The Power Machine

Opinion

By Jan Arden

There is a temptation to believe that none of the two alternatives spelt out by Plato have ever been attained in the past and that neither are they even near to concretion in our internet age and the current thriving business culture in political affairs of the State.

‘Finally, I came to the conclusion that the condition of all existing states is bad—nothing can cure their constitutions, but a miraculous reform assisted by good luck—and I was driven to assert, in praise of true philosophy, that nothing else can enable one to see what is right for states and for individuals, and that the troubles of mankind will never cease until either true and genuine philosophers attain political power or the rulers of states by some dispensation of providence become genuine philosophers.’

The term philosophy would certainly have had a different meaning in those times, and there is a somewhat pessimistic if not despairing tone to Plato’s musings. Nobody expects a statesman to be a philosopher today, but we could expect a minimum of standards from those gravitating around the spheres of power controlling government and its machinery and from the legislators that man our democratic structures.

Following the Britam Inquiry report, three senior government Ministers went public with accusations that conveyed their intent: Roshi Bhadain was clearly the target of malignment by all three. The Public Infrastructure Minister, Bobby Hurreeram, reportedly stated: “We have never had such a damning report against a former minister in the history of the country…” and went further in his analysis to ask Roshi Bhadain, former Financial Services Minister to come forth and inform the population “where the missing Rs 1.9 billion went”.

The political drumbeat had erupted even when facts from the Report itself seem so reluctant to fit the storyline that somebody made away with Rs 1.9 billion in that sale of shares. Roshi Bhadain has served notice that Minister Hurreeram will have to answer for his volatile statements in court.

One of this formidable communication trio happened also to be our Attorney General, Maneesh Gobin, whose station as government’s principal legal advisor might have called for gravitas and restraint, yet he was also keen to hit the nuke button on former colleague Bhadain. The Attorney General, although he was careful with an “if”, similarly drummed home that “someone will have to pay if Rs 1.9 million is missing in the deal”.

He announced that investigations will be carried out by the police and the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) in Mauritius. He revealed that he has already initiated the process to seek the help of the United Nations, referring to the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative of the World Bank and the United Nations.

In effect, the Rs 1.9 billion that the Commission failed to unearth conclusively after 4 years, or was at best, a “manque à gagner” from the sale operation, would now be chased around the globe by the best sleuths of the world.

We can only wish government’s principal legal advisor success in that venture, for losses of such magnitude following the disastrous decision to bring down the BAI/Bramer group rather than help it restructure itself, demolished we might add without any judicial oversight or condemnation, would be indeed intolerable particularly when the economy has shrunk by 15% with the pandemic. Every penny counts as the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development would certainly concur and so would the angry population faced with rupee devaluation, rising food and freight charges and steeper health and pharmaceutical bills.

And while the Attorney General is busy in that hunting mode of precious rupees foregone or stashed away according to his reading of the Britam Report, he might advise government and investigative authorities to consider a fulsome enquiry of the BAI/Bramer saga that has reportedly cost the countrymen and the cash-starved nation more than Rs 20 billion. After all, the Britam sale was only one of the many dramatic consequences of what many might term the outright nationalisation and asset-stripping of that large and dynamic private concern. The scale of losses we have had to foot still leaves us numb.

Or, if the Attorney General has the appetite, he might go further in his quixotic crusade and demand, for instance, a full investigation of how and in what circumstances we were landed at inordinate costs with 50 or more unusable artificial ventilators for patients under acute respiratory distress due to the Covid-19 wave and which have been paid for to Pack & Blister, however reluctantly, by the Ministry of Health. During that pandemic, the Attorney General  is also well aware that massive contracts were awarded without any Notes of Meeting held, something that the Britam Commission had found so galling, suspicious and culpable in its Report. Why not contribute more actively to the Augean clean-up?

Otto von Bismark, German Chancellor during late nineteenth century, once remarked that “Political judgment is the ability to hear the distant hoofbeats of the horse of history.” History might look more kindly on the Attorney General’s mandate should he be less “annoyed” with trivia and shadowy political pursuits and more reactive about sound governance of public funds.

As those investigations are unlikely to see the light of day, one is forced to suspect that the real purpose of the Britam Commission was to rake up as many diverse issues, some accessory, some critical, to the political chase waiting to happen since 2017 when the Commission was set up. One wonders what have been the costs to the taxpayer of the four-year long Britam enquiry at rates which some of members practise or earn and what further costs would be incurred by us taxpayers in the Attorney General’s announced world-wide chase.

Our body politic as a whole may have accepted as very real, in our local context, the renowned American historian-cum-philosopher Will Durant’s perception that “the political machine triumphs because it is a united minority acting against a divided majority”. It is certainly the agenda of the ruling party and its associates to promote such divisions or continue to do so. Despite increasing grassroots frustration at the status-quo in Opposition ranks, some entente is manifest in the National Assembly, particularly around the excesses of the Speaker, so well summed up in last Friday’s editorial.

Thanks to the enterprising tenure of the previous Speaker, Maya Hanoomanjee, the proceedings are now telecast live and can be watched in full on the national TV station or extracts on social media. It is far from offering even the modicum of dignity large fractions of the population and even the Attorney General would be accustomed with in Westminster models around the globe.

The latest shocking salvo from the Speaker, usually accompanied by a chorus of raucous government backbenchers urging him on, has made headlines even in the BBC news bulletin. The regular illustration of our parliamentary mores has plumbed new depths of shameful behaviour and nothing was more biting than the commentary of the Seychelles President to his own internal audience. Our Parliament, to paraphrase him, is one where every MP can debate about better governance and contributes to legislation in the common interest. It operates in a far more civilised manner than in Mauritius. That is a sad truth even if it hurts and shames everyone of us.

Ultimately it is the PM who has the ability to restore some shreds of pride and decorum to our august Assembly.


* Published in print edition on 10 August 2021

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