Our democracy should not be taken for granted; that’s the message we should all convey to all those who are out to tamper with the system
Although people in Mauritius do not have a sophisticated political culture that one would have liked to see, nevertheless there is a sufficiently critical mass of people from all walks of life – lawyers, journalists, politicians, political and social activists as well as a number of individuals – who are ready to stand up for the defence and preservation of our democracy. The attempt to set up a Prosecution Commission, which would have undermined the independence of the Office of the DPP, constitutes a threat to our democracy and the rule of law.
Newspaper articles and pronouncements by many people have sufficiently highlighted the dangers that arise when the lawlessness of the Executive threatens the rule of law, and they need not be further elaborated here. The Constitution of Mauritius and the democratic framework it establishes have been the most important legacy of those who participated in its drafting at the Lancaster Conference in 1965. Obviously no Constitution is set in stone and changes brought to our Constitution should take our democracy forward and not backward.
Professor De Smith’s private papers in relation to the Lancaster Conference, held between 14th to 23rd September 1965, reveal that all the articles of our Constitution were discussed between the UK officials and the different party leaders and their delegations. There was consensus that the Constitution would provide for our country to be a democratic state and the principle of the rule of law would be enshrined in our Constitution.
The Labour delegation comprised Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Dr Regis Chaperon, Veerasamy Ringadoo, Satcam Boolell, Ramsoondar Joomadar, Guy Forget, Rameshwar Jaypal, Vele Govinden, Hurryparsad Ramnarain, Ramsoondur Modun, Dr Maurice Cure, Simadree Virahsawmy, Harold Walter and Jomo Kenyatta’s adviser Mr Potter.
On the PMSD side, there were Jules Keonig QC, Gaetan Duval, Raymond Devienne, Maurice Lesage and Abdool Hamide Khan Rossenkhan. The CAM was represented by Abdul Razack Mohamed, H. R. Abdool and Abdool Hak Mahomed Osman, The IFB was represented by Sookdeo Bissoondoyal, Anerood Jugnauth, Dayanundlall Basant Rai, Abdool Wahab Foondun, and Seewa Bappoo. The other delegates were Jean Ah Chuen and Maurice Paturau.
There were plenary sessions where all the delegates were present and many issues raised and agreed. With regard to the Office of the DDP, both the Labour Party and the CAM agreed that the DPP should be appointed by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission; the Labour Party was prepared to accept that the appointment should be made by the Head of State after consultation with both the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
The IFB delegation too accepted the proposition that many of the officials and commissions be appointed by Her Majesty’s representative on the advice of the Chief Minister, and in the case of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission on the advice of the Chief Justice. It even went further, agreeing with the proposal that “the Director of Public Prosecutions should be appointed by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission without consultation”.
On the other hand, Jules Keonig, speaking for the Parti Mauricien, agreed with “the proposal to which other speakers had referred, that a majority of two thirds should be required to amend the Constitution would apply only to the amendment of those parts of the Constitution which dealt with human rights”. Mr Paturau had provided a long list of constitutional safeguards and wanted an entrenchment of three quarters majority for the introduction/amendment of any important clauses.
It is this important and basic constitutional framework which over the last 48 years has guaranteed our success as a democratic state and also our economic prosperity. Promoters of our economic development never fail to highlight in their strategies abroad that we are a democratic state where the rule of law prevails.
We would have thought that after two years of economic stagnation and political vendetta our politicians were bright enough to see clearly that stability in this country rested on the trinity of political stability, the rule of law and economic prosperity, and the only politicians foolish enough to resist this simple proposition were the neophytes. Sadly enough the events of this week remind us that the democratic idea is less powerful in certain quarters than other narrow political considerations…
While writing this article, reflecting on Gaëtan Duval’s positive contribution to the rule of law, I found it hard to conclude that the PMSD would definitely vote in favour of an amendment which blatantly undermines our democracy. It is with a great sense of relief that the country finally learnt that the PMSD left the government instead of becoming a partner in crime against our democracy.
Obviously when the PMSD was given to preside the committee to look into the Prosecution Commission Bill, this must have allowed Xavier Duval to better appreciate the real motives behind the whole project which was being brought with a sense of urgency to the National Assembly. Perhaps the agency to be set up must have appeared to him more of a persecution commission rather than a prosecution commission.
Why this urgency when there are other priorities waiting to be addressed? Workers are waiting with great impatience the fixing of the minimum wages. Why not add economic rights to our fundamental rights or the right to employment? Is it more urgent to pass the amendment than to provide drinking water 24/7 or prevent blackout in the country? Are we then surprised that our ranking for ‘ease of doing business’ has gone down?
Attempts to mask questionable motives with pompous rhetoric supposedly in favour of the masses will not hold. If there was a genuine concern for the masses, we may then ask why not set up a commission to review all provisional charges by the police? Surely a panel of three retired judges with no accountability to anyone except to their political masters is anathema to the rule of law.
Perhaps the lesson to learn from this episode is that not everyone in this country has a price tag on his head. There are a sufficient number of people who understand the meanings of democracy and the rule of law and the dignity of men and women and who, despite all our differences, are ready to stand up for our rights when danger looms ahead.
All these people, and many more should join in and work together to meet the challenge head on. Even if they cannot to so for ideological differences, they should still can come up with their own strategies and organisations at both local and national level to further the cause of democracy.
Our democracy should not be taken for granted; that’s the message we should all convey to all those who are out to tamper with the system. The price we must pay to safeguard our precious institutions for future generations is eternal vigilance.