There is no time no lose and the bull must once for all be taken by the horns
— S. MODELIAR
During the election campaign the MMM harped on three themes: corruption, drugs and law and order. There can be no denying that Mauritius has been confronted with drug smuggling for several years. At the end of 1985 four parliamentarians were arrested at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam on charges of drug smuggling. The Dangerous Drugs Act was amended in 1986 to make provisions for the offences of trafficking in drugs and harsher penalties.
Drug trafficking or the possession thereof is the tip of the iceberg. Of more consequence is the consumption of drugs. In addition to the serious health and social issues arising from drug consumption, HIV/AIDS is also being transmitted by intravenous drug users. According to the UNDP: “In 2008, given the fact that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Mauritius is now mainly driven through injected drugs use, the UN System will concentrate its support on the inter-connected issues of HIV/AIDS and substance abuse among Most At Risk Populations (MARPs, i.e. sex workers, detainees). A Joint Programme is currently being formulated between UNODC, UNDP, WHO and UNAIDS to address this specific nexus.”
The two-fold question that needs to be addressed by the government is the illicit importation of drugs into the country and the consumption of drugs which is associated with AIDS. No government that has been in power since 1986 when the Schipol scandal broke out has been successful in controlling totally the illicit importation or consumption of drugs. When the Dangerous Drugs Act was amended to impose the death penalty on convicted drug traffickers, this did not act as a deterrent.
Following the new law several foreigners who obviously were acting as couriers for the local drug barons were caught, arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to death. None of them was executed in view of the complex legal issues that the mandatory death sentence gave rise to. The death penalty has been suspended in our law. But with or without the death penalty the drug trade has been flourishing and no one has been able to pinpoint the real source of that lucrative trade in Mauritius. Is it a well organised mafia that is solidly embedded in our society that is running the show and is untouchable?
During the election campaign the former President of the Republic made a serious accusation against the outgoing government and accused its members of being complicit with drug traffickers in view of the surge in the importation of the drug Subutex. Whether there is any evidence for this is yet to be explored. In 1986 Sir Anerood Jugnauth, the then Prime Minister, had to bow down to pressure and advise the then Governor General to set up a Commission of Inquiry on the drug situation, one of its assigned tasks being to make recommendations. That inquiry enabled evidence of a well-organised mafia to come to the surface. What was more astounding was the evidence of the role of certain top police officers and at least one parliamentarian who were complicit with the well-known drug traffickers. Though this Commission made adverse findings against a number of people and was instrumental in getting the law changed, this did not help to improve the image of Mauritius as a drug traffickers den.
What can be done from a legal perspective to change that alarming situation? Recently a suspected drug trafficker was acquitted because the key witness refused to testify. In the drug underworld, the unwritten rule is Omerta. According to the Wikipedia Encyclopaedia, Omertà implies “the categorical prohibition of cooperation with state authorities or reliance on its services, even when one has been victim of a crime.” Even if somebody is convicted for a crime he has not committed, he is supposed to serve the sentence without giving the police any information about the real criminal, even if that criminal has nothing to do with the Mafia himself. Within Mafia culture, breaking omertà is punishable by death.
We have witnessed the killing by a sniper of Denis Fine who, according to some press information, was allegedly linked to the Subutex network involving one Curpen. We have also witnessed the escape from Mauritius of a French national involved in the importation of Subutex. Even if these two incidents, serious by their nature, are not linked, they do beckon the government to probe meticulously whether there is not in existence a solid and well-grounded mafia like underground structure that is pulling the strings of the Subutex trade in Mauritius.
The real complex problem is how to probe that factor. Conventional investigations will not help because we do not have a watertight mechanism for investigation in Mauritius. The moment an investigation starts, the press splashes all the details the next day. The leaks can come from the police or the lawyers representing the suspects. One has the impression that either the police or the lawyers are in a popularity contest or vying for recognition for their achievement. The use of the secret service of the police may be of some help provided utter discretion/secrecy is used to infiltrate this illegal network. The risk is high. Lives may be at stake. The police involved or their informants have families and they would not want these families to be orphaned.
Keeping watch at the airport with the help of a few police officers and dogs is not enough. Our seas are totally without protection. With the proliferation of yachts that can sail from one island to the other, it is very difficult to control the importation of drugs via the sea route. Measures have to be thought out. If we can enlist the help of friendly countries to help in the war against piracy, why can’t we do the same to combat the importation of drugs? There may be other measures. Whatever they may be and whatever we adopt, the bottom line is that the importation of drugs cannot be fought on partisan lines of the political spectrum. This is a national issue and both government and opposition should bury their differences and come up with an everlasting solution for the sake of our population, our children and our country. Will the government and the opposition pay heed? The work must begin now. Too many years have been wasted on partisan politics to the detriment of national concerns.
The other side of the coin is drug consumption. It goes without saying that the destruction of the traffickers will alleviate the problem to some extent. The main issue is how to inform the people and our youth of the dangers of drug consumption. Whether we like it or not, the temptation is always there. We have fast, maybe too fast become a modern society with young people going out regularly and attending private parties or discos. Young people are very often left to themselves. Alcohol consumption in the parties or the discos is high on the agenda. If alcohol is not enough to get a kick, then drugs are resorted to. A strict control of these discos is imperative though it will be more difficult to control private parties in view of the constitutional right to the privacy of one’s place. What then could be done as drastic measure to combat drug consumption? Already we have become a society of gamblers and high alcohol consumption. Most of the fatal or near fatal disputes are due to alcohol.
There should be a massive investment in education that should be undertaken and implemented in a most professional and methodical manner. There is no doubt that many NGOs are helping to cure those who are heavily dependent on drugs. They deserve our recognition for that. More often than not, there is not enough funding for the work of the NGOs. But they are trying their best with the help of many volunteers. Education at all levels is the solution. This too is national issue that transcends partisan politics. There cannot be any more delaying. There is no time no lose and the bull must once for all be taken by the horns. We cannot afford to become a second Jamaica where a well-known drug lord with links to politicians can rally the support of the population and escape arrest by leaving many innocent dead behind.
The findings of the Report dated 25 May 2010 United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at the conclusion of its forty-fourth session is both a warning and a clarion call to the government to act. The pertinent observations read:
”The Committee was deeply concerned about the alarmingly high number of injecting drug users in the State party. It was further concerned at reports that the National Drug Control Masterplan of 2008-2012 was never officially endorsed and was not being used by the various stakeholders concerned. The Committee was concerned about the sharp increase in cases of HIV/AIDS, particularly concerning intravenous drug users, sex workers and prison inmates.
“The Committee recommended that the State party undertake a comprehensive approach to combat its serious drug problem, including the implementation in full of the recommendations made by the World Health Organization in 2009 designed to improve availability, accessibility and quality of harm reduction services – in particular needle and syringe exchange and opioid substitution therapy with methadone.
”The Committee also recommended that the State party take the necessary measures to combat drug trafficking and related corruption. At the same time, the Committee recommended that these measures fully comply with the international human rights standards, including in relation to the abolition of the death penalty.”