By Jan Arden
This week, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) in its courageous legal stand has reprimanded the Office of the Police in court about any abusive usage of the provisional charge (PC), in this case against lawyer Rama Valayden. « The DPP urges the police to close the enquiry at the earliest. The DPP strongly recommends the CP not to resort instantly to the lodging of PCs invariably in all cases » summed up Jacques Panglose, chief legal counsel for the lawyer as the case was dismissed in Court.
Lawyer Rama Valayden, as Opposition activist and former journalist Harish Chundunsingh, arrested and bailed out the week before (as we reported here), are both known for their forthright publicly aired views on radios and in various venues about the government’s actions or inactions. The ability to criticise publicly is part and parcel of a functional democratic state that respects and guarantees freedom of expression and beliefs without unbecoming or slanderous terms. There are no reasons why that constitutional right should raise hackles on the necks of a few police grandees, and specifically those who take it upon themselves to arrest, charge, then enquire for unending months before sending any file directly to Court or to the DPP for advice. The image of a police force, in high-profile or politically exposed cases, that is either struggling to find its bearings or perceived to be acting at the beck and call of politicians in power, may even be construed as a downhill slide that should be hemmed in urgently. The police force has evidently an arsenal of considerable powers to maintain law and order but the greater those powers, the more caution needs to be exercised.
Need we recall that several laws including those on ICTA or the IBA are open to abuse without some common sense and legal aptitudes from police forces or that free criticism of Ministers or government actions can hardly be qualified as obstructing or perverting the course of justice in a democratic set-up. Regular allegations of « drug planting » have already soured people’s faith in the even-handedness of some sections of the police force. The fact that many Opposition voices and activists, including lawyers, feel necessary to watch their cars and homes for unwanted intrusions by lurking agents is an unprecedented development. Needless to say how much the population and the country depend on a police force that is credible, independent and professional.
A flashback to a June 2016 exchange in Parliament, as reported in News on Sunday, sets the scene about how far we have progressed or regressed on the paths laid out by late Sir Anerood Jugnauth, a past PM and President of the Republic, but also a QC with legal upbringing that the MSM respects. To a PQ of Opposition MP Reza Utteem, SAJ avowed that since January 2015, under the new political regime, some 14,700 PCs had been brought about by Police of which only some 9,500 were taken to court under a firm charge. Having 5,200 PCs dropped or dismissed by courts, many for frivolous and vexatious reasons, was explained away by SAJ, who basically implied that the police have to use their discretion and judgement in weighing the nature of the case, the necessary investigations carried out and are satisfied of the evidence available justifying the reasonable grounds to act. He also announced that a new Police and Criminal Evidence Bill (PACE) would be shortly on the table with appropriate safeguards including the prevention of police officers from arresting third parties without those necessary investigations, the time limits for concluding enquiries relating to PCs and that handcuffs not be used to humiliate suspects.
We might also recall that, following the controversies surrounding arbitrary arrests and a hotch-potch of dismissed PCs, the editor-in-chief of Weekly magazine, Touria Prayag, launched her book entitled Provisional Charges: The untold human stories in 2016 in front of an audience of guests, at La Maison de l’Étoile, in Eurêka, Moka. SAJ was surely not merely speaking for the gallery, but it remains to be seen how far we have progressed since those statements made seven years ago.
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Soopramanien Kistnen’s murder – Will the police act?
We also learned this week that the DPP has recommended police prosecutions, since November 2022, against Yogida Sawmynaden in the case of the alleged fake employment of widow Kistnen as “Constituency Clerk” by the former Minister. It seems that the investigation is long over and, after the file was sent to the DPP’s office, the latter asked the police to open the information and to do what is required in light of its advice. Six months later, nothing is known if and when the police might decide to enter a case amply investigated and reported in the press.
It would seem that the murder of MSM chief agent Soopramanien Kistnen and all related matters (‘Kistnen papers’, constituency clerk…) are such a scaldingly hot potato that the police and the CCID/MCIT are unable to figure out what their duty should be. The ICAC also seems to have stumbled on its own indigestible pound of venison in the matter of the Black Label Stag Party despite the serious corruption allegations levelled against a minister, a PPS and a senior political agent against some 700 acres of land lease to stand-in(s) of drug baron Franklin.
Today, a free press/media despite ominous restrictions, the DPP and an independent judiciary are what remain of our constitutional mechanisms to protect against abuses. Were it not for the brave stand of the PMSD, whose exit from government in 2017 deprived SAJ and his then backers like Nando Bodha, Roshi Bhadain, Ivan Collendavelloo, the required qualified parliamentary majority to force through the inglorious Prosecution Commission to oversee and control the Office of the DPP, the republic would have also lost that leg.
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The electorate will pronounce on the fate of the yes-men
As if on cue, Cabinet, kow-towing to the PM’s inability to hold the elections of municipal councils which could have immensely negative bearings on the general elections to be held soon, duly approved on Friday last their third successive postponement despite a raft of Opposition voices inside and outside Parliament decrying the perversion of democratic principles. The Bill was rushed through all its hearings on Tuesday night and voted into law by the early hours of Wednesday.
The first two postponements were justified on the basis of the pandemic, which incidentally had not prevented India holding its massive scale general elections under Covid, and they were seen as somewhat flimsy pretexts for our small island state. That the mayors and councillors last elected in 2015 have now been given a two-year prolongation on the basis that a new administrative cadre would be desirable for our cities is obviously as flimsy as it gets.
Some might be surprised that such stalwarts of freedom and democracy in their MMM days as Collendavelloo, Ganoo, Obeegadoo or Ramano have without any murmur of protest joined the ranks of yes-men. Ultimately, the electorate at general elections will pronounce on their fate.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 26 May 2023
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