The Law is Above You 

By R.V.

In August 1982 soon after the MMM-PSM government had swept to power with an astounding 60-0, Mrs Indira Gandhi Prime Minister of India was the first head of state to pay a state visit to Mauritius. India no doubt wanted to reassure the new government, which had removed Sir Seewoosagur from office, of its continued support to the people of Mauritius. Mrs Gandhi made sure that the message was conveyed when she addressed the National Assembly on the 24 August: “… I bring to you, Sir, and to the elected representatives of this House, the regards and the warm support of the Indian people.”

In the same breath she reminded the newly-elected assembly:
“… In a democracy, every election is a renewal. Elections are revolutions without violence and bloodshed, showing that the ballot is no less potent than the bullet. Every revolution, whether peaceful or violent, releases long suppressed expectations. Much is expected of you, the newly-elected legislators of Mauritius. I know your burdens are heavy, but your shoulders are young and strong. There is no substitute for toil. A poet has said, ‘In the heart of today, lies the world of tomorrow. The builders of joy are the children of sorrow.” The objectives you outlined at the polls were socialism and secularism. Let your secularism be one, as in India, that gives equal respect and protection to all religions and customs, one which allows the personality of each group to develop without in any way eroding national unity and strength. Let your socialism bring about necessary changes with harmony and goodwill.

“There are no universal models for democracy or for socialism. Each people must evolve its own patterns and find its own solutions. In India, democracy took root because of our own traditions of rural self-government. Our village councils date back three thousand years. They decided major and minor issues of law and social management. There is a story of an assembly of the Sakyas, of which the Buddha’s father was chairman. Devadatta, Buddha´s cousin, shot a bird with an arrow. Wounded, it fell in Buddha’s lap as he sat meditating by a lotus pond. His gentle touch and care revived it. In council, Devadatta claimed the bird as his. Buddha, when called upon to answer this plaint, questioned the elders. Does the bird belong to the killer or to the one who gave it life? Since, there was no ready statute related to such a problem, Buddha’s claim was accepted. The dead bird belonged to the killer, the live one to him who saved it. Let your laws be for enhancing life.” 

With hindsight the words of caution of Mrs Gandhi were also premonitory. The 60-0 government broke up after six months. The underlining factor was the lack of allegiance by members of the new government to our democratic institutions. It was largely thanks to Sir Seewoosagur that Mauritius was brought back on track.

In the life of any government there is always a danger that the powers conferred upon Ministers and public officers at all levels are exercised arbitrarily, unfairly and in bad faith to suit some vested interests. The Prime Minister could not have been more to the point when, in his interview given to Jean Marc Poche of Le Mauricien, he stated that we should all be equal before the law.

Most Mauritians would regard equality before the law as a cornerstone of our democratic society. There cannot be a law for the rich and one for the poor, one for those with political clout and one for the ordinary citizen. In the same manner the law cannot be uncertain. Questions of legal right and liability should ordinarily be resolved by application of the law and not the exercise of discretion. Or else how do we explain the opacity in which the Medpoint clinic was purchased? There are many questions left unanswered and unexplained. How on earth do our bureaucrats generate so much discretion in their decision making-process?

A former Lord Chief Justice once said: “It does not take a horticulturalist to perceive that, if a tree is bearing bad fruit, the more vigorously it yields the greater will be the harvest of mischief.” Is there a risk that the Mauritian tree is bearing a great deal of bad fruit?

Both Mrs Gandhi and more recently the 2001 Nobel prize winner in economics Joseph Stiglitz had the same words of wisdom for us: “Look around the world for good ideas but adapt them to your own needs, as the bee collects nectar from various flowers but produces its own honey.” 

* Published in print edition on 25 February 2011

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