White-collar crime ranging from financial fraud, massive corruption, illicit gambling and the associated money-laundering and cross-border transfers involved have reached new heights internationally and have raised considerable angst locally for many years but with heightened concern these days.

First there is the thorny issue of the most appropriate mechanism for the appointment of the Director General of such an important institution in our investigative and democratic setup. Section 19 (4) the Prevention of Corruption Act 2002 (PoCA), as amended, provides for the appointment of the Director-General of ICAC by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. We recall that the Leader of the Opposition had publicly expressed objection to the reappointment of NavinBeekharry as Director General of the ICAC. Given the weight that is given to the “after consultation” proviso in the law, it is the Prime Minister who in fine decides who should head the institution and he can ignore any such objections. Should this be reviewed and what mechanism would be better is open to debates.

Section 20 (2) & (3) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (POCA) provides that ‘the Commission shall act independently, impartially, fairly and in the public interest’, and ‘subject to this Act, the Director-General shall not be under the control, direction of any other person or authority’. In a small island with multiple social connections and rubbing of shoulders, whatever the legal and constitutional provisions, it is ultimately dependent on the moral fibre of the appointee to detach him/herself from the political nominator to faithfully and efficiently execute the mandate conferred unto his office. Our legal contributor Lex has previously expressed the view that ‘the POCA 2002 guarantees the independence of ICAC. The law is there. Its proper functioning depends on the holders of power within the ICAC.’

Second, the POCA 2002 does not provide for any oversight mechanism that could have monitored the ICAC at its operational level, especially as regards the conduct of specific investigations or the delays and vagaries surrounding them. But there must necessarily be some form of oversight as it is allocated from public and taxpayers a vast budget of Rs 200m or more annually. The current parliamentary oversight mechanism with 5 government and 4 Opposition nominees has turned it into such an inadequate toothless rubber-stamp that Opposition members have resigned collectively rather than give some credence to it. It is beyond the pale that this Committee cannot even access the salary and contract conditions of its DG while being asked to approve operational budgets and staffing of lower rungs. As there are a couple of Parliamentary Questions again on those ICAC issues, we trust the PM will see to it that demands for greater transparency are indeed answered for the benefit of the public.

Third, and interlinked with the lack of transparency, there have been repeated concerns that the long list of affairs where it is yet to be known where ICAC inquiries stand, such as 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 Yerrigadoo/Bet 365 scandal (2018); the Glen Agliotti affair (2019), the Serenity Gate/Film Rebate Scheme scandal (2019), St Louis Power Station Redevelopment Project, the scandalous rip-offs at Commerce/Health and STC during the pandemic and more recently the Rs 460 million worth of banned roll-on cigarette paper approved over MRA objections. This is not even a comprehensive roll-call of higher-profile cases. Read More… Become a Subscriber

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 25 November 2022

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