Mauritius and no country for that matter, can hope to achieve its ambition to establish a vibrant and prosperous international financial services sector of repute and attract top financial operators in the sector or provide an enabling and safe environment for substantial foreign direct investments to boost growth towards transforming the country into a high income economy, if the sacrosanct rule of banking confidentiality is irresponsibly breached.
The intentional disclosure of the confidential terms of a loan contracted by the ex-Minister of Finance in the press in violation of the rule of banking confidentiality enshrined in the Banking Act is profoundly damaging for the country. If commercial banks cannot through the highest benchmarks of banking ethics, rigorous in-house procedures and a robust culture of banking confidentiality safeguard the confidential terms of a loan agreement contracted by the Minister of Finance of the country, how on earth can we expect foreign investors or financial operators to trust and use the services of our financial services sector?
Commercial banks are essential elements of our regulatory system mandated to oversee the movement and sources of funds transiting in bank accounts to ensure that these are clean. Unlike whistle-blowers providing information on covert bank accounts opened in tax havens to evade taxes, intentional disclosure of fiduciary and confidential information regarding individual account holders in a commercial bank is unacceptable and condemnable.
Such wanton and damning leaks of privileged information undermine the foundations of one of the major pillars of our growingly more and more services-based economy. It is tantamount to a hara-kiri of the financial services sector. It is therefore imperative that the financial regulators urgently ensure that the culprits of such a serious breach of banking confidentiality are brought to book and that the incriminated bank is made answerable for putting the financial services sector in jeopardy. As we are aware, the financial services sector has already been dented by the BAI-Bramer alleged scam owing to the lack of timely and rigorous oversight and action by the regulators and auditors.
Mauritius is ideally situated both geographically and in terms of time zone to upgrade our financial services sector into a world class and reputable one with an edge over similar jurisdictions to attract and convince some of the top world operators to domicile their activities in Mauritius in order to offer an eclectic and broad range of cutting edge services. If we are to assure the prosperity and growth of the sector and its operators, we need to build trust in it and therefore cannot afford to repeatedly shoot ourselves in the foot.
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The end of the road
The standards of political ethics being what it is in the country, such important national considerations do not seem to carry much weight among the leadership of opposition political parties bent on unsettling the government by all means. On the contrary, true to form, they have blithely used the leaked confidential information to further their own political agendas.
The trappings of a cushy and handsomely paid job with an array of generous perks and lengthy annual parliamentary holidays have made politics in the country become a lifelong addiction for those benefitting from it.
As a result, the altruistic, the more endowed and talented young of the country have, owing to the hold of the omnipotent leaders and their coteries over their political parties, shied away from politics and its standard of ethics when they could, as representatives of the people, have served the people better and contributed more meaningfully to the advancement of the country.
No wonder therefore that despite having been roundly trounced at the December 2014 polls, a little more than a year ago, the opposition political parties have once again sounded the bugle and are raring to charge headlong into the hustings. The trigger has been the mini-reshuffle of the Cabinet effected by the Prime Minister (PM) last week, which was, akin to a judgement of Solomon, quite deft in a context of daft internecine infightings. As usual, the partisan press has conjured its own take on the events and the root causes of the reshuffle to pillory the protagonists and pressure the government, when the latter has a large and comfortable majority in the National Assembly.
In what is so boringly déjà vu, the leaders of the main political parties surrounded by the full party brigade in battle stations mode, called for the resignation of the ex-Minister of Finance, adding that they were all geared up to contest an eventual by-election in his constituency. Emboldened by the turn of events, the Labour Party which had been mostly lying low since the last polls pursuant to the diverse cases lodged against its leader even announced that it has scheduled a regional meeting in the constituency this week!
Politicians are incorrigible. They believe in their own pipe dreams and political fantasies. They never learn from the crying lessons of past setbacks nor ask themselves whether from the standpoint of the electorate and in deference to its unequivocal poll verdict, it should not be the end of the road for them.
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Brussels attacks: Terror can never win
The planned terrorist attacks during early morning rush hour in Brussels on Tuesday this week were aimed at causing maximum casualties among innocent and hapless civilians. The attacks left a toll of 34 dead with more than 200 injured.
No country can really be safe from such cowardly attacks on soft targets such as the departure lounge of Brussels airport full of people travelling ahead of the Easter weekend or commuters going to work in the morning on the metro. The two terrorists who blew themselves up at the airport looked like ordinary passengers on CCTV camera pushing their baggage trolleys. Preliminary evidence shows that two brothers who were Belgian nationals were among the terrorists behind the bombings. What motivates and can justify such deliberate bloodshed?
The best way to counter this is through an efficient network of ground intelligence to identify and smoke out organized terrorist cells as well as sleeper cells buried inside the warren of buildings and flats in working class districts of Brussels such as Molenbeek.
The Islamic State (IS) has taken terrorism to the heart of Europe at a critical juncture when there is an important debate going on in Europe on how best to tackle the refugee crisis. The recent related deal on refugees between Turkey and Europe involving an exchange of refugees of different nationalities has expectedly been decried for being a human rights violation. The 2.7-3.5 million refugees from war-torn Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan live in makeshift, tenuous and unprotected conditions in Turkey which is to receive billions of Euros in aid from Europe.
Belgium and Brussels, the seat of the European Union government, is getting an unexpected notoriety. Belgium has the highest number of foreign fighters per capita in Syria than any other Western European state. The carnage in Paris last November is presumed to have been planned in Brussels. The 10th Paris attacker was captured in Brussels last week after more than four months in hiding. The Brussels attack has cast a shadow over the capture.
Europe is facing a profound dilemma. More than one million refugees representing 0.2% of the population (compared to 280,000 in 2014) have entered into Europe in 2015. The scale of the crisis is such that 135,000 refugees have already entered Europe in the first two months of 2016. European values of humanity which underpin the decision to provide a safe haven to refugees, more than 80% of which are from war torn Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan are countered by mounting anti-migrant movements in Europe. In parallel, there is a growing xenophobia against migrants linked to the terror attacks in Europe perpetrated by European nationals of migrant descent.
At the heart of the problem is also the fundamental issue of integration of migrants within their country of adoption which provides them with social benefits, rights as citizens in a democratic society, the opportunities for a new and better life and to prosper while preserving their cultural identity. In the context of the terror threats and attacks in Europe, there is also the important issue of the role assumed by the migrant community to thwart radicalisation of their youth and to help eradicate terrorism in their country of adoption.
In a global world driven more and more by cultural osmosis and fusion culture, civilised society cannot allow terror to win against the loftier values of humanity and solidarity. The spontaneous offer of food and warm blankets to refugees by ordinary European citizens in Greece and the EU border states in the Balkans is vivid proof than terror can never win.
* Published in print edition on 25 March 2016