Rule of Licence

The signs are not good. In too many institutions and departments, there does not seem to be a system of control, let alone an efficient and rigorous one. The country is in a sorry state on too many fronts.

The signs are not good. In too many institutions and departments, there does not seem to be a system of control, let alone an efficient and rigorous one. The country is in a sorry state on too many fronts. Licence and indiscipline hold sway under the nose of a multiplicity of costly authorities incapable of ensuring compliance with laws and rules and assuring good governance.

Government employees of the National Transport Authority were caught last week thriving on an alleged scam based on the falsification of the horse power certificates of high powered cars and vehicles to enable their owners to pay lower road taxes than what is actually due on those vehicles. To save a few thousand rupees, some relatively well off owners of high end and expensive cars are prepared to break the law and defraud State revenue in connivance with public officers. In another alleged scam second hand cars are purportedly being passed as new. Are there no internal controls in place?

Everyday newspaper headlines are replete with endless instances of diverse drug importation, possession, peddling or cultivation offences and arrests. These range from hard drugs and synthetic ones to locally cultivated marijuana. Despite arrests and sentences, drug trafficking continues to thrive undeterred wreaking havoc in society and destroying the lives of principally the youth and all those caught in the web of addiction.

In spite of various Commissions of enquiry set up since Independence, the legal and penal responses as well as the arsenal of deterrent measures in place have been unable to stem drug trafficking and consumption.

It is unacceptable that this evil is not rooted out in a small country like Mauritius, where presumably all the main traffickers and drug barons are known and their illicit activities already documented in police files. A new Commission of Enquiry on Drug Trafficking was set up in July 2015. Isn’t it time that we review and model the legal dispositions against drug trafficking on those of countries such as Singapore where the strict laws and punishments meted out act as a real and effective deterrent?

In spite of speed cameras and more road patrols, roadblocks and checks by the police, road accidents and the toll of casualties continue to rise unabated. Too often, we witness reckless drivers overtaking over white lines and even at road bends with attendant risks to themselves and others. Those of us who have driven abroad and in particular in the United Kingdom can vouch how courtesy towards other drivers and road users, strict respect of traffic laws and the driving code as well abiding by the rule of not driving after drinking renders driving such a pleasant and safe experience. Why can’t we replicate these necessary conditions to turn the tide of road accidents and casualties here?

The proliferation of callous crimes and larcenies of every kind are also evidenced in media headlines. Too many seem to be crossing the red line of crime. The seeming lack of guilt or moral scruple of people indulging in criminal activities of all sorts is an indictment of the ability of society’s institutions and moral guardians to inculcate the necessary ethical values among citizens to enable them in particular to discern between right and wrong.

On all these fronts, the country seems to be skidding off track.

Running a government is not only about grappling with the daunting economic challenges facing the country but also about addressing the above important societal issues profoundly afflicting and undermining society. The quality of life of people is not only measured by people’s income but also by such yardsticks as the standard of law and order and road safety in the country, the absence of corruption and whether the country is free of drugs or otherwise.

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Storm in a teacup

On the political front, it is no better. The nation was aghast last week to hear the Minister of Good Governance in essence put in question on prime time TV the core principle of the independence of the Judiciary within the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution, which is one of the fundamental anchors of our Parliamentary democracy. By subjectively casting doubt on the independence of the present Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) only because he happens to be a sibling of a politician of the opposition, he was basically encroaching on prerogatives which are solely those of the Judiciary.

In a country where the sovereign and unalienable rights of every Mauritian, including his freedom of political opinion, are guaranteed in the Constitution, he also seems to question the fundamental right of a senior career barrister of the State Law office to legitimately postulate for the post of DPP and be selected by an independent body such as the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (which is chaired by the Chief Judge and comprises the Senior Puisne Judge and other senior judges) as well as the choice of the Commission, simply because his brother happens to be a member of the opposition.

Every citizen should be able to aspire and obtain the highest posts of the country, irrespective of his genealogical tree or who his father is, provided his professional conduct is unimpeachable. Within the confines of Mauritius starting with politicians themselves, almost everyone can be found through convoluted ramifications to have family ties across the political divide. So what? In fact the case of the current DPP is a case in point and an acid test to validate a system of public administration based on professional acumen and ethics instead of being manned by partisan coteries.

No one should arrogate himself the misguided right of questioning such fundamental aspects of our Constitution as the independence of the Judiciary and the sacrosanct freedom of political opinion, the more so on tenuous partisan grounds. Even Young Turks should know better. This is simply not on.

This is the more preposterous because the post of the DPP is specifically protected under the Constitution in order to safeguard his independence. To this end, the DPP in the exercise of his powers ‘shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority’. However, the Constitution also provides a specified recourse in case of professional failings by the DPP in the discharge of his responsibilities. The very argument that a citizen of the country is debarred from being selected and occupying a particular post because of his family ties or worse his presumed personal political opinions when this is one of freedoms of citizens specifically protected ‘without discrimination’ in the Constitution, is basically flawed. It infringes upon citizens’ fundamental rights.

This condemnable stance is in essence an extreme instance of the decried and partisan policy of arbitrary political profiling of people for the purposes of employment, promotions and appointments which has plagued and systemically undermined the government Establishment for decades since the 80s. For too long this absurd and daft policy patronized by the political parties of every hue has held sway at the expense of meritocracy and good governance. It is high time to radically change tack and policy if Mauritius is to endow itself with the talent, intelligence and professional acumen necessary and desperately lacking to fashion a far better and inclusive future for all.

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Question of legitimacy

After lying low for most of last year in the wake of the multiple cases filed against its leader, the Labour Party in one its rare public appearances last week announced its intent of celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Labour Party on 21 February 2016. This obviously begs the question of the legitimacy of the present Labour in so many ways distanced from the ethos and lofty ideals of its founding fathers, to basically celebrate true Labour. A Labour Party which truly upholds and does not compromise on its core principles.

This gaping ideological rift was inter alia evidenced by the endorsements of decried electoral reform proposals and proportional representation, robustlyl opposed by the Labour Party during the Constitutional debates leading to independence and roundly rejected by the electorate at the last general elections.

Let the unsung multitude and the common man who claim allegiance to Labour’s seminal values and continue to fight for a better and more inclusive socio-economic order legitimately celebrate this milestone until a new Labour avatar takes birth to be the torchbearer of its values and ideals under a young and dynamic new leadership.

The rule of licence and rabidly partisan politics has allowed duds to take hold. A paradigm shift aimed instead at harnessing the brightest and the most talented of the country to deliver on the promises made to the people and the aspiring young is an urgent necessity.

Can we muster the collective wisdom and sense to do so?

Mrinal Roy

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