Long before the GM proposed what has come to be known as the Bhadain Law, that is the law relating to Unexplained Wealth (UW), I had begun to reflect on the type of society we were in the process of becoming. And the picture I saw was not at all a beautiful one.
In my vision, if no action is taken to curb the rampant corruption that has become such a common feature of life in this country for many years, we are heading for a very sorry state. For the moment, the disease is thankfully restricted to a minority, albeit a large minority. However, in our quest for easy money, when the virus would have spread to the rest of us in future, we will all be involved in some kind of criminal activity that includes drugs peddling and pimping; and our wives and daughters will be walking the streets.
Against this dreadful scenario, thank God Bhadain has arrived, and not a moment too late to save the country from this hellish spiral of vice and mayhem that would turn our beautiful island into an eternal, infernal den of inequity, of moral decay and decadence.
It does not need a PhD to work out that it is rampant corruption that leads to a road — built at a cost of R4bn — to split into two after barely one year, and an airport terminal costing R10bn+ to start leaking and rusting after just a couple of years. And the myriad trickle-down effects of this selfsame corruption from higher up down to the lower echelons on so many GM contracts and administration.
At the very top, we may have politicians who, after only one term in office, become owners of bank accounts and/or property way beyond what can be bought even with their high salaries. Lower down the hierarchical ladder, we have political agents and advisors also enriching themselves with contracts and all manner of patronage that are not quite kosher.
In the private sector, we have the sharks that con people into investing in dodgy Ponzi schemes, whereby hundreds of millions are siphoned off from hardworking people into private individual accounts. There are those who take deposits for flats that never quite get completed, and remain undelivered to honest investors even after the latter have paid the full and final price. Whilst the “bankrupt” investor lives in despair, the crooked sponsor lives the life of Riley, amidst opulence barely imaginable to the rest of the honest, hard-working people.
This is not to say that the little people are exempt of this corruption. You want your water connected, you pay a ti-dite to the operative; likewise for the connection of other utilities. What about the allegation that you must accidentally leave some note in your Registration document for fear of not getting a fitness certificate to drive your vehicle on the public highway?
And the list goes on. For instance, there apparently are average earners in different sectors who end up having property and/or money at the end of their careers that is totally disproportionate to their incomes, and nobody asks any questions.
In his explanation to the nation about his Bill, the Minister has stressed on the economic aspect of corrupt money. Whilst the rest of the population struggles to buy one house, people with UW can afford to buy several properties, consequently pushing up the price of housing. At the beginning, the middle/lower classes can live with the rising prices albeit with a hefty mortgage that has to be repaid over 20 years, but there comes a time when they can no longer compete with the big money that needs to be laundered, and what better way than to buy property after property!
If a survey was to be carried out, I would not be surprised if it was found that some people possess several properties across the island, particularly in the coastal regions — all of them remaining empty whilst we talk of a housing crisis at the lower strata of society. Far be it for me to point fingers at anyone, which does not mean that I am not left to wonder if all these properties have been bought with legitimate money.
I am sure the reader would point out that there are other economic fallouts from illicit money, but space dictates that I keep only to the Minister’s version.
If the economic effect of corrupt money is responsible for driving the legitimate, hard-working citizen out of the property market as well as increasing the gulf between the rich and the poor, the social effect is nothing to write home about either. For housing, we can always queue up for Firinga-type housing, but what of the moral decline and decay engendered by corruption and corrupt money?
It is a feature of humankind that we all want to be rich. Observe the long queues on a Saturday evening at Loto centres, especially when the jackpot is high. Likewise observe the heavy betting at Champs-de Mars on racing days, not to mention the daily wagers on foreign football matches at the local betting shops that proliferated throughout the whole island over the past decade.
Any young person growing up in this age can so easily be tempted to go astray. In almost every neighbourhood, he sees honest folks struggling to make ends meet whilst the unscrupulous miraculously get rich overnight and live in the lap of luxury — with big houses and big, shiny cars to their name. After years of sacrifice spent studying for a degree or profession, he sees no jobs in sight. In desperation he becomes a “marchand ambulant” which is often a front for selling drugs. His friends get involved in bank/company heist, and yet another neighbour goes into pimping and prostitution. No matter how illicit or amoral the activity, the end fully justifies the means — fat, easy money!
Sicily in the Sun
As more and more people get sucked into this infernal corrupt life, nobody wants to break any sweat like their parents and grandparents used to do. Anyone wishing to lead an honest life and earn decent money soon finds that opportunities dwindle. Some of them may even get blackmailed against their wishes into a life of vice. You have a beautiful daughter, we want her to work for us in the massage parlour; and you refuse at your own peril. Thus with a small population of merely one million, it would not be too difficult to turn the whole island into a Sicily in the sun, where corruption is rampant and Omerta and reprisal ensure compliance.
So where is all the noise against Bhadain coming from? I do not hear it from the hard-working, law-abiding citizenry. In fact if you care to ask them, they will tell you that this law is the best thing that can happen to this country — for them, their children, and their children’s children. That the din comes from some prominent politicians is very understandable. Less understandable is the virulent opposition that is being manifested by the Bar Council. For the life of me, I cannot fathom out why a body that is supposed to be on the side of truth and justice should be so afraid of Badhain. But, then again, they must have their own precious reasons to do so.
Some people argue that we have enough laws and institutions to fight Corruption — ICAC, the FSC, the FIU, the Asset Recovery Act, and so on. But what the proponents omit to say is that, in spite of the existence of these laws and institutions, corruption has grown exponentially in the recent past. Errors, omissions, loopholes — whether by design or accident — have meant that these have been ineffective in curbing corruption.
Two glaring examples should suffice: (1) the Ponzis which did not seem to fall under anyone’s authority and control, and (2) the Vacoas Co-operative Society whose accounts were not audited by any authority because of ambiguous rules governing co-ops with large balance sheets.
So rather than mess about and waste valuable GM time tweaking the existing legislation, the Bhadain law is a revolutionary move that aims to make a clean sweep of it, and leave no ambiguity as to what is meant by UW, and the simple procedure leading to its confiscation. Let those in possession of UW worry, fret and shout. But for the rest of the citizenry, it is high time for this revolutionary law to get into the statute books.
* Published in print edition on 27 November 2015