As more details are coming out about the involvement of different parties in what is now known as the St Louis Gate, the latest piece of depressing news that has been publicized by the Mauritian media relates to the African Development Bank’s refusal to pass on copy of its report on the St-Louis investigation to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). That decision followed after the ICAC made a formal request to the ADB. It would appear that the ADB, however, redirected the ICAC to Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor (BWSC), which according to the African bank is also in possession of a copy of its investigation report.
Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor had won a contract of Rs 4.3 billion from the Central Electricity Board (CEB) for the redevelopment project of the Saint-Louis power plant. Allegations of fraud and corruption surrounding the case surfaced last week after the ADB made it public in a press release. This is a matter of shame for the country, especially coming as it does in the wake of the decision of the European Commission to place Mauritius on the list of countries with strategic anti-money laundering deficiencies. The ADB’s position vis-à-vis the ICAC’s request for information will surely be taken note of by the EU.
It has always been said that laws may create institutions but what matters the most are those who man these institutions. In our Tuesday’s issue, we referred to the long list of pending inquiries which, unfortunately, highlight the perceived incapacity of the national investigative agency to handle white collar crime, whether in relation to the Dufry scandal (2015); the Alvaro Sobrinho scandal (2018); the Sugar Insurance Fund Board’s highly excessive overpayment of land v/s valuation scandal (2018); the Choomka affair (2017); the Yerrigadoo/Bet 365 scandal (2018); the Glen Agliotti affair (2019), and finally the Serenity Gate/Film Rebate Scheme scandal (2019). As matters stand, it is yet to be known where ICAC’s inquiries stand, and this inevitably puts into question its credibility.
Given the seriousness of these cases and their reach and implications for the country both nationally and globally, the least that one expects is that at the minimum ICAC would come up with a status report and give an indication of some timelines as regards the completion of the respective investigations in those cases that have been entrusted to it for investigation. But the complete absence of any information whatsoever adds to the already negative image that is it is tarnished with. This is in sharp contrast to countries like Singapore, which our political class is fond of eliciting as a model to emulate, which have derived a lot more strength from the efficient operation of their institutions than we have done, have consistently aimed to do the very best they can independently of political influence.
Singapore’s track record in fighting corruption has lent to it an image of a reliable place in which to do business. This has contributed to the country’s advancement among the top rankers of the world according to several indices of good performance. With a global economic environment that is getting more difficult, it is in our interest to keep on the right side of the fight against corruption, and the sooner the pending cases in ICAC’s custody are resolved the better it will be for the country. Otherwise the consequences are likely to be such as to cause extensive damage not only to the country’s image but consequentially to its economy as well. The ball is in the government’s court.
* Published in print edition on 19 June 2020