Disquieting times and Missteps

Fed up with an increasingly arbitrary environment in place and apprehensive of more of the same to come if Constitutional changes, as being then proposed by the Labour-MMM alliance, the people gave an unexpectedly thumping majority to the alliance opposed to Labour-MMM.

It is with the hope that the required rule-of-law and institutional serenity will be restored that the people voted the new government to power. People also voted in its favour because they believed that there were men and women enough of sufficient calibre in it who could take charge of the country’s economic agenda. The anger with which they voted against the Labour-MMM alliance was also seen in the fact that the Labour leader lost his seat in the Assembly and the leader of the MMM escaped a similar thrashing by the skin of the teeth.

It means the people – especially the silent majority — should not have been taken for granted by the outgoing government. This message was delivered in no unclear terms during the polls. One can safely conclude that the people will not hesitate to repeat their clearly given message to those who indulge in excesses, should such an eventuality come around. For this reason, it would be quite helpful if the present government did everything in its power to bring under control all those elements who have a tendency to go for excesses.

We have already seen a number of missteps under the new government, unfortunately.

Undermining public institutions

Several undeserving nominations to positions of control in some of the country’s key institutions have been effected, in sharp opposition to the promises made during the present government’s electoral campaign that selection to high posts in public institutions will be done objectively and on merit. From one unpublicized appointment to the next, a full string of appointments has taken place since after December 11th with the coming of the new government. One can understand pressures coming upon the government from one lobby and then from another. Before the system generalizes too much however, it should start resisting such pressure, if only to live up to the standards it has itself proclaimed publicly. Some from the ranks of the government have only recently threatened existing holders of high office of some public sector bodies about how they should have done their job, criticizing them for not having been up to the level. Would this not give people outside Mauritius looking for scapegoats at the international level on financial crime, for instance, the opportunity to point the finger at us for whatever misfires at the international level? Should the concerned officer have to travel outside decent limits imposed by administrative procedures at the risk of being sacked? No senior officer may be expected to deliver the goods where MLAs give themselves airs of being able to make or unmake careers in the public sector.

The risk is that the institutions will not be run in the best interests of the country. They will eventually be made to serve the private interests of the newly appointed mandarins. Ministers may even bend the rules to make the concerned public institutions compliant with what they want. As the institutions’ potential will thus be eroded, we’ll not get the best out of them. The country will suffer.

Arrests and propagandist publicity

Actions by some parts of the police do not instil confidence enough that we have done away with some of abusive and inefficient past practices. Some members of the present government may themselves have been victims of abusive arrests by the police under the previous government. Maya Hanoomanjee was released from arrest by the court, having no case to answer. A situation like this should have signalled the need not to perpetuate similar practices.

The people have voted overwhelmingly against such practices in the last elections. In the circumstances, the government might even have gone the further step to make necessary changes to curtail for good the powers of arbitrary arrest by the police and thus reassured citizens by putting a premium on the intrinsic right to freedom. Nothing of the sort has been undertaken to clean up the air. It can still be done.

In one highly publicized case, the previous Governor of the Central Bank was arrested on what appear to be flimsy grounds that it will be difficult to prove in court. In the process, the standing of the Central Bank as an institution has been sullied publicly. Mauritius got a blow at the international level. No one seemed to be bothered whether the matter couldn’t have been handled more sensibly, to protect the international good standing of the country.

The latest in this respect is the interrogation of Attorney Pazhany Thandrayan on his return last weekend from Dubai after reportedly meeting with his client Nandanee Soornack. Police seized his documents. The hope, it would appear, was to obtain evidence from his belongings seized by the police in the process and indict, if possible, the Attorney’s client and, by extension, the former Prime Minister with whom she was associated. The question people have been asking is whether, in serious matters like the law and judicial processes, it is in order for the police to seek to gather evidence by recourse to such procedures. It doesn’t look like it.

Lately, one man, Iqbal Toofany, who was arrested in a matter of suspected car theft, lost his life while held in police custody at Black River station. A person working in the vicinity of the police station where the victim was being interrogated, has sworn an affidavit the crux of which is that the dead man would have been molested physically while in police custody. The policemen allegedly involved in brutality are presumed innocent until proved guilty; so, we should not jump to hasty conclusions that the death was caused by beatings received at the hands of the police. Regarding this case, the Commissioner of Police has stated that investigation of the concerned police officers in this case is proceeding to his satisfaction, i.e., independently and without parti-pris. Reassurances are necessary when matters threaten to get out of hands.

This case echoes back however previous others. The new government campaigned last year alleging that the death in police cell of one Ashok Kumar Ramdhony would be connected with a theft that took place in the former Prime Minister’s bungalow at Roches Noires. An inquiry headed by a magistrate concluded that police were not responsible.

Still, there lingers in the public mind a strong element of suspicion whenever death occurs during police custody. The best thing would have been to keep Caesar’s wife above suspicion of being involved in any excessive behaviours.

The price to pay

As in some not remote past, certain questionable practices we’ve been seeing remind us that nothing may have changed in these respects. In fact, wild bits and pieces of information were being floated around on the sums to be recovered from the safes held at the CCID while the interrogation of the former Prime Minister was being carried on. There was speculation launched that something around a billion rupees were expected to be collected from those safes. It turned out that the actual count, including foreign currencies found in the safes, yielded only about Rs 220 million.

Not to be outdone at this much lower outcome, the media are now circulating an estimate to the effect that Nandanee Soornack would have whisked away Rs800 million in her unchecked baggage on her way to Dubai just after the December elections last year. So, not to be discomfited, those who originally vehicled the figure of one billion rupees for the Ramgoolam safes in the first place would, taking the two sums taken together, work up to the originally estimated Rs 1 billion.

When the media is led to ventilate such stupid things, with no evidence to back it all the public is wilfully misled into believing things that may prove to have no bearing on the reality. What was the point to ventilate during the scrutiny of the former Prime Minister’s safes that a certain sexual enhancement drug was among its contents? There are bounds of decency that a respectful country refuses to cross.

Finally, all that would have been achieved by what all has been going on in these respects is the destruction of the political adversary, with the risk that another identical cycle will repeat itself when the time comes. Too bad for the serenity of the country!


* Published in print edition on 27 March  2015

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