The hearings that are taking place at the Commission of Enquiry headed by Judge Ashraf Caunhye will perhaps be remembered as a record of the most shameful ‘first’ to have been inflicted on our Presidency to date: that an ex-President has had to be hauled before a Commission of Enquiry. The highest office in the land, that is the Presidency could have been spared this blackening of its till then pristine image if Mrs Gurib-Fakim, acting in her ‘own deliberate judgement’ as the Constitution allowed her to do, had simply tendered her resignation before she was forced to do so in the circumstances that we know.
The saga that played out at the national level in March this year, triggered by the public disclosure of bank details showing the country’s President using money meant for other purposes, is now likely to become even murkier as contradictory accounts surface during the hearings. Mrs Gurib-Fakim has already countered what the Prime Minister said at his press conference on Thursday 15th March, namely that the President had reneged on her word given to him that she would step down on that day but that, instead, on the eve, she had a communiqué released by the State House to the effect that she was not resigning.
Here was a President who was chosen on recommendation of the leader of a junior partner, newly-formed Mouveman Liberater. His ML was a minuscule breakaway formation from the MMM, a fact which should in itself have been cause for a minimum of caution, as the ML seemed to have played on ethnicity and gender, and one of its lieutenants even waxed eloquent about the future ‘Abdul Kalam of Mauritius’! In light of the events that have led to the President’s resignation, we can see how immature this comparison was. But it also revealed that blinded by the pursuit of power they had not done enough background homework. Unfortunately, even the seasoned SAJ was at that time carried away by the sweet rhetoric. Even more, he was still willing to give benefit of doubt to the President when, after meeting her and receiving no definitive response about his advice to her to step down, he stated that after all she had reimbursed the moneys spent! As if this was sufficient to wash away the instances of self-confessed ‘inadvertence’!
In retrospect, what transpires is that despite being themselves professionals in the legal field, and therefore seasoned in matters of evidence collecting, the deciders in the Alliance Lepep did not analyse deeply enough their evidentiary basis before they took the decision about their choice of candidate. And yet this is vital in what we now call the ‘reputation age’.
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The above should not however distract us from what the country is entitled to know regarding the circumstances in which the controversial investor from Angola, Segnor Alvaro Sobrinho obtained various licences in our Global Business sector. Mrs Gurib-Fakim’s departure was precipitated by her decision to set up her own Commission of Inquiry to inquire into (1) The Regulatory Authorization of Business and Financial Services Entities held and controlled directly or indirectly by Mr Alvaro Sobrinho and his relevant counterparts in Mauritius (2) Leaking of Banking Records (3) Conduct of the President in relation to credit card issued by Planet Earth Institute.
We cite here those Terms of Reference of the Commission of Inquiry, which would have allowed a proper inquiry to shed light on the Sobrinho affair. They are as follows:
- To gather all information in relation to the application of the investment bankinjg license made by companies or entities directly or indirectly owned by Mr Alvaro Sobrinho at the Financial Services Commission;
- To investigate into the due diligence carried out by the Financial Services Commission on the companies or entities owned by Mr Alvaro Sobrinho;
- To investigate on to whether the Financial Services Commission, Bank of Mauritius and/or any such other regulatory bodies or Government departments, had received adverse reports on the companies or entities owned directly or indirectly by Mr A. Sobrinho and to report on the action taken thereto;
- To investigate whether there has been interference by any person(s) in such a manner so as to facilitate and/or influence the granting of the Investment Banking License;
The main thrust of the issues raised by these particular terms of reference suggests that the former President would be privy to certain information regarding the Sobrinho puzzle and which the country is entitled to know. Mrs Gurib-Fakim has herself admitted during the Caunhye Commission that she has been let down by her earlier benefactors, and we assume that she has therefore nothing to lose anymore. She therefore cannot remain silent. If she really wants to clear her name, she would do well to talk – she owes it to the country.
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Floods in Kerala: the outstanding Armed Forces of India
In the devastating floods that have caused untold misery and loss in the Indian state of Kerala, known as ‘God’s own country’ for its greenery and high touristic appeal, India’s Armed Forces have once more shown their outstanding capabilities and prowess in relief and rescue operations during calamities. They had displayed their dedication and capacity during the ‘Himalayan tsunami’ that struck the state of Uttarakhand a few years, which was equally catastrophic.
Skilled in rope bridge operations across rivers in torrents, they managed to bring thousands to safety. There were dramatic helicopter airliftings of people, including that of a pregnant woman who was promptly taken to hospital where she was able to safely deliver her baby. Supplies of food and other essential items were also dropped on rooftops by helicopters.
Whereas after the Uttarakhand tragedy there were several criticisms made of the NDRF (National Disaster Relief Force), it seems that this time it swung into action promptly and there was better coordination of the operations. Besides, there were several people who acted in an individual capacity to come to the assistance of those in need. One such example is that of an 18-year old girl who, despite having lost all in her own flooded house which she had to evacuate with her family, decided to go out to a relief centre and care for those who had sought shelter there.
As was to be expected, there are already some concerns about the manmade aspects of this tragedy, with one expert finger-pointing the extent of illegal stone quarrying in the state close to human habitation. Another criticism has been about the inappropriate timing of release of water from the dams which exacerbated the impact of the torrential rains.
With nearly 400 deaths and nearly 3% of the population in rescue shelters, there is clearly an enormous task ahead before things come back to anything near normal in Kerala. But God’s own country will surely pick up with all the help and goodwill that is pouring in.
* Published in print edition on 24 August 2018
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