Never Again

This is certainly not a very proud moment in our country. Lessons have to be learnt and the required corrective measures have to be urgently taken to set the highest code of good governance and ethics in the country

The dramatic and unprecedented events of the past week have jolted the nation and have bruised the naive innocence of many. It is a startling glimpse into a murky world hidden from the public eye. The country has been woken up to the disconcerting scale of a covert reality which sometimes transpired in unbelievable whispering campaigns.

The images of substantial hoards of cash in local and foreign currency stashed in bulky safes and bulging suitcases have opened a Pandora’s Box of speculations. Such images reminiscent of those shown on the world’s TV channels at the height of the Nigerian oil corruption scandals are alien to our country. It taints our image.

In a country that thrives on rumour and gossip, the wildest conjectures of every kind are rife and will multiply unabated until credible explanations are swiftly forthcoming.

The scale of the funds in cash found begs so many crying questions. Why on earth would anyone keep such enormous sums of cash, evaluated from reports at more than a hundred million rupees, at home? It is clear that this ‘treasure trove’ was the real target of the search warrant. As boasted in the press declarations, there was prior information about the colossal extent of the hoards of cash. In these shadowy times of shifting allegiances, was the raid primed by insider information or a whistle blower? Is this the tip of the iceberg?

The upshot is that the very hyped and protracted investigations about essentially the truth about a reported robbery at Navin Ramgoolam’s bungalow in Roches-Noires have in comparison overnight paled in importance.

There have obviously been serious errors of judgement in both cases. People in high positions of responsibility or at the head of government or the State who have to take decisions on very often complex and tricky issues are expected to have certain necessary sterling qualities which include sound judgement. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Managing Director of the IMF and potential Socialist candidate at the French Presidential elections in 2012, who was embroiled in various allegations of improper conduct, has had, as a consequence, to resign from his office.

This is certainly not a very proud moment in our country. Lessons have to be learnt and the required corrective measures have to be urgently taken to set the highest code of good governance and ethics in the country. As a deterrent, it is essential that the investigations also fathom out the sources of the massive sums of cash funds found and bring anyone involved in any illicit transactions to justice.

It is equally important that in deference to their sensitive nature, the ongoing investigations are carried out by the police and the institutions concerned with the highest probity and transparency of process unhindered by any interference of any kind. In essence, these must meet the test of fairness and objective scrutiny as they are and will remain under the watchful eye of the public and the people. The judiciary will be called to play a key role to arbiter the merits of the lawsuits lodged.

In this context, is it not also high time to put a stop to the questionable practice of arresting suspects late on a Friday after court hours when they cannot apply for bail resulting in their having to bear the ignominy of spending a night or more in custody even before being first judged in a court of law?

Are our laws framed in such a manner to allow such contentious actions? If that is the case, the laws must be urgently recast to re-establish the fundamental and sacrosanct human rights principles of présomption d’innocence and innocent until proved guilty prevailing in the best legal systems in the world. All citizens must, without exception, benefit from these cardinal principles.

The grossly inadequate rules to monitor the financing of political parties provide licence to both donors and the party custodians of these funds which remain unaccounted for. Shouldn’t this loophole be plugged at the earliest?

As a nation let us resolve to take whatever steps are necessary and introduce the required checks and balances that are needed to ensure that such distressing events never happen again in the country.

Keeping focus

In the midst of all the prevailing commotion, it is crucial that the government keeps focus on the colossal task of running the affairs of the State in the context of the many social and economic challenges faced by the country. This task is compounded by inter alia the heavy legacy of past government agreements in respect of diverse dormant mega-projects and the shoddy workmanship on major infrastructural projects. These agreements which include projects on prime strategic state lands such as Newtown are being examined and unravelled in the public interest. The unexecuted projects such as Jin Fei are being re-negotiated to generate growth and employment whilst the related problem of the displaced small planters is being addressed.

It is however essential that in pursuing the legitimate objective of reviewing or terminating leonine contracts deemed to be against the public interest or of recuperating lands in stalled projects, government also consult and take expert counsel from international law firms specialised in commercial law and contracts to avoid, as has been the case before, costly litigation and the risk of having to subsequently pay substantial damages.

The discovery of deep cracks and the inherent flaws in the construction of a leg of the Terre Rouge-Verdun highway require costly repairs which put added pressure on government finances. The process of re-igniting and setting the country on a more buoyant growth path will therefore entail such corrective decisions and attendant costs.

Changing tack

There are equally important challenges on the international front and our principal export markets. Despite the ‘shot in the arm’ of the sharp fall in oil prices, the IMF arguing that this will be offset by negative factors, notably weaker investment and a rising US dollar has last month once again lowered its forecast of global economic growth to 3.5% this year compared to 3.8% estimated in October 2014 whilst the growth forecast of 2016 has been cut to 3.7%.

Growth in the Euro zone is estimated at 1.2% this year and 1.4% in 2016. The Euro plummeted to an 11-year low against the US dollar last month falling below $1.12 for the first time since September 2003 despite various European Central Bank’s (ECB) monetary stimulus packages. On the basis of its recent resounding victory at last month’s general elections and a mandate to contest the austerity measures imposed on Greece by the Troika comprising the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, the Syriza party has opened negotiations on its bailout package on a smart mode. Will this rock the Euro boat further? Despite applying rigorous austerity measures causing immense hardships to the people, the EU has so far been unable to conjure the international financial crisis.

It is therefore pointless to continue to bury our heads in the sand in the face of these ground realities and remain blind to the reality that it is the weakening fundamentals of the euro zone which are depreciating the value of the Euro in the market. In such a context, it is therefore important that the value of the Rupee continues to protect the larger public interest against the lobbies upholding sectoral interests.

In a context of persistent stunted growth in the EU and the end of market premiums in a more liberal market environment, isn’t it also time to review our traditionally euro centric strategies and where warranted by our competitiveness prospect for market outlets for our exports in emerging countries having a more upbeat growth potential? Mauritius is a small country and the management of its market and other challenges is commensurate to the volume of its diverse product and services’ offer.

There is a collective national will and ambition to address all these daunting challenges and issues head on to establish a more inclusive socio-economic and equitable order in the country for the benefit of all as well as a resolve, in the light of the current deplorable events, to root good governance in the national ethical culture. Government leadership must therefore frame and implement the required strategies, process of reforms, legislations and systemic transformations necessary to bring this sea change about at the earliest.

 

* Published in print edition on 13 February  2015

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