Opaque Veil

Editorial

Most people will agree that trust in government and in politicians has reached an all-time low. This is not a phenomenon confined to a few countries only. Democracies around the world are distrusted by a majority of their citizens, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. The trust deficit locally is evidenced by the rising abstention rate at most elections. If that trend were to continue, fewer Mauritians will trust their politicians and political institutions.

The present government was elected by only 37% of the voting electorate – an electoral victory that should not have given great comfort to its leaders, and one that it should have set out to fix since its early days in power. Unfortunately the government’s credibility has been damaged by its governance of the country marked by a series of scandals involving members of the government and their protégés that it could have done without. Three ministers (Yerrigadoo, Collendavello & Sawmynaden) have been forced to vacate their offices since 2017 for different reasons. Whether it was the Bet365 affair, or the Emergency Procurements of medical supplies and equipment from dubious suppliers in some cases, to the St Louis Gate affair which led to the revocation of the former Deputy Prime minister, and to so many cases, the ICAC and the police have been ineffective to bring to book the culprits. Worse still, despite a judicial inquiry concerning the murder of MSM political activist Soopramanien Kistnen, police failure to pursue the inquiry effectively, all have piled up to undermine the government’s credibility in the eyes of a large majority of Mauritians. 

The latest major crisis that has come up relates to the allegations of the ex-CEO of Mauritius Telecom (MT) about instructions he would have received from the Prime Minister to allow a team of Indian technicians access to the BaieJacocet Landing Station for the purpose of installing device/equipment to monitor internet traffic to and from Mauritius. As it could be expected, an association is already sought to be made in local media with the PM’s instructions to have a “security survey” conducted at the landing station with espionage operations conducted by all the major players in this part of the world and so vital for their security interests. The second relates to the political ends that might potentially be achieved through such interference in the internet network for the monitoring and control of social media communications.

Here as well, a report by ‘The Wire’ (usually critical of the Bharatiya Janata Party), last January 2022, about the alleged use of Tek Fog, an application software, by the information technology cell of the BJP as part of their social media campaigning mostly during pre-election periods was dug out to give credence to what could be the real intentions behind the “security survey” conducted here. This has been helped by the earlier attempt in April 2021 by the government as announced in its ‘Consultation Paper on proposed amendments to the ICT Act’, which recommended “not only legal but also technical enforcement measures” to intervene upstream with a view to screen, analyse and identify online content deemed illegal and harmful before taking action to curtail such content.

Concerning the more recent MT saga, in reply to the PNQ put by the Leader of the Opposition on 5 July 2022, the Prime Minister stated “in the most unequivocal terms” that there has been “at no point in time any installation or any attempt by my Office to install whatsoeverdevice and orequipment at any of the Submarine Cable Landing Stations to monitor internet traffic to and from Mauritius”. He did not give any details about any security threat that compelled a “security survey”, which is quite understandable since it is unlikely that any Prime Minister would make public such details – whether such or any security threat did exist or not. Sherry Singh, who would surely be aware that he would have to face the music if he cannot substantiate his allegations, has countered the Prime Minister’s version with the assertion that he is in possession of proofs that interference with the internet network at the landing station did take place.

That remains to be seen, but all that has become quite ugly. It’s not only the government’s credibility in the eyes of Mauritians that could be seriously undermined, but also its credibility in the eyes of shareholders of the SAFE Consortium and stakeholders in the world who might be following the widely mediatised affair. The government should come forward with a strong defence that the allegations are unfounded, since violation of any contractual obligation with the international Consortium, as stated by the MT ex-CEO, may indeed leave the country in an uncomfortable situation regarding future upgrade or evolution of the cable networks that link us so vitally to the rest of the world.Definitely there is a need for more openness and for giving the right information and answers that would lift the opaque veil that is surrounding this whole incident.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 15 July 2022

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