By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Common folks give little credit to all the show that is currently entertaining the media and politicians of all hues. At least, the oldest democracy of the world has no qualms about dragging the rich and powerful to the court of justice just like any ordinary citizen. In its handling of the case of alleged sexual assault which involved the former Managing Director of the IMF, the American judicial system gave the world a glimpse of its democratic principles that put all citizens on an equal footing. Unfortunately, not all democracies can boast being able to mete out equal treatment to all irrespective of their station in society.
Initially, the apparent determination of ICAC to respond to public protests against the controversial MedPoint deal left many of us in doubt about the outcome of all the investigation because the idea that high-ranking officials get away with charges of corruption, conflict of interests, embezzlement and all sorts of wrongdoings is entrenched in public opinion. The current political turmoil in the wake of the arrest of the Minister of Health and the mass resignation of MSM ministers announced by the Minister of Finance are not going to give us sleepless nights. The solidarity displayed by the group resignation smacks of blackmail and the will of the party not to endorse all the responsibility. If anything, it all sounds like a capricious and irrational reaction.
Some people suspect that, going by the track record so far, all this may finally boil down to a parody of justice to appease public outrage triggered by the deal. It may well turn out that this time matters will not be allowed to go down that road, if only to contradict such anticipations. Democratic institutions do not guarantee fairness and transparency. High ideals, principles and a set of values as guidelines for right governance do. But it is common belief that for decades, a few of those who exercise power and influence have unscrupulously flouted the law and shown disregard for the institutions they are elected to represent. This situation has usually spawned an unhealthy relationship between the public and the governing body.
Common folks have expectations that institutions on which large amounts of public funds are spent regularly should deliver tangible results. This is particularly so in cases of corruption charges. We have not been immensely successful to have the culprits condemned so far as much as to send a strong signal to potential wrongdoers in this domain. This has created some amount of frustration in the public. However, we can sense that there is a glimmer of hope this time and that an independent commission will carry on its investigation freely and thoroughly and that no influential ‘personalities’ will mess around with the judiciary to impede the conduct of the forthcoming case against any high-profile officials. There is hope that the impending case is sending the right signal to potential adepts of favoritism, cronyism, conflict of interests and corruption in general.
In a conversation with a Mauritian expat on a South African plane a few years ago, our compatriot observed that conversations often dwell on politics, politicians and all the hurly-burly engendered by their fluctuating alliances, quarrels and changing moods as if it ranked at the top of our concerns. And for this reason, he quickly gets bored every time he comes back on holidays here.
True enough, politics has long been a favorite pastime in conversations; maybe, after football and wife-beating, as VS Naipaul put it once. But not so much these days. People are more concerned with things like making ends meet at the end of the month, low and average salaries coping with high electricity bills, private TV channels and internet foreign operators which charge almost the same fees as in France, which is totally unfair. Add to this, the deep concern over water supply and scarcity of rainfall.
The plague of private tuition drains down the energy of children and the savings of their parents. Teachers should be made to do their job and deliver results in the classrooms, everybody agrees. But the tuition business goes on.
There is absence of meritocracy in certain spheres, and nomination in key posts is influenced by party affiliation and ethnicity. This is how a Sino-Mauritian woman replies to a question about the scarcity of young Sino-Mauritians in the country, and this is what accounts for the brain drain in her view. Competent young professionals leave for greener pastures where their talents and merits flourish in a proper work atmosphere, she adds, qualified and competent people do not want to be bossed around by those who are less competent.
Well, others observe that minority groups have a better bargain in pre-election campaign. Some of them, ordinary third grade SC holders get government jobs while others obtain juicy contracts in exchange for political canvassing and support. The long term consequences of such discriminatory treatment are still resented by those hailing from the majority group who brightly passed HSC exams in the best colleges of the country but had no political affiliation whatsoever. They get cynical about the whole situation: “it is better to be minority in the long run”, they would say, “even if you enrich yourself by doubtful dealings, you get the right support and make your way up by using your connection with the big wigs who exert power in the country. Just look at the economic empire some people have carved out for themselves with the support and blessing of the highest authorities”.
If anything, there is a strong desire for real justice across the spectrum of our composite society.
* Published in print edition on 29 July 2011