A Reform Agenda for Today’s Despairing Youths and Tomorrow’s Leaders

and to restore our pride in being part of the Mauritius narrative


By Jan Arden

Those currently in the Opposition – parliamentary and extra-parliamentary – have been prime witnesses of the dysfunctions of the State these last few years, and they should be ideally placed to work out a meaningful and comprehensive reform agenda that might go some way to restore our pride in being part of the Mauritius narrative. And, indeed, we are given to understand that think-tanks have been diligently at work behind the curtains to reach a broad consensus on the low-lying fruits and those that may require wider post-electoral consultations.

Here we would like to comment on some of the many aspects laymen and observers feel should be part of the reform agenda.

Rethinking the building blocks: Few would question that some institutions and their credible, independent functioning are so fundamental that they require immediate treatment:

(a) The electoral process, its governing structures with a Commissioner and a double Commission (Electoral Supervisory Commission & Electoral Boundaries Commission), which has been subject of unheard accusations with the «write-off» of several thousands of legitimate electors, have been largely canvassed here and elsewhere and require a clean-up.

(b) So too does our Representation of People’s Act (RPA), where the judiciary and processes for appeals should be fast-tracked so that simple demands for recounts or other electoral challenges are cleared within 3 months at most. Not the four years that delaying tactics and a judge change have imposed on the unfortunate appellant in No.15 last week. If the Indian Supreme Court can dispose of such electoral appeals within days, there is no reason why a legally enforceable deadline should not be feasible here.

(c) The National Assembly, its regulations and Standing orders, the number of sittings and sessions, the question time and the provision of written answers are all matters that have been the object of irritation to lawmakers. Live TV coverage has brought to focus the severe limitations of a Speakership that rather than bending backwards to allow Opposition latitude for questions of national interest, has preferred bending forward to protect the government or its flailing Ministers. Redacting or kicking out MP questions, erasing the Hansard or expelling Opposition MPs at the drop of a hat, with exaggerated expulsion periods, have made the world witness our impoverished democratic credentials and left many Mauritians, watching social media broadcasts of several Commonwealth Parliamentary abodes, aghast at such goings-on in the ‘temple of our democracy’. A Speaker’s responsibility is to some extent tributary of his/her own conception of his/her role, but unfettered freedom, with the conspicuous support of the Leader of the House, leading to the mocking comments of the Seychelles political leadership, is obviously unacceptably excessive.

(d) Spurred to some extent by the current excesses and the severe constraining effects of the Covid pandemic on ordinary lives, the spectacle of MPs, Ministers and the superstructures of our Republic continuing to enjoy the full benefits of their lifestyles, world travels and per-diems, variety of allowances, perks, benefits, and life-term pensions has exacerbated the feeling for a greater degree of austerity. Of course, past matters cannot be changed, but a new era of responsibility and accountability would not be amiss for newly-elected Mps/Ministers. As examples, the Office of the Vice-President is an absolute waste. Backpacker Presidents or Ministers trekking the globe at our expense can also be checked. Life pensions could be replaced by two 5-year periods of commuted pensions, say 66 and 33%. The dozens of allowances should be scrapped in favour of a flat salary for the mandate period of 5 years.

(e) In return, there should be some recognition and gratitude for Mauritians willing to give up their family and other time to their political vocation. This could lead us to consider some form of State contribution to the functioning of political parties and to electoral campaigning, although a large fraction of the tax-paying population may be extremely loathe for such a burden. If democracy comes at a price, then why not consider that those highly profitable companies and groups, say above Rs 100m, contribute a modest 1% (or x%) annually to finance that vital democratic exercise, provided legislators can ensure a mechanism that is beyond and above political interference. 

The elephant in the room: Legists, constitutionalists, our polity and concerned NGOs like Resistans ek Alternativ (REA) have spent considerable time and resources over the contours of our Republic and its impugned shortcomings. This sensitive and complex issue of constitutional reform covers so many aspects that it should call for a post-electoral round table rather than another pre-electoral concoction, other than perhaps a temporary fix to allow all candidates not to declare their communal belonging.
While external constitutional specialists may guide the process and help it stick to achievable objectives rather than the somewhat vain search for an ideal formula, we have gathered enough experience, legal, constitutional and political, to set ourselves a realistic deadline for popular sanction of proposed amendments to be applicable for the next general elections.

Correcting the failed institutions:

(a) Independence, transparency and accountability have been noticeably weak across the board, save for some hold-outs that have navigated us through collective traumas with some dignity. Top-flight administrators have quailed at keeping the powerful body politic on the straight and narrow throughout the Covid pandemic and even more generally. Neither at Mauritius Telecom, Air Mauritius, state-owned banks or insurance companies have political appointees showed mettle, some being merely round pegs in square holes better known for their expensive salaries and budgets.

(b) Investigative agencies like Police/CCID/MCIT, have shown such remarkable ineffectuality in high-profile suspicious death cases that the only solace for media, observers and the population came from courageous Magistrate inquiries. Even then and despite directions to inquire further from the Magistrates or the DPP, they have seemed oblivious to such appeals, preferring a constitutional public tussle against the Office of the DPP on their respective prerogatives in provisional charges and bail demands.

Democrats recall how the ruling dispensation was desperate to coral and rein in the DPP through an arbitrary dawn arrest or the failed Prosecution Commission. As for the richly endowed Independent Commission against Corruption and its colossally bleak results in all matters relating to the political masters of the day, the population knows that it has far exceeded its expiration date. Neither can we point with some satisfaction at the other costly structures (FIU, Integrity Reporting Services Agency, for example) of little net value as independent institutions.

The combined legal and constitutional minds of traditional political parties and concerned legists and NGOs have, we believe, the necessary experience to define the reforms required and to usher in an era of democratic processes and functions that meet the aspirations of today’s despairing youths and tomorrow’s leaders of the country.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 6 October 2023

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