The public needs answers and its interests defended on broad national issues. In a parliamentary democracy like ours, it is through their elected representatives that these objectives of the public can be met. If the latter are unable to exercise their constitutional right of representation whether in the field or in Parliament, then they are failing in their obligations to the electorate. Another way of looking at it would be that they are being paid to do nothing, which would be tantamount to a waste of taxpayer money.
Whatever be the technicalities involved, the more recent happenings in Parliament which is supposed to be the temple of democracy are a matter of serious concern, worry even, to the country at large.
The lay public’s perception of partiality on the part of the Speaker can itself affect the ruling regime adversely down the line. Because as has often been said, in politics the reality is the perception. A persistently negative perception as a result of the actions of any of its members will definitely impact a party as a whole.
Three things happened that do not augur well for the future conduct of the country’s affairs at the level where it matters most:
- The disallowing of the question put by Hon Patrick Assirvaden about the ambassadorship of Mr Soodhun in Saudi Arabia;
- The removal of this question from the Speaker’s list so that it will not figure in the official records of Parliament, the Hansard;
- The suspension of three members of the Opposition from Parliament from its current session.
Since any ambassador is paid from the public exchequer, surely the public has a right to know what is the current status of Mr Soodhun given the incomplete information that is available, not to speak of rumours? In fact, it is precisely because of the ‘good relations’ that we entertain with any country that the people should know what their representative in that country is up to. It is all the more important to clear the air when there are echoes about that person having been declared persona non grata, per the information that is being circulated. One cannot understand, therefore, why was the question disallowed, more so since there was no convincing explanation forthcoming from the Speaker on such an important matter. He may be acting by the Standing Orders, but the public doesn’t know them, and they deserve and expect clarification – for that matter, also in the interest of the proper functioning of Parliament.
On the other hand, even if the Speaker was right in disallowing the question, why remove it from the Hansard? Why stifle the evidence that there was an attempt by an MP to find answers to an issue of material interest to the people? Isn’t the historical record important for future researchers and historians, in fact for the future generations of Mauritians to form their own opinion about how their Parliament was functioning – or malfunctioning?
As regards the suspension of the three members, again whatever the technicalities, the clear perception is that it is inordinately out of proportion to the ‘fault’ allegedly committed.
All in all it is the image of the country as a truly functioning parliamentary democracy that will suffer, and that has serious implications. Isn’t it enough that we are on some black lists and that our international image is thus already at a low? Who wants it to slide further down?
* Published in print edition on 6 April 2021