Matters of the Moment
There should be no quarter. There is no room for failure. There is no alibi for procrastination to fluff the issue or to scuttle the CEB corruption investigation
By Mrinal Roy
The case of corruption exposed through the findings of investigations by the Danish contractor, Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor (BWSC) and the funding agency, African Development Bank (AfDB), in the Rs 4.3 billion contract allocated by the Central Electricity Board for the redevelopment of the St Louis power plant has seriously tainted the international reputation and standing of Mauritius. Chest thumping about the ranking of Mauritius in various performance league tables cannot mask this deplorable development. It has also put the repute of the government and the standard of governance in the country on the line.
“The diligence, rigour and competence with which Mauritius carries out its own investigation to nab ‘members of the Mauritian administration and others who were financially rewarded’ is therefore under the scrutiny of the African Development Bank, other international financial institutions, traditional trade partners such as the EU and friendly countries that have unswervingly supported the country’s development efforts. What are also under scrutiny are the standards of propriety, ethics and governance in the country…”
Last week, the Prime Minister received under conditions of strict confidentiality a summary of the conclusions of the investigation carried out by the Office of Integrity and Anti-Corruption of the AfDB. This report is based on an evaluation of the findings of the inquiry carried out by Burmeister & Wain on the allegation of corruption and bribery in the case of the St Louis power plant contract.
Chronology of events
In a press release on 27 July 2018 Burmeister & Wain had publicly announced shortly after the inauguration of the new St Louis power plant in March 2018 that the company had mandated the law firm Poul Schmith to carry out an investigation into allegations of misconduct in some of its projects made by an anonymous whistleblower. On 6 February 2019, Burmeister & Wain advised the public that their investigation had concluded ‘that certain employees of BWSC have violated the company’s code of conduct for cooperating with local advisors and contractors in connection with sale of projects in Africa.’ As a consequence, ‘five employees have been evicted from the company and two persons have been reported to the Danish police as the investigation gives reason to suspect that criminal actions have occurred, including bribery.’
Burmeister & Wain also self-reported the case to the AfDB and other relevant stakeholders and publicly revealed the case of suspected corruption in February 2019. It informed the management of the CEB accordingly since 15 February 2019. On 14 March 2019, Nicolaj Holmer Nissen, CEO of Burmeister & Wain officially advised the CEB management that the St Louis project ‘was among other projects subject of the investigation.’
“The facts regarding bribery and corruption seem explicit enough. They have been established in independent investigations by two of the key protagonists of the CEB case. The employees of BWSC who have been in cahoots with local advisors and contractors and suspected of criminal actions including bribery have been identified and sanctioned. The gist of the investigation has been done. Mauritius now needs to dot the i’s and cross the t’s…”
After carrying out its own investigation on the findings of Burmeister & Wain probe into the case of alleged corruption in the context of the CEB St Louis power plant contract, the AfDB’s Office of Integrity and Anti-Corruption concluded in a press communiqué released on 8 June 2020 that ‘evidence supports a finding that Burmeister & Wain, on a balance of probabilities, financially rewarded members of the Mauritian administration and others, through the intermediary of third parties, for providing access to confidential tender-related information which allowed them to tailor the technical specifications of the tenders to its offering, thus gaining an undue competitive advantage over other tenderers’.
The upshot is that two independent investigations carried out by the contractor and the funding agency have established a patent case of corruption and bribery involving members of the Mauritian administration and others on a major public utility contract allocated through international tender procedures. This shameful indictment has been aired in public press releases. From the chronology of events it is evident that the primary source of information on the case of bribery and corruption is Burmeister & Wain and not the African Development Bank.
The diligence, rigour and competence with which Mauritius carries out its own investigation to nab ‘members of the Mauritian administration and others who were financially rewarded’ is therefore under the scrutiny of the African Development Bank, other international financial institutions, traditional trade partners such as the EU and friendly countries that have unswervingly supported the country’s development efforts. What are also under scrutiny are the standards of propriety, ethics and governance in the country. The credibility of the government and its commitment to transparency and accountability are also on the line. The hour is grave. This is not therefore the time for petty and abject politicking to distract attention from the thrust of the CEB corruption case investigation.
Names of persons involved in the corruption and bribery have reportedly been spelled out in the investigation reports. Mauritius must therefore request a copy of the investigation report from Burmeister & Wain. According to a press release issued on 21 March 2018 on the occasion of the inauguration ceremony of the St Louis new power plan, BWSC stated that it ‘has delivered 10 power plants to CEB over a 20 year period’. Mauritius should therefore have the leverage to obtain full cooperation from Burmeister & Wain to identify all those who allegedly rigged the tender exercise and benefitted from it through bribes. AfDB’s Office of Integrity and Anti-Corruption has also written to the CEO of BWSC to request him to provide all information required to enable the Mauritian authorities get to the bottom of this sordid affair.
The facts regarding bribery and corruption seem explicit enough. They have been established in independent investigations by two of the key protagonists of the CEB case. The employees of BWSC who have been in cahoots with local advisors and contractors and suspected of criminal actions including bribery have been identified and sanctioned. The gist of the investigation has been done. Mauritius now needs to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.
It is equally important to investigate the tall claim of government and its key leaders that despite the official press communications of Burmeister & Wain on the outcome of the investigation of corruption in the St Louis power plant contract in February 2019 and the official advice given to the management of the CEB, they came to know of the allegations of corrupt and fraudulent practices only on 8 June 2020. This raises fundamental questions of credibility and exposes the systemic failures of an appalling state of governance in the country.
For too long the country has been afflicted and undermined by patent and pervasive poor governance. For too long licence condoned by those in power has held sway. The St Louis power plant corruption case provides a unique opportunity for the nation to stay mobilized to put an end to a culture of wanton licence and deplorable governance which has systematically sapped and continue to sap the prospects of the country.
The CEB corruption investigation is also under the scan and scrutiny of the people who want all culprits involved in the corruption case to be arraigned and sentenced. There should be no quarter. There is no room for failure. There is no alibi for procrastination to fluff the issue or to scuttle the investigation. The blemished reputation of the country can only be restored by ensuring that all those that have sullied its name and standing be swiftly nabbed and brought to book.
* Published in print edition on 3 July 2020
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