During the last three years the public space has been captured by one form of political scandal or the other coming in succession, with the effect of crowding out the preceding ones. For lack of determined and sustained media and civic activism, many questions have been left unanswered to date in relation to lots of cases as, for example, the one involving the former Attorney-General, Ravi Yerrigadoo. He had to resign after having been caught up in a public denunciation that he would allegedly have used his position to favour certain persons involved in money laundering. Another minister, Showkutally Soodhun was taken to task by public opinion and the opposition following his threat of physical violence against the leader of the PMSD, Xavier Duval. Whether the latter has withdrawn his plaint against S. Soodhun is yet to be confirmed.
As if that was not enough, Mr Soodhun sparked off yet one more controversy with a video picturing him as willing to discriminate among communities when awarding publicly constructed flats falling within the responsibility of his ministry; thereafter another scandal of misbehaviour by a government PPS caught the headlines. While attending a Parliamentary session, he allegedly sent out by smartphone, to a contact of his, indecent images of himself; a police case was filed by the victim. Opposition PMSD member M. Kodabaccus also brought his share of shame on the House with the despicable language he used against the Speaker. Not much has come out from the inquiries into those matters that have been duly filed with the police.
There is a pattern of unacceptable behaviour, if not of wrong-doing and corrupt practices, that has been developing these last years, spawned by a culture of impunity which, it seems, is becoming the new normal in Mauritius. This has to be arrested. The latest case involves financial dealings by the controversial businessman and politically exposed international figure, Alvaro Sobrinho, of Angola. He had been royally received on several occasions by the top brass of the government and by the President of the Republic herself, during his frequent trips to Mauritius in connection with business allegedly tainted by money laundering. The whole affair has exposed in a bad light the country’s reputation and that of its international financial services sector.
PM Pravind Jugnauth had stated at some stage during his tussle with the President of the Republic that details of allegedly questionable dealings involving the President had been uncovered. On her part, the terms of reference of the aborted – and illegal according to some eminent jurists — commission of inquiry which the President had caused to be set up provide sufficient indications of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing that have facilitated Mr Sobrinho’s ‘investments’ in Mauritius, and that Mrs Fakim would be privy to privileged information thereon.
We do not expect the government to accede to the opposition’s motion in favour of a commission of inquiry – as that would probably amount to shooting itself in the foot. Mrs Fakim’s intention to keep silent – which she is reported to have made known through her legal adviser – and her unwillingness to go public as regards the privileged information she would be privy to will only compound an already tainted presidency. She has a duty to talk – not only for her own sake, but mostly for the sake of the good name and reputation of the Mauritius jurisdiction. Her failure to have a commission of inquiry set up according to established constitutional procedures should not deter her from coming back to enlighten the public on the various ramifications and protagonists involved in the “scandal of the century”.
To clear the good name of the country and prevent its slide towards what some have already feared, that Mauritius may fall into the banana republic basket in which some of our African neighbours have already tumbled, it would be to the credit of government to heed the numerous legal voices that have made themselves heard by taking whatever steps are needed to get to the bottom of this scandal, the more so as it is alleged that the President’s use of the PEI-issued Platinum Card is but the tip of the iceberg.
If all these scandals do not get elucidated then the culture of impunity that has taken hold will only amplify and we will have to apprehend further scandals with more damage to the country’s image and prospects. That will not serve the interests of either the people or the government, 2019 being just round the corner. The ball is in the government’s court. But at the same time civil society must continue to remain vigilant and press on so that action is taken at the earliest.
* Published in print edition on 23 March 2018