Time to clear the air

The opposition has been calling on Ms Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of the Republic, to step down. Such an action has never been undertaken before in Mauritius. The reason being put forward for this call is that she would have acted contrary to Constitutional provisions regarding tenure of the Office of President. She has also been accused of employing her position to interfere with public institutions in favour of Mr Alvaro Sobrinho, an Angolan investor suspected of having been involved in alleged cases of money laundering outside of Mauritius.

The businessman has acquired some private properties in Mauritius and obtained licences for undertaking financial business from the FSC. In view of further investigations being undertaken by local authorities regarding allegations of cover-up of his past laundering of funds by authorities outside of Mauritius, the financial licences given earlier to the businessman are currently suspended.

Ms Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who became President in mid-2015, was also the Vice-Chair of a UK registered charity, Planet Earth Institute (PEI), engaged in scientific and philanthropic activity sponsored and chaired by the same Angolan businessman. Mails have been traced in which the President had apparently asked the FSC, the financial services regulator, to inform her on the status of applications for financial licences submitted by Mr Sobrinho’s companies before those licences were granted.

The opposition at first challenged the President for associating herself with a person having a dubious financial track record. Then, she was accused of having acted contrary to Constitutional provisions by accepting an office as Vice-Chair of PEI and travelling at its cost, whereas she would not be entitled to do so. She reacted, informing that she was not in receipt of any remuneration as Vice-Chair of the PEI (while holding the Presidency she is not expected to take up another office against remuneration). The opposition went on then to interprete her mails to the FSC in its capacity as financial regulator as amounting to exerting undue influence in the working of public institutions in favour of a person it does not consider as “fit and proper”. It also spoke about her Office interceding to give the businessman multiple access to the airport VIP lounge.

Since then, Ms Gurib-Fakim has resigned as Vice-Chair of the PEI. She has also been claiming that her activities as Vice-Chair of the PEI did not clash with Constitutional provisions regarding the terms and conditions attaching to the Office of the President. She asked for an investigation to be conducted to establish facts. We do not know whether and by whom such an investigation has been initiated. Ms Gurib-Fakim, as holder of the highest public office in Mauritius, cannot be investigated, given that the President enjoys Constitutional immunity.

The country has been losing its serenity over the past two years when a series of gaffes were committed, exposing taxpayers to damages that may be sought by affected parties due to authoritarian and wrongful decision-taking by certain ministers. The government saw one of its coalition partners – the PMSD – leaving its ranks last December and now leading the opposition. This chequered history of instability over such a short period was carried forward even after a new Prime Minister was installed in January 2017 in the midst of controversy.

The government is now a coalition of two parties, the ML and the MSM. The President of the Republic was nominated for that position by the ML, as part of a power sharing deal among the parties forming the government. True or not true, there were rumours of late that relations were not so good between the two remaining government partners. A decision taken to impeach and replace the President, if any, would put this relationship at further risk of the government splintering away. This may have further consequences.

A President facing public trial will inevitably add to the instability in which the country has been operating, extinguishing one fire after another. This is surely not a salutary condition to be in from the point of view of the country as a whole. The silence the President herself has been observing concerning her association with the Angolan businessman is not helping either.

No one is better off so long as doubt persists whether the President acted at arm’s length or whether she did all she actually did with a “guilty mind”, unmindful of her Constitutional status. The discussion would not have culminated where it is at present, had Ms Gurib-Fakim explained her position in no uncertain terms at the very beginning and/or taken corrective action to clear the air, as it should have been done to put to rest all sorts of suspicions having emerged.

Her failure to explain candidly her involvement in the issue has been darkening the picture. Was it for the good of the country? If so, how? Has she knowingly engaged herself in this matter, aware of the reproaches being made against the businessman in his country and in Portugal? Or, has she been overtaken by her excessive ingenuous enthusiasm to appear to be contributing to the country?

No one expects her to make a search in the background of every person who gets acquainted with her in the manner of a financial regulator. But she should have guarded herself enough while associating herself with the Angolan businessman, or anybody else for that matter, reassuring herself that she was in good company, given the position she occupies at the head of the country. Has she been negligent in that respect? Which would be the case if she decided to carry on nevertheless, despite being in the presence of negative information concerning the businessman?

For long enough now, we’ve been seeing politicians interfering in and undermining the good working of public institutions. Public officials, on their part, are willing to bend the rules at times to do the bidding of those in higher authority having the power to decide whether their own careers can be terminated. The public is aware that this kind of interference has damaged the good standing of the concerned public institutions. Besides, it is not in the national interest to go on in this direction.

The country would stand to gain if the President came out in public to confirm that she is not involved in any such thing. It will be even more reassuring if what she says carries conviction beyond the least doubt in the public mind, given that there may be assumptions in the minds of some people that one who is protected by immunity as President would have crossed the bounds, aware of the fact that she cannot be taken in. The time has come to clear the air of all of this as that makes the act of governing the country with the required serenity more and more difficult.


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