Med Point & The Opposition’s Agenda 


Two cases of apparent mishandling of public funds have been hogging the headlines over the past months. The older of them, the Jean Suzanne/ Infinity BPO saga, has engulfed taxpayers’ money amounting to roughly Rs 430 million; a parastatal body is standing with a building on its hands as a quid pro quo for stimulating/ salvaging the company with huge amounts of public funds. The more recent one, the Med Point Hospital, has involved a public purchase in an amount of Rs 144 million of a hospital and its equipments which belonged till December last to people related to the Jugnauth family. Although the sum involved in the latter case is less important than in the former, it is the Med Point Hospital case that has been more intensely in the firing range of the MMM opposition. It is clear that this is so because the MMM opposition is hoping to cash in more political capital by going for the Med Point than for Jean Suzanne.

In a decent democratic country having respect for good governance, this kind of issue would long have been thrashed out exhaustively to the satisfaction of the public. Instead of letting the public speculate that a conspiracy against its interests might have been hatched, for accommodating friends and/or taking politically convenient decisions to the detriment of the public, those in charge of signing off the contracts in either of these cases should have come out in the open to explain their deeds and decisions. This is how it is done in civilised places, which have nothing to hide.

In the Jean Suzanne case, those who gave the money should have come to explain their assumptions on the viability of the company in which they decided to put so much money despite the fact that within months of dishing out the funds, some 450 employees of the company could not even keep their jobs; in the case of the Med Point, those who invited bids and allocated the contract should have cleared all doubts about the scientific rationale for such a project and why there was no better alternative than buying up the Med Point Hospital and its equipments for the value which was put up for them. The answers should have come from the official bodies taking the respective decisions in a comprehensive fashion and not in a piecemeal manner that creates more room for suspicions of wrong handling than settling the matter once and for all.

Our democracy, it appears, has not attained this level of elementary maturity to establish the facts before speculation assumes unwanted proportions. In the circumstances, the MMM opposition has been taking advantage of the perhaps willed fuzziness of the situation concerning the Med Point in particular to launch an all-out attack against the government’s coalition partner, the MSM, it being given that the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Health could be stood up as related parties in the Med Point transaction. It is not evident that the MMM could drive as much political capital out of the Jean Suzanne case as in the Med Point. The Minister of Finance has consequently had to go out on an explanation campaign in public in the face of the MMM’s assault.

Many interpret the MMM’s action as a ploy to drive a wedge between the coalition partners. The MMM is exploiting to the full a public perception that the MSM would essentially be controlled by self-serving persons whose private pursuits would be out of step with the public interest. If the MMM’s aim is to weaken the government by so doing, it is just natural that an opposition party should be engaging itself in this kind of task, assisted in this if possible from within the ranks of Labour by deputies who feel embarrassed by obscure aspects of the deal or by the perceived attitude of MSM as taking undue advantage of its position to line its pockets, as alleged. If however the MMM’s action is calculated to make space for itself within the Cabinet in replacement of an MSM that it could help to oust from the present coalition, then it is the pursuit of its pre-electoral agenda that is confirmed.

We have to admit that it is the Cabinet which is the real seat of power and decision-making in a constitutional set-up as it is the case in Mauritius. The MMM has already been out of the Cabinet for the past five years; having lost the elections of 2010, it runs the risk of facing the same fate during the next five years. It cannot execute the wishes of its political backers by remaining outside of Cabinet, which may explain its frantic efforts in the past and at present to get into it even if that was to be through the eviction of the MSM from the government. It may be noted that it has carefully avoided scratching Labour’s sensibilities. The fuzziness maintained around the Med Point has given it a golden opportunity to try to shake the MSM out of government on grounds of transparency and public accountability.

As far as Labour is concerned, the MMM’s efforts are not without dividends for it. They will help the Labour leadership keep its insiders in the coalition government in a weak bargaining point, the MSM in particular. They will boost up the morale of Labour insiders who believe that they are cut out for the top or higher jobs which might otherwise be taken away from them by the MSM at the last post. The moment they are pitched in battle against the MSM, it will distract their attention from higher prizes to seek or to focus on the seat of power itself. Besides, the MMM has itself, in the past, identified for its own electoral purpose one or other from among the second line of Labour’s command as potential prime ministers. For those who have been so identified, the MMM’s assault against the MSM will deliver as many Pyrrhic victories. This kind of speculation on the power game makes immense sense in the land of any-coalition-is-possible.

What about the government itself? It has been yielding on many points which the MMM could have made its battleground to win over or renew the support of its traditional electoral power base. The government has given the Creole language the status of an optional language in the school curriculum. It has roped in several leaders from the Creole community in government projects thereby drawing away from the MMM’s conventional anti-government pool. It is therefore drying up poles of contention of government power on which the MMM has traditionally thrived when going for elections. It may continue eroding the MMM’s power base in the coming five years in this manner. This could empty the MMM of its basic lines of support the more it remains out of the Cabinet.

It is a situation that is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for the MMM which is therefore seeking to displace partners like the MSM from the government. The Med Point deal is to be seen as an opportunity in this perspective. It is to be doubted whether Labour would like to see its government fragilised at the very start of its new mandate. The best thing, in the circumstances, would be to give out a clean sheet, if that is the case, on the whys and wherefores of the Med Point transaction and attend to the job for which the government has been elected, notably to govern. 

* Published in print edition on 3 March 2011

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