Politics: Interesting times and real tests ahead

By Jan Arden

The media and observers have obviously noticed and reported the flurry of activities, inaugurations of round-abouts, fly-overs, laying of foundation stones, which have engaged the PM personally every other day, with the MBC-TV cameras in tow for the evening news bulletins on the public carrier.

Many wonder whether it is calculated to counterbalance the radio and web-tv reporting on judiciary matters under way in various tribunals or simply to take advantage of the Opposition’s apparent lack of structured and coordinated response on topical issues. The messaging through the mediatic space and the parallel seduction of foot-loose defectors from some Opposition parties are certainly calculated to bring maximum benefits towards municipal elections that cannot be withheld much longer as the country gears up for open frontiers and lesser restrictions.

Banking on the feel-good factor of resumption of tourism, however modest, the bankable aspects of the delayed public sector PRB report, and perhaps an accelerated pace for NRB recommendations for the private sector, payment of end-of-year bonuses, and a personalized campaign against Opposition forces perceived to be disunited and incapable of a coordinated alliance, there would be no better time for the MSM than to throw down the gauntlet before the end of December. That may suggest the week-end of 18-19th December at latest. To delay matters to the first trimester of next year holds some risks as both the feel-good factor ebbs away and the uncertainties about weather, cyclonic season and heavy downpours, not to mention the potential damages of a delta variant spread, have to be factored in.

In any case, retaining a foothold even in some urban municipalities would be a great drum-beater for pro-MSM press and the MBC-TV, while their strategists might reckon that even a complete loss in those unavoidable elections may certainly have psychological impact and consequences but that, two years from general elections, those would not be insurmountable for a party whose primary focus would be resisting or carrying the vote in the rural constituencies.

The pro-party press and the national carrier would certainly campaign actively to that end although the Opposition would be more aware of what role immigrant workers or an Electoral Supervisory Commission, with the recent hand-picked political nominees, could play. We are certainly due for interesting times and real tests ahead for our fledgling democratic processes.

* * *

Exiting the grey-list

Getting off the notorious grey-list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has undoubtedly required that the authorities boost up their act and coordinate necessary remedial actions across the board, not only through new appropriate legislation, more functional government law enforcement agencies and better trained regulators but also from higher awareness from private players in the corporate banking and financial sectors.

There is no need to highlight that the structural deficiencies identified in the ESAAMLAG Mutual Evaluation Report of 2018 needed that level of political commitment and coordinated action that would certainly have avoided a dismaying February 2020 FATF grey-listing in the first place. But in a period of self-inflicted wounds and turmoil stemming from political considerations, including what Opposition labelled as vendetta politics, higher offices paid little heed to those distant alarm bells and well-meaning cadres in individual agencies and departments were left tinkering at the periphery.

In retrospect, more than the IMF-FATF listing, it was the even more embarrassing EU black-listing a few months later, that proved sufficiently traumatic for the authorities and the corporate and banking sectors, to constitute a wake-up call that spurred the higher government levels into a better focused and energised thrust that has finally borne fruit this end of year. And for the sake of a sector that pre-pandemic contributed some 12% of GDP, for its upmarket jobs and 8000-9000 employees and for the national economy short on sources of foreign exchange, we can share the mood of celebrations from government and all quarters for the tremendous effort and achievement to exit the FATF grey-list, pending a quasi-perfunctory exit from the EU black-list.

As Minister for Financial Services Mahen Seeruttun summed it with commendable restraint, Mauritius can now reposition itself as a respectable financial offshore services centre and restore a reputation that had obviously taken some battering. More than others, he would be aware how much the Opposition, parliamentary and extra-parliamentary, could have made the audit exercise tricky but in a patriotic spirit, declined to make their reservations known to the on-site audit team.

He is also perhaps wise enough to realise that the battle against the variety of means, illicit, corrupt and ill-gotten gains escape our vigilance in lucrative drug-trafficking, gambling, real-estate or corrupt government procurement contracts is never won simply by virtue of a certificate attesting to processes being in place.

Do we have top-notch, credible and independent investigative agencies covering such a span with effective collaboration and results? Have there been some useful recommendations from auditors or external consultants who provided the much-needed assistance to exit the grey-list upon which the Ministry and associated agencies could dig their teeth into? How do we convert those recommendations into entrenched, sustainable gains and, in short, get ahead of the learning curve rather than play catch-up, before chest-pumping and thinking of giving lessons to Africa?

The Minister is entirely right to maintain a sober tone and keep pressing ahead with post-FATF exit behind the scenes work going.

* * *

Parliament resumes: An opportunity to wipe the slate clean

The National Assembly is set to resume this week and, except for the most partisan of government backers, nobody looks forward to repeat performances of the last session with a Speaker who appeared determined to be party rather than unbiased referee.

It is regretted that the constitutional case brought by Hon Arvin Boolell against the different rulings of the Speaker has been dropped for the reflections of the Supreme Court might have helped clear the air and better draw the lines of acceptable authority in managing Assembly proceedings so that all duly elected members of Parliament and, in particular, the Opposition, can have their say.

It goes without saying that expunging Opposition questions and even the Hansard, allowing Ministers rambling time to answer specific questions, expulsions at the drop of a hat, or long lists of unanswered questions, amongst other feats, are far from exemplary practices, even for a Westminster replica.

Is this the opportunity when the Speaker, who is still due in Court for another challenge, chooses to wipe his slate clean and make amends to his practice even if the exchanges between elected MPs on either side is at times electrically charged?

Can positional authority shift to authority by commanding respect of one and all? Will he be more inclined to call rambling Ministers to order or demand that unanswered questions be answered in writing within firm time-frames? Will an effort be made to amend Standing Orders in the light of experience gathered? Let us see.

* Published in print edition on 26 October 2021

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