“We see the rule of law being trampled in so many instances. Is the President doing anything about it?”

Of Political conduct and misconduct

Qs & As

More than fifty years after our independence how did we end up in this rut of misconduct and immunity, where our political elites, our systems and processes are the problem rather than the solution? Have we been complicit in this downward slide, eyeing the quid pro quo with hoodlumsand crooks for our votes? Between the lines which substantiate the current pessimism, readers may find the seeds of necessary changes as we move on as a nation. Read on.

* How big a problem is political misconduct in Mauritian politics?

Misconduct by politicians in endemic in Mauritius, and if not controlled it will evolve into a pandemic and this can plunge the country in an unprecedented social unrest. Can one imagine politicians using fake news against opponents or distorting their statements? We see candidates using the power of money to buy votes. We see all kinds of cronies rubbing shoulders with politicians just to obtain dividends after an election. Take the case of the Mauritius Turf Club, which whether we like it or not forms part of our history. It seems that everything is being done to erase it forthe benefit of a single individual. The list of misdeeds can go on.

* Even if Mauritians do take notice of the conduct of politicians, it could be that they do not attach much value to their integrity since a sleazy reputation, as past elections have shown, has not necessarily been a contributing factor to the defeat of some candidates or parties at the polls…

It would seem lots of people simply do not care so long as their bread is buttered, and they would use their community or caste credentials to obtain an undue advantage. Is it any wonder why candidates with a murky past get elected? The electorate has become an accomplice to all the sleaze as they are prepared to sell their conscience for money. There are lone sparrows with a higher conscience out there but can wereally transform politics or the country for the betterwith this kind of rot?

* From a legal perspective, what would amount to political misconduct?

An act of misconduct can either amount to a criminal offence or be considered immoral. The Criminal Code lists out all the offences for which any citizen, including a politician, may be prosecuted. But who would dare investigate a politician of the majority in the present political climate? If the investigative agencies are perceived to be at the beck and call of the government, it’s because they are quick to arrest anyone against whom a complaint has been made by a minister or a member of parliament of the majority, but do not show the same zeal when they have to deal with offences allegedlycommitted by ministers, politicians of the majority or their stooges.

* Parliamentary self-regulation and a code of conduct in the UK did not deter some MPs, including senior ministers, abusing their official allowances (under the second-home allowance scheme), as revealed by the Daily Telegraph in May 2009. Can self-regulation and a code of conduct work here? Or would it require instead a legal deterrence?

No government, and least of all the present one, canbe expected to ever come up with a binding code of conduct for politicians. A code of conduct has no force of law and in case of breach it is up to the leader of the party to which the defaulting politician belongs to take appropriate action.In spite of serious allegations levelled against him, it took quite a long time for the former minister of commerce to step down or made to step down

The legal deterrence would require a solid and comprehensive legislation. Whowill bell the cat?

* Even if there have been abuses by British MPs, the Recall of MPs Act 2015 allows a recall petition to be held if a MP in the UK did certain wrongdoings. On 1 May 2019, Fiona Onasanya became the first MP to be removed from office after a successful recall petition. Recall elections are also provided for in a small number of countries including the United States, Peru, Ecuador, and Japan. Can we imagine Mauritian politicians, across the political spectrum, legislate in that direction?

When he was in the opposition, one senior minister in the present government was denouncing the political culture that alloweda member of parliament to stay putin spite of his misconduct… until he is sanctioned, if at all, by the electorate. Today as a senior minister that idea would barely ruffle his mind. No government would dare come up with a law on the recall of MPs. No government will risk the holding of a by-election unless the circumstances so require. So why provoke the anger of an errant member or the risk of a by-election?

* As at present, does the law in Mauritius provide for disciplinary measures in cases of misconduct by politicians, in particular by government ministers?

The answer is NO. A member of parliament may resign or asked to resign if he has been convicted of an offence.

* despite more civil society and media oversight efforts, abuse and scandals persist. Could it be said that the legal arsenal in Mauritius is lacking or deficient in bringing to book errant politicians, thus the occurrence of numerous scandals these last decades?

The legal arsenal is there but there is no political will to apply it. The law enforcement authorities have become subservient to any regime in place especially the current one. If they do nothing, what can you expect?

* What are the options available if the investigative agencies drag their feet or simply fail to fulfil their duties as per their mandates?

There is no option. What can the Director of Public Prosecutions do if a police file does not land on his table? What can a complainant do if the police refuses to register his complaint or takes a hell of a time to investigate? What is happening to all the files involving members of government at ICAC? It would seem nothing will happen under the current system.

* Centuries ago, Roman poet Juvenal asked: “Who watches the watchman?” It would seem that thisquestion still does not have a fully satisfactory answer. Is there an effective answer to that question today?

Who watches the watchman? Good question. The president of the Republic, who is supposed to be above politics, could, if he is not doing it, call the prime minister to order. After all, under the constitution the president must uphold the rule of law. We see the rule of law being trampled in so many instances. Is the president doing anything about it?

In parliament, backbenchers are supposed to keep watch on the executive. Instead, all the backbenchers are simply pouring insults on the opposition and heaping praise on the Prime Minister in the manner north Koreans do towards their leader. As for the electorate, the electors have simply bartered their votes for some money or other advantage.

The only ray hope is the opposition. But the opposition’s voice is stifled by a speaker. The other day he allowed a minister to read out the medical details of a deceased person in blatant breach of the law on medical confidentiality and the privacy of the deceased!

* Should we therefore conclude that the system can be rendered ineffective, if required, to defeat the cause of justice?

The system is already ineffective. Justice has become a one-way traffic in many instances. Politicians of the majority are reigning supreme in the field of justice with the help and connivance of the authorities and their blind stooges.

* Published in print edition on 20 July 2021

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