Alladee children. The passport office will have also some explanations to offer.
Raj Meetarbhan has rightly summarized the principle of such an inquiry: Qui pourrait se sentir gêné par une commission d’enquête sur l’Eglise chrétienne ? En tout cas, pas la cofondatrice de la secte, Audrey Hardy. Elle a déclaré publiquement qu’elle ne s’y oppose pas. C’est maintenant au tour du gouvernement de se prononcer sur l’opportunité d’une enquête. Si aucun dirigeant politique ne craint la vérité sur ses agissements et ses infiltrations présumées au sein de l’Etat, on voit mal ce qui peut bloquer la mise sur pied d’une commission d’enquête sur la secte (l’express, 23 Dec 09).
As Sir Winston Churchill once said truth is incontrovertible. The truth about how sects pick children should be laid bare.
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Politics & Electoral Reform
A political news that is worth noting is the possible candidacy of Dr Ramjuttun in Triolet under the MMM banner in the 2010 general elections. It cannot be disputed that the MMM has always been a ferocious critic of Dr Ramjuttun. Harish Bhoodoo added to that ferocity with a series of allegations against Dr Ramjuttun. How would the stalwarts of the MMM view this candidacy? The MMM always invokes noble principles when doing so suits it immediate purposes. It is rather odd that after having combated Dr Ramjuttun from all possible angles over the years, the MMM now wants to field him as a candidate against the Prime Minister. But are we not used to such historical somersaulting — MMM style?
In 1982 Dr Ramjuttun defeated Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam the father of Dr Navin Ramgoolam. But this occurred at a time of great dissatisfaction with the government of the day and after a vicious and personal campaign led by the MMM-PSM againt SSR. Matters are different today. The question remains whether the MMM will cling to anybody to win power and thus sacrifice basic principles that it makes us believe it is guided by. What does the youth of the MMM think of all this? Years come and go but the MMM never changes. Will 2010 be different for that party?
The year 2010 might also see Paul Berenger attempting to be elected as Prime Minister in his own right if he leads the MMM with all its new members with or without any alliance at the general elections. This will be his third such attempt. He made such a bid in 1983 and was not elected in Quatre Bornes. Though he combated the nomination of Gaetan Duval and others in 1982 with the staging of a rally in front of Government House to boo Gaetan Duval, Paul Berenger managed to get back to Parliament in 1983 as a best loser himself. In 1987 he lost his seat and tried again to be Prime Minister in 2005 after succeeding Sir Anerood Jugnauth in 2003. He again failed in that bid to be elected in a legitimate way as Prime Minister. He will be making his third bid in 2010. Just as in 2005 he will again be facing Navin Ramgoolam. But this time Ramjuttun may be with him and he believes that may help him clinch the deal with the electorate. Events will tell us what the outcome will be.
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Who won the by-election in Quartier Militaire or rather who lost it? Pravind Jugnauth is very nuanced in his evaluation of the results. Exultation was no doubt in order at the proclamation of the results after his 2005 ignominious defeat as a leader of a party that was laying claim to the seat of Prime Minister in 2008. But was he the winner? For sure the MMM was a loser after fielding a candidate who was censured both by the Supreme Court and by the Privy Council for illegal electoral practice. The winner was not Pravind Jugnauth even if he did not lose. The sole victor was the Labour Party that gave its backing, official or otherwise to the MSM candidate.
Labour adopted a very cunning strategy and by so doing killed two birds with a stone. First, by backing Pravind Jugnauth, Navin Ramgoolam sent a clear signal to him that single-handed he stood no chance at the by-election and a defeat would sound his political death knell. Second, he sent a clear signal to the MMM that they were not that invincible force they have always claimed to be as they lost even with an incumbent like Ashock Jugnauth. On what lines will a future political alliance, if there is one, be forged remains to be seen. Even an MMM-MSM alliance should not take us by surprise. We just have to remember the last minute deal between the MMM and the MSM in 2000, famously or infamously known as the Med Point deal.
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One of the thorniest issues facing the politicians is how to establish an electoral system that can reduce to the minimum the ethnic divide that we often witness at each election in terms of ticket allocation, voting and results. Blackmail on ethnic and caste lines are the norms during an election campaign. Such base techniques is the lexicon of politicians and agents and electors who would utilise them to the full for short-term gains or long-term prospects depending on how voracious one is in terms of ambition or profit making. The best-loser system has been heavily criticised as it perpetuates ethnic divides. The best loser system, for example, compels a candidate to reveal his/her ethnicity on his candidacy. Rezistans ek Alternativ has won the right to contest that before the Human Rights Committee. How can such a condition be deemed illegal if it is provided for in the Schedule to the Constitution that prescribes for the additional best loser seats? The best loser system was introduced to allay the fears of the minorities as opposed to the Hindu majority who was depicted as the ogre that would swamp all others after independence. Had we been united in our independence bid we would not perhaps have to bear with the best-loser system and even more importantly we would not have lost Diego Garcia.
Now that the Electoral Supervisory Commission has published its report of the constituency boundaries the issue of electoral reforms surfaced again. The MMM is always quick to attack the government for its failure in bringing about electoral reforms. Such reforms need a majority of three quarters. The present government does not have that kind of majority. This means reliance on the votes of the opposition. That further means submitting to the blackmail of the opposition and entering in compromises which in the long run may prove more damaging than the present system of first past the post. Three times in the history of politics the MMM along with the MSM had a majority of three quarters and they never bothered with electoral reforms. They have never explained why this was so. If only they want to be realistic on the eve of 2010 they must show some seriousness of purpose in their bid to bring a lasting contribution in the electoral reform process. It is high time for all political parties to bury their differences and start working on these reforms as they are not the copyright of a party but the legitimate right of the country.
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Greed and the need for dominance
Notwithstanding the events that have taken place, time follows its inexorable march and waits for nobody. Each and every one of us, whatever be our respective professional or personal responsibilities, have to bring our own contributions to the improvement not only of our country but of the whole world. The biggest challenge facing humanity is climate change. Climate change cuts across caste, ethnic divide, countries, continents, politics, financial resources, etc. Mother Nature has no time to waste on such considerations and we cannot cut a deal with her. The way to minimise the negative impact of climate change is to change our habits and our attitude. Are we prepared to rise up to the challenge? Or are we still going to tread on that irresponsible path of invoking rights while blissfully ignoring our obligations and bask in that false comfort that the world owes us a living and will always come to our rescue.
Let 2010 jolt us back to reality and bring in all of us a change of mindset. In the meantime terrorists will carry on fighting in what they believe to be a just war at the cost of destroying civilians; superpowers will go on consolidating their unwanted presence in foreign lands by invoking the war on terror; Europe will go on closing its borders to control immigrants’ influx and thus give a boost to far right-wing parties that make immigration their political platform as it is vote catching; our business people will go on pressing for a weak rupee by invoking the blackmail of massive job losses; law students will fail massively the local Bar examinations and yet succeed at similar examinations in the United Kingdom.
There is so little time to change so many things. Yet it takes such little things to make lasting changes. What is the stumbling block on the path of humanity that is blocking change? Can it be greed and the need for dominance?