Prime Ministers are usually not wont to sack their own ministers because they must maintain the support of key factions within their party or risk putting their own position in jeopardy. It’s even more complicated when it comes to a minister who happens to be the leader of an ally in government given the consequences that may follow and which may endanger the survival of the government itself or the alliance.
These considerations obviously did not come into play in the decision of Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth as regards the leader of the Muvman Liberater and Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Collendavelloo. Even if it appeared that the PM was dragging his feet and biding his time and undoubtedly assessing during that time the harm that the St Louis affair – which involved the award of a contract to Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor (BWSN) with financing from the African Development Bank – was causing to his government, he could not stay put any longer without compromising both the survival and reputation of his government. Especially in light of the partial report which has been made available to him by the African Development Bank’s Integrity Oversight Committee in relation to the CEB-BWSN tender dealings, wherein Ivan Collendavello and others have been named.
Given the comfortable government majority and the political weight of the Muvman Liberater, for Pravind Jugnauth Ivan Collendavelloo was politically “expendable”, and he might have seen him as not adding any contribution of value to his government. Pravind Jugnauth’s attitude towards his deputy has therefore been guided by considerations of specific political utility and interest, not mutual loyalty, given their personal rapport – Ivan Collendavelloo is known to have been closer to Sir Anerood Jugnauth than to Pravind Jugnauth. His continuation in office could have harmed him politically and weakened the government already tainted with a series of scandals since its early days in office.
Many questions however remain unanswered as regards the CEB- BWSN tender. We have mentioned in an earlier editorial the long list of pending inquiries at Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). This does not bode well for the country’s reputation at global level, especially in light of the European Commission’s decision to place Mauritius on the list of high risk jurisdictions. And also, at a time when all funding agencies will be scrutinising our response to what appears to be a clear-cut case of corruption involving a “complot” at our administrative levels to thwart the public procurement process. It also highlights the absence of a credible and respected investigative agency capable of handling white collar crime independently of political proximity.
One therefore cannot help posing the query of whether it is the right thing to assign ICAC to conduct the inquiry into this matter. Granted, the point made by the PM, namely that ICAC has the necessary power and authority to seek information from equivalent investigative agencies abroad, as will most probably be needed. However, given ICAC’s track record, there is nothing that prevents the government – given its majority in Parliament – to amend as deemed necessary to equip a Commission of Inquiry with such powers and authority as to allow it to proceed as ICAC would have done. And inform the ADB and any other jurisdictions potentially involved accordingly.
On the other hand, for much less, Ivan Collendavelloo resigned from the National Assembly in 1989 in the wake of the controversy surrounding his endorsement of the then Sun Resorts’ boss Sol Kerzner’s passport application. The honourable thing for him to do following his humiliating sacking by the Prime Minister would be to resign his parliamentary seat and, if he so wishes, redeem his honour in an ensuing by-election besides fighting it out in court – if it comes to the crunch. This is the only way that Ivan Collendavello can salvage his honour. The ball is in his court: either to accept the ignominy – so damning for a senior minister who is, to boot, leader of a coalition party – or to regain his mandate from the people.
* Published in print edition on 26 June 2020