The Path to Autocracy


Approximately a year ago, in these very columns, we asserted that conditions could not deteriorate further than they had since the instalment of the MSM-led government in November 2019. Regrettably, our prediction was off the mark. The situation has not only failed to improve, but misgovernance and institutional dysfunction have plummeted to an unprecedented low, akin to what is observed in countries on the path to autocracy or already entrenched in it.

Our evaluation last year regarding the state of Mauritius’ democracy — or rather, its retreat therefrom — did not rely on the V-Dem Institute, which ranked Mauritius among the “top 10 autocratizing countries” in its 2021 report. Instead, it was based on the findings of the judicial inquiry – chaired by Magistrate Vidya Mungroo-Jugurnauth – into the murder of MSM activist Soopramanien Kistnen and its potential political motivations. Extracts from that report, published by the media, revealed more about the state of misgovernance in the country than international rating agencies ever could. The inquiry exposed, among others, the “abhorrent” conduct of criminal investigations by the police, underlining their disregard for both the Magistrate’s and the DPP’s directives in completing various aspects of their murder investigation.

However, the rot seems to have extended beyond the revelations of the judicial inquiry. Aside from the public perception of organized cover-ups related to shocking cases and questionable methods used to silence perceived adversaries, the track record of the anti-corruption agency, ICAC, shows the institution in a poor light. It appears either unable or unwilling to fulfil its mandated role as prescribed by the law, as evidenced by its prolonged investigations into cases involving government members or those close to the political leaders of the day.

All this appears to be part of a multi-pronged strategy – that of utilizing propaganda (via MBC-TV), imposing censorship (through IBA and ICTA regulations targeting private broadcasters), engineering cover-ups (as perceived in high-profile cases by investigative agencies), and repressing potential adversaries – all aimed at shielding those in power from political discomfort. Our comments from last year, still valid today, did not even touch upon potential irregularities in the regime of permits and licences, or debt write-offs favouring the privileged and their associates. Nor did it address the damages inflicted on horse racing and gambling, as well as the scourge of drug abuse in the countryside – which would have painted a darker image of the country’s reputation.

For anyone harbouring doubts about misgovernance and the direction the current government is taking the country, the passing of the Financial Crimes Commission Act – a year ahead of the next elections – drafted over eight years and debated by MPs in just one week should serve as an eye-opener. Besides other contentions issues associated with this legislation and addressed in these columns these last two weeks with regard to questions on the constitutionality of the law and the potential for political spying, the timing and haste in enacting this legislation raise questions about the government’s true motives in appointing what effectively is tantamount to a political nominee to head the FCC, with powers that can terminate investigations, especially those involving political figures aligned with those in power, without the involvement of the Office of the DPP. This could potentially shield those close to power from any form of censure through a no-questions-asked decision by the FCC to end investigations in such cases.

While Mauritius has made significant economic progress despite its limited resources, much credit is due to its adherence to the principles of good governance, the rule of law, and the separation of powers embedded in its Constitution. Unfortunately, the passing of the FCC Act does not align with these principles.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 22 December 2023

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