A former Governor General had once confided in private, after taking cognizance in March 1987 of the findings of the Rault Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking, that he had been taken for a ride by the concerned authorities about the real drug situation prevailing in the country during his tenure. It was that Commission, headed by a former Chief Justice, that for the first time lifted the lid on the scourge of drug trafficking and organized crime as well as the political-criminal nexus sustained by a few politicians and, by today’s standards, small-time drug barons. Its findings led to the interdiction and/or subsequent dismissal of a dozen or more of police officers, including some high-ranking ones.
Almost three decades down the line, the report of a second commission of inquiry, headed by former judge Lam Shang Leen, made public in 2018, again pointed to the political-drug traffickers nexus, involving amongst others lawyer-politicians; it also lamented the fact that the country does not have a single clearly defined drug agency. The Commission recommended in particular that the Customs Narcotics section and the ADSU be dismantled and merged urgently into a single National Drug Investigation Commission. In parallel, government had recourse to a consultant who listened to various parties and published the 2019-2023 National Drug Control Master Plan. The Lam Shang Leen commission’s report contained 460 recommendations, some of which would require, according to the government, legislative amendments before they could be implemented, and others were deemed to be impractical or impossible to implement.
In his reply to the Opposition leader’s PNQ, Monday 12th June 2023, the Prime Minister stated that as at date, over 80% of the 390 recommendations have been addressed. He also informed the House that ‘for the period January 2015 to May 2023, more than 25,345 drug cases have been detected and around 22,000 persons arrested’, and regarding drug seizures, ‘the estimated street value of drugs seized stood at almost 15 billion rupees for the same period’ – we presume by the ADSU, which has been deemed by the Commissioner of Police (CP) not fit to be dismantled, despite Justice Lam Shang Leen’s recommendation to that effect – ‘as this would have created an institutional vacuum’ -, and by the Police Headquarter Special Striking Team set up by the CP himself in August 2022.
The Special Striking Team (SST) has since attracted a lot of public attention and concern more for the manner in which it has gone about tracking political adversaries of the current government and the as-yet-unproven “drug planting” allegations levelled against it during its search operations than its drug hauls. And the Police Headquarters itself is now saddled with serious allegations made against the SST and its head as contained in the ‘Vimen Leaks’ broadcast by two private radios, Radio Plus and Top FM, last Friday. Vimen Sabapati, a martial arts instructor and former private bodyguard of the Labour Party leader, has confirmed the audio tape recordings of his conversations with a number of ADSU and other officers which would implicate a few police officers within the Striking Team in criminal activities. Serious allegations regarding weapons and drug seizures as well as attempts to attack the integrity of other departmental heads, etc., have been levelled. A pen drive containing those allegations and recordings were attached in a sworn affidavit by Vimen Sabapati since May 26th. Faced with the public outcry, the Commissioner of Police has found it necessary to have two other police units, namely the CCID and the MCIT, investigate those audio leaks and the Sabapati allegations against the SST.
We are fully aware of the fact that anti-drug investigators around the world have to deal with a difficult, sleazy underbelly of unscrupulous individuals, gangs and cartels in their line of duty and that informants always have ulterior motives. Furthermore, when large sums of drug monies are involved, the risks of officials being corrupted are ever-present; there must therefore be fail-proof mechanisms to control the real amounts of drug seizures. But we expect that the Investigation Agencies, the Prison Commissioneror the Police Authorities have in place, with international guidance where necessary, vetting, double-checking and other mechanisms to ensure that those risks are kept to a minimum.
This being said, we expected the PM and Home Affairs minister to respond to the legitimate concerns that the public has aboutpolice units themselves investigating another police unit. Would that ensure transparency and fairness, or would it turn out to be a sop to public opinion and another futile exercise destined to wither away rather than elicit meaningful outcomes? These are trying and testing times for the CP whose constitutional independence is guaranteed, but the country cannot stay in this state of anxiety about the trust it has or should have in such a vital institution.
What should also be of concern to us all is the reputation that the country once honoured; we do not want Mauritius to get the reputation that it is a country where people can commit a crime and get away with it.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 16 June 2023
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