By Mohan Kanhaya
A case of possible corruption in the port was signalled in 2006. ICAC was entrusted to enquire into a matter concerning an irregular payment of $25,000 that would have been made to a holder of a high post in the Port Authority by a Scandinavian firm engaged for a port dredging operation in Port Louis harbour. It is unconfirmed but it came out at some point in the interval that ICAC was being denied access to certain documents from overseas which it believed were necessary for it to proceed in the case.
The case has been handed over to the Police CCID which has taken up the investigation. In that context, the CCID has already proceeded with the arrest of the past Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of this public body this week. It is said that the investigation will go to the lower levels of the hierarchy of this institution and that public servants will possibly have to answer for any possible acts and omissions in the matter.
The speed with which the CCID has proceeded in this past case that has been lying down so many years has come as a good surprise. It comes as a welcome change that there is affirmative action on the part of the investigators and that conclusions would soon be reached. Making everyone down the line answerable is also a welcome development. There is one important difference from past cases: the assumption usually has been that it is politicians that would be primarily answerable for cases of corruption; in the present case, the CCID is out to also identify those who might have been involved in acts of aiding and abetting crimes not limited to politicians.
If it is established by the CCID that levels lower down in the establishment would have compromised on their duties, it will constitute an important breakthrough. Instead of putting alleged acts of omission and commission by the hierarchy of the public service to the Public Service Commission for appropriate disciplinary action, the case would jump out of this limited cadre and form part of matters that are decided upon by the judicial system just like ordinary crimes.
Even if higher-ups, including political nominees were to be condemned at the end of the day, the focus this time will fall upon any public servant who would have assisted in the commission of the crime, knowing full well that established rules were being openly flouted but they failed to do anything to protect the public interest.
It is to be hoped that public servants will learn their lesson and stop condoning behaviours of higher-ups taking advantage of those who choose to wear blinkers deliberately. There are so many examples of wrongly executed (i.e., sub-standard) public works which are visible to everyone but not so, it would seem, to the public servants who are officially in charge of supervising them. Cases will also abound in this respect from the angle of exorbitant cost overruns paid for by the Treasury to the detriment of the public to firms which hike up their government contract prices from time to time.
People will thus get the answer as to how those firms engaged in public contracts have kept increasing the original bills considerably despite all the tendering procedures and strict allocation of contracts in place that are supposed to keep abuses of the type under control. We may come to know whether deliberate lacunae were left behind for executors of public contracts to exploit “lawfully” and, if so, by whom and at what level of official responsibility.
If the CCID fulfils its real mission in this case, this might become a precedent for stopping abuses of the public purse by all manner of triangulation resorted to by office holders.
It will, by the same token, act to put on hold various obvious cases of unaccounted-for wealth accumulation and parading of exaggerated expenditures beyond their means by some officers. If, as a result of a well driven investigation, the Police can really go to the heart of the corruption cycle, sanitation of the public space can materialize at last and give Mauritius credentials that it has appeared to be losing on this front.
* Published in print edition on 15 June 2012