Of Accountability and Transparency


An effective system of checks and balances is at the very heart of a functioning democracy. Such a system ensures that government and public institutions are held accountable for decisions that they take and for the consequences of these decisions.

However, as governments change, we seem to see the same pattern follow on, despite the electoral promises for remedial changes and doing things differently. The renewed pledges for transparency, meritocracy and competence soon give way to the old habits of anointing cronies, relatives, political sponsors and agents and so on. The scenario keeps on be repeating itself time and again, and in the run-up to general election, we’ll see politicians going to the public or to socio-cultural organisations across the board to secure public support as in the past. The politics of old – not on the deeper issues with which the country should be really concerned – is seen replayed.

Looking back at the history of the country, there have been politicians with exceptional commitment to a better future for the country. Whatever they have achieved has come through the independence and strength of public institutions implementing policies fairly and squarely in the ‘public interest’. Sterling qualities of governance made everybody accountable. Parliamentarians used all their skills to dig out facts which mattered from the government side and expose abuses, if any. It was difficult for politicians to enrich themselves enormously at public expense because the limelight of public scrutiny was cast on them. The judiciary, on its part, stood as a last rampart against political abuse.

Thus, mechanisms existed to make decision-takers accountable and strong public institutions stood in the way of politicians to do as they wished. Thereafter, not only were public office holders disempowered by changing the Constitution to make them liable to be fired if they did not comply to the diktats of politicians in charge. The public institutions were themselves overwhelmed by political appointees who were ever ready to kowtow to and do the bidding of the politicians. Having thus undermined the control they would otherwise have been subjected to for each and every decision they imposed on the public institutions, politicians put themselves virtually beyond accountability. This is evidenced by the long list of scandals that have hogged the headlines over the last few years. Among others are the Dufry scandal, the Alvaro Sobrinho scandal, the Yerrigadoo/Bet 365 and Glen Agliotti affairs. There was also the earlier Bel Air Sugar Estate IRS affair which came to the forefront on a suspected case of bribe taking. All these are blatant examples of questionable practices. The latest relate to the St Louis Gate affair and the more recent, now famously known as the Black Label Stag Party at Grand Bassin apparently held to celebrate a questionable deal over a State Lands lease and which has seen a PPS scapegoated this week.

The question that arises is: can a system of checks and balances operate to prevent costly and harmful decisions being executed for the benefit of a few? The same few who in the first place influence such self-gratifying decisions by public institutions or institutions in which the public sector has majority control, including state-owned enterprises? One cannot wait for an overshadowing government’s term to finish for holding it accountable for dubious decisions taken. The country cannot afford to acknowledge wrong decisions taken only to finally have taxpayers assume their associated costs well after the real authors guilty of the guided misdeeds have departed the scene for good.

A redress mechanism that will act in real time to prevent abuses is very much needed. We have been promised a Freedom of Information Act by successive electoral alliances, which could have acted as an important deterrent against abuse. True, there may well be good reasons (e.g., commercial, national security or other) where disclosure may actually hamper the public sector, but surely there has been ample time to reflect and formulate a Bill that deters corrupt practices without endangering government workings on sensitive issues. It is to be hoped that the new team that will take over from the current dispensation will walk the talk and we will not only hear speeches calling for open government, we will see legislation ensuring that this happens.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 1 September 2023

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