Unlocking the System in 2022

Editorial

2021 has been another year marked by a string of scandals, allegations of impropriety and corruption, mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic. But worse is what is widely perceived as a gradual slide towards an overbearing state intent on establishing and maintaining its control over all institutions, which in normal circumstances could put in jeopardy the political careers of those involved in the cases that have shocked public opinion– and even threaten the existence of the government itself. Opposition parties and other analysts have expressed concern about what is viewed as a descent towards an authoritarian state, and that what obtains today is but a semblance of democracy that fits the political agenda of the government of the day and reminiscent of the style of governance of MSM-led governments.

There are on the one hand infrastructural works transforming the ‘look’ of the country, as well as the determined and focused effort by the authorities to get the country out of the EU’s grey list (which was but the authorities’ doing) in which it was placed in the difficult circumstances of the ongoing pandemic. On the otherhand, there seems to be a laisser-faireattitude in relation to emergency procurements of paraphernalia needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet again, we are saddled with another highly controversial purchase, of Molnupiravir, an oral antiviral treatment for Covid-19 at the cost of Rs 80Mwhen greater vigilance by the authorities was clearly warranted in light of last year’s public outrage about the scandalous conditions and circumstances in which procurements were made – and which could have spared us this ugly episode.

ICAC has been tasked to investigate into this matter, but its track record so far has cast a dark shadow on its modus operandi. To its never-ending investigations into cases involving members of the government or those close to the political masters of the day, there is the inexplicable turnaround in the MedPoint case, as much as the long list of affairs where it is yet to be known where its inquiries stand – 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), St Louis Redevelopment Project, etc. This is one institution that in the public perception appears unable or unwilling to fulfil its mandate as prescribed by the law. In the meantime, it’s civil servants who are having to face the music with immediate suspensions, transfers and early retirement measures taken by the government – clearly in a bid to appease public outrage. Whether ICAC will go to the bottom of this matter in a comprehensive, objective, impartial and timely manner remains to be seen.

On the other hand, if Mauritius has made significant economic progress despite its limited resources, it is in a large measure attributable to its adherence to the principles of good governance, rule of law, and to the separation of powers as embedded in its Constitution – unlike what obtains in some African countries which have for long been a battleground between democratic institutions and rule by the will of the ‘big man’. Does this still seem to be the case? Are police inquiries conducted in a manner to convey the assurance to one and all that the rule of law will prevail at all times, and apply equally to all — ‘big’ or ‘small’ man?

It bears repeating that the development of the country can only take place if there is law and order, and that is why all societies place a premium on this crucial aspect of their governance. But events and incidents that have been taking place and unfolding since last year have had the effect of creating a trust deficit between the government and the people. Remember the Kistnen murder, and the mysterious deaths of some officials who were directly or indirectly involved with the procurements of medical supplies of drugs and equipment. It took a judicial inquiry to demolish the initial conclusion of suicide by the police, and testimonies and findings unravelled during the judicial enquiry brought to light the inexplicable and implausible absence of images supposed to be captured by the ultra-sophisticated Safe City cameras, the controversy surrounding the forensic autopsy, etc. One would expect that all those directly or indirectly assigned with the responsibility of maintaining law and order will uphold the Constitution of the country, but we do not know to date where matters stand as regards the investigations into the Kistnen Papers relating to the electoral expenses in Constituency No. 8.

There is not much that the Director of Public Prosecutions, whose office is charged with the prosecution of criminal offences, can do if investigations into cases of crime/murder, corruption, money-laundering are not carried out in a comprehensive and impartial manner by the investigative authorities. The scope and liberty of Opposition parliamentarians to probe the Executive’s acts and omissions are also limited in the face of an overbearing Speaker, who is perceived to be more intent to protect the government from embarrassment than allowing the public to get an insight into how public money is being spent. And with the public broadcaster’s daily spins, the ground is set for a semblance of democracy in the country.

The governance system seems to be locked, institutional dysfunction rife – under such circumstances, in a democracy, the people look to up to the judiciary to clear the path. Can the country rise again? 2022 will be a crucial year…


* Published in print edition on 24 December 2021

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