By SR Balgopal
Without going into the minutiae of how the words of the Private Parliamentary Secretary (PPS) Dhiraj Singh Khamajeet, happened to be recorded by journalist Elvis Anadaken of the Defi Media Group, it is edifying to see that the said journalist is seemingly under investigation. It would appear that there are suggestions that it is not lawful to record an individual’s voice without his consent and it would also appear that it is illegal to broadcast sound recordings which have not been obtained with the prior consent of an individual.
We understand that Counsel for PPS Khamajeet has raised these objections in relation to the sound recording of the PPS and is now further challenging whether journalist Elvis Anadaken was actually present when the sound recording was made.
For the purposes of this article, we shall not delve into the legal intricacies of the defence team of PPS Khamajeet in relation to the issue of the legality of the sound recording as well as the legality of its broadcast by a private radio. However, we will put the following question: Is it not in the public interest that the Mauritian public at large make persons they have elected to represent them in Parliament accountable to them?
From what we have gathered, PPS Khamajeet was addressing a number of his constituents in an “unplanned” meeting at his doorstep when the following issues were canvassed by him after some presumably aggressive questioning (aggressive crowd and intimidated PPS was the contention of the Khamajeet defence team of Labour Party colleagues):
1. If he had 50 jobs he could allocate, he would allocate them to the persons faithful to him and that it would be in his interests to do so in any event.
2. He has in the past assisted persons in their job applications.
3. Vacancies were expected to arise in some Ministries and those vacancies would be filled by Labour faithfuls.
4. If people followed and understood politics, they would have noticed that in the previous budget, the need to decentralise recruitment powers from the Public Service Commission (with which no interference is possible, in the words of PPS Khamajeet) to government departments was highlighted. This policy decision was allegedly, in the words of PPS Khamajeet, taken so that ministries could be more targeted than the PSC in relation to recruitment of persons (the implication being that this policy decision was taken to allow MPs to influence recruitment in the Civil Service).
Having set out what was allegedly stated by PPS Khamajeet on the 22 September 2011, the following issues arise:
1. Was the sound recording a genuine one? Since the PPS apologised on air, in his owns words, for what he said, there can be little doubt as to the genuineness of the sound recording.
2. Could it be used in evidence against him? This would be an issue for the Courts to contend with but this is no valid reason to stop an enquiry on the basis that the sound recording could not be used in Court eventually, the more so that the PPS has apologised over his words.
3. Has PPS Khamajeet uttered those words for having been put under duress by those present?
This is a more delicate question as only those present at the time the words were uttered could enlighten us on the matter. However, it is interesting to note that the duress is a complete defence in criminal law and that it would, if admitted, exonerate PPS Khamajeet of any wrongdoing. This would, however, not be the end of the matter. If the words of the PPS were stated under duress, how come he gave such precise details about jobs allocated to the faithfuls of the Labour Party, how come he explained the policy of eroding the powers of the PSC and how come he was aware of vacancies which would arise in the near future?
From the standpoint of the independent observer, either the PPS was truthful (that is he used his influence to assist certain persons to obtain jobs in the public sector) or he stated these words to save his skin when faced with an aggressive crowd (in which case, he would, at worst, have been very economical with the truth). Does the public send representatives in Parliament to favour them or to be economical with the truth?
Either way, this is a Catch 22 situation for PPS Khamajeet. In fairness to the PPS, there is an irrational expectation from some Mauritians that MPs have to help them obtain jobs, promotions and other favours in exchange for their votes.
4. What stems out from the above is that there are strong suspicions of nepotism and that there needs to be a full-fledged enquiry to get to the bottom of this issue.
Parliament is resuming on the 18th of October and the public has a right to obtain more information on the issues which have arisen following the words uttered by PPS Khamajeet. Without being overly cynical, the public needs no reminding of the case of Ashock Jugnauth which went all the way up to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and which established irregularities in the recruitment of Health Care Assistants prior to elections being held in Mauritius. This recruitment then contributed to substantiate a successful invalidation of Ashock Jugnauth’s election.
Now we have an uncanny situation where the MMM, which fully supports Ashock Jugnauth, may find itself very much embarrassed to put questions in relation to the utterings of PPS Khamajeet… given that one of the politicians it is closest to, mainly Ashock Jugnauth, does not have the best of records in that regard. Furthermore, it is not ruled out that there might be an electoral arrangement between the MMM and the Labour Party. Bearing this in mind makes one think that if aggressive questions are put in relation to the very delicate issue of recruitment in the Civil Service and nepotism, this might make relations sour between potential allies.
The other consideration which arises is whether politicians tend to think that they can use the country and its institutions as they please. Whatever the truth is in relation to the words of PPS Khamajeet, it will be very hypocritical to assume that what he has said in respect of favouring Labour Party supporters applies only to the Labour Party. We have to remember that the Ashock Jugnauth case occurred under the stewardship of an MMM-MSM caretaker government headed by the present Leader of the Opposition.
Since an enquiry in the Khamajeet case might take some time in view of the legal issues arising in relation to the sound recordings and since it is difficult to anticipate that the Opposition will do its duty by probing the matter further, should the public not expect that decisive action will be taken by the Prime Minister?
The Prime Minister has stated that the Equal Opportunities Act, which has not been proclaimed yet, will actually be proclaimed after some amendments are brought to the Act. In view of the fact that what was stated by PPS Khamajeet pertains to equal opportunities, or rather unequal opportunities, afforded to Mauritian citizens, should PPS Khamajeet not be taken to task for creating a perception that some are more equal than others?
* Published in print edition on 14 October 2011