“Mauritius is living one of its darkest hours”

Interview: Kugan Parapen – Resistans ek Alternativ

* ‘now is not the time for MPs to be sitting on the fence. One needs to choose on which side of history one wants to be’

* ‘The Kistnen case will not be forgotten anytime soon.
Irrespective of whether the whole truth is uncovered or not’

Our interviewee this week Kugan Parapen is an economist who is also a member of Resistans ek Alternativ. He comments on the event which has been dominating the news for some time now, namely the struggle being led by the group of lawyers calling themselves the ‘Avengers’ to connect the dots linking a series of deaths they suspect were murders rather than suicides and the decisions taken by the authorities in handling the Covid pandemic. He is worried about the social situation and fears for the economy as well.

Mauritius Times: Another round of “revelations” has been made last Sunday by the ‘Avengers’ lawyer-politicians in relation to the disturbing and never-heard-of things happening in the country these last months. What’s your take on that?

Kugan Parapen: While it would be unwise to be gullible and believe all the rumours doing the rounds, I believe there is more than enough evidence out there in the public to say that our beloved country is living one of its darkest hours.
Many will say that we shall allow institutions to work in all independence and thus allow the law to take its course for justice to prevail, but we have been here before, haven’t we? It is an open secret that the rule of law in our motherland can be asymmetrical. Some abide by the law while others are above it, or at least believe they can do so.
The Kistnen saga epitomises the entrenched rot of our democracy. This stench is now out in the open for all to smell. But it could have been so different. Were it not for some courageous journalists and lawyers, the murder would have been disguised as a suicide. We can like or dislike the individuals who came forward to fight for the truth to come out as regards the Kistnen case. Their detractors say that some of them are attention seekers while others only want to create chaos in the country. While there may be some element of truth in there, I do believe they deserve our support. For they are fighting a greater evil…
It would not be totally unreasonable to think that the same people who are behind the assassination of Kistnen are the ones who do not want the truth to emerge and are thus going to all sorts of length to ensure that the independence of our institutions is compromised in a manner rarely witnessed before. That’s at least the perception that is coming out. And this leaves one to ponder about the reach of the tentacles of evil in this country…

* There may be lots of theories, allegations and other speculations, but the truth however is we do not have the answers to what’s really happening. And there’s the risk that it can grow tiring at some point in time. What do you think?

I beg to disagree. We do not have definitive answers to what has really happened, but don’t we have answers to what is really happening? That is two completely different tomes, although we can argue that it makes for a great sequel.
Don’t we know that the murder was originally masked as a suicide? Don’t we know that one police officer did say under oath that no proper enquiry was carried out due to the implication of a political VVIP? Don’t we know that in La Louise, one of the busiest urban intersections on the island, the images from CCTV have evaporated? Don’t we know that the Kistnen papers reveal that the alleged expenses of some politicians from Constituency 8 were significantly above the permissible threshold? Don’t we know that a sitting Minister is yet to be summoned by either the police or the ICAC despite assurances to the contrary given in court by a senior police officer? Don’t we know of the media treatment given by the MBC to this particular saga?

It is akin to putting different pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. Some pieces might still be missing, but we do have a broad idea of what the puzzle should look like when completed. The Kistnen case will not be forgotten anytime soon, irrespective of whether the whole truth is uncovered or not. This particular case will be remembered for generations. As of now, the full ramifications of this scandal are yet to be ascertained. This could unravel very quickly.

* The governing alliance has had very little or almost nothing to say on the allegations levelled by the Avengers and in media articles – in fact it has remained silent most of the time. We have instead seen the Prime Minister inaugurating by-passes and involved in other activities. What would this suggest to you?

The government seems intent on giving the impression that it is ‘business as usual’. Is it a diversion strategy? Some members of the government even went as far as describing the Avengers and some sections of the media as rumour mongers and belittling the population as ‘dimoun ki kontan ekut palab’. However, to the discerning eyes, the government has distanced itself from the press. Most of their interventions are protocolary speeches. Very few dare to answer the questions of the press and when they do, it is often in a sarcastic manner. Some have even feigned ignorance. A few are nowhere to be seen nor heard.

We get the impression that the gap between the government and the population has never been any wider. In the Kistnen saga, we are dealing with the murder of at least one human being. Not any human being but one of the most prominent agents of this government. This cannot be taken lightly under any circumstances.

The population is baffled by the lack of sanctions against those who did try to mask the murder case as a suicide in the first instance. Why has the Minister of Home Affairs not intervened to assure the population that those guilty of hiding the truth would be punished? Why has the Prime Minister not expressed his frustration and anger at the disappearance of CCTV footage? It did cost a hand and a leg after all.

Such silence has profound implications in the psyche of the population. It raises legitimate questions. At the Avengers meeting in La Louise, Valayden brandished said emails from Kistnen’s inbox and levied some extremely serious accusations against the government. Kistnen is said to have conspired with members of government to rig public tenders at different ministries, including the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Education. The same Kistnen was given the contract to erect a fence at Pomponette to ward off locals from their public beach. Could it be that numerous influential politicians are involved in serious malpractice and that if the truth were to emerge, they would get into serious trouble? Or is it mere ‘palab’?

* With trust deficit in the integrity of so many of our institutions probably at its lowest today, we might be getting into a dangerous situation for it could take only a spark to unsettle our social peace. Do you think Mauritians are sufficiently mature not to go in that direction?

The social fabric of Mauritius is strained at this moment in time. It is quite unfortunate that political considerations have played a major role in this state of affairs. Divide and rule has always been a classic political strategy for those who feel they are losing their grip on power. And we get the feeling that we might be edging ever closer to a point of no return. We must be however reminded that instability breeds instability. Mauritius has widely been regarded as one of Africa’s successful democratic stories when it comes to respecting the democratic rules.

At this critical period, the onus must surely be on elected members of Parliament to do the right thing and not on the population. Surely now is not the time for MPs to be sitting on the fence. Important decisions need to be taken. One needs to choose on which side of history one wants to be. In the life of any politician, there comes a time when one finds oneself at crossroads. At such times, I believe it right to appeal to the conscience and to follow what feels right. I do not believe all MPs to be mere ‘chatwas’.

Should the onus fall on the population, we should also listen to our conscience. One should not let oneself be manipulated nor should one let oneself be frightened away.

* Do you think that it might be a good thing in the present circumstances that the mainstream parties are coming together if only to help avert any social crisis – though admittedly that’s not their agenda?

As you correctly mentioned, the agenda of the mainstream parties differ. Lest we forget, the opposition mainstream parties were already part of a common platform in the aftermath of the last general elections. Not on an ideological or social basis by the way, but merely an electoral one. An increasing section of the population have become disillusioned with these mainstream parties as they have failed to revitalise themselves and have lost their credibility with important sections of their traditional vote-bank.

Should a social crisis be on our hands, we should expect natural alliances to be formed. It is also perhaps worthwhile noting that certain political parties have fomented social unrest in a not-so-distant past. We should expect engaged citizens and social activists to come to the fore should the social situation deteriorate. But then again, political parties also have a role to play.

* Roshi Bhadain has been admitted to the ‘Entente’ of the LP-MMM-PMSD, and Rama Valayden might eventually leverage his current investigative-lawyer initiatives to seek a honorable place on that same platform – unless he has some bigger ambition for himself. Do you think it would be worthwhile for other parties, like ReA and others to join in given the stakes involved?

The admission of Bhadain to the parliamentary opposition platform is an interesting evolution. It looks like a tactical opportunistic move from the existing members of the platform. The LP-MMM-PMSD platform has played second fiddle since the Kistnen saga came to the fore. And they probably view the addition of Bhadain to their ‘entente’ as the easiest way to bridge this gap. With respect to Bhadain, his undecidedness is testimony to his political dilemma. One day he wants to oust the ‘dinosaurs’ and the next he joins them. Has he succumbed to the adage, “if you cannot beat them, join them”?

You do mention the stakes involved. But then again, the ‘stakes involved’ are always put to the fore when the political cards are being reshuffled. It is in the same vein that the electorate voted for Jugnauth Sr. in 2014. Back then, the ‘stakes involved’ was to dethrone Ramgoolam. Now the ‘stakes involved’ is to get rid of Jugnauth Jr. Are we going to repeat the same mistake of creating another monster again? When do we learn?

That said, one should never say never in politics. We do recall the left and the centre-right joining forces in French politics to nullify the threat of the extreme right. But we do have a different electoral system in Mauritius. Rezistans ek Alternativ (ReA) has always wanted to be a progressive transformative force. It is quite refreshing to hear some members of the mainstream parties discuss the necessity of a systemic change for our democracy. Could it be that the penny has finally dropped?

One thing is for certain though. All opposition parties have a common political objective! And that is to rid the country of the rot. Napa soutir pouritir! Will the ends justify the means? We shall see. In the meantime, Kolektif Konversasion Solider (KKS), of which ReA is a member, is holding its first gathering of 2021 on Saturday 6th February at Unity House in Beau Bassin. KKS is an open platform which aims to collectively decide the actions to be taken to make real progress in the Republic. I seize this opportunity to invite all concerned citizens to register themselves and attend this Saturday.

* All the allegations and conspiracy theories levelled these past weeks have crowded out from official discourses and public debate the crucial issue of economic recovery. We are fortunate that the economy appears not to have hit rock bottom as economists were predicting last year in the wake of the Covid pandemic. Will things get better sooner than it was expected or are we still in for some bad times in the months ahead?

In so far as the economy is concerned, the latest official figures point towards a contraction of above 15% in economic activity for Mauritius in 2021. Economists expect the final figure could be even worse than the indicative one. This is by far the biggest recession we have experienced since the end of the 1970s. While many jobs have been supported by extraordinary fiscal and monetary measures, it would not be an exaggeration to say that we did hit rock bottom in 2020.

The issue with economists from international and national institutions is that they tend to be overly optimistic in the wake of a recession. We witnessed the same enthusiasm in the wake of the Financial Crisis in 2008. And eventually, reality did set in and these economists have had to continually lower their expectations. I get the impression that this will be a feature of 2021.

The economic situation will improve but not as much as some would have us believe. With respect to employment, there are probably thousands of jobs which will be shed over the coming years. These are being artificially maintained through government legislation. Other countries have injected an unheard amount of liquidity to offset the slowdown in economic activity. In Mauritius, the relative injection of liquidity in the financial system relative to the economic hardship suffered has been more modest. We are likely to lag behind – we should be accustomed by now.

* The private sector has been saying that economic recovery hinges on the reopening of our borders, whilst the Government is taking a bet on the Covid vaccine, which it believes will see us through the current crisis and back to the previous normal. Is it as simple as that?

The closure of our borders has hurt the economy hard. And the sooner we are able to open them without endangering our population, the better it is.
With respect to the vaccination programme, it should help accelerate the normalisation process, but we should not be too hasty to declare victory. A critical percentage of the population should be vaccinated before we contemplate lifting travel restrictions.
Believing that vaccination of the frontliners suffice to minimise risks would be counterproductive. Ideally, a phased reopening of the country would be preferable. The idea of going back to the previous normal is fallacious. We should brace ourselves for a new normal. The earlier the authorities realise that, the better it will be for our society.

* Published in print edition on 5 February 2021

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