“The country is suffering from a full-blown crisis

And unfortunately, one cannot say that the writings were not on the wall”

Interview: Kugan Parapen

* ‘That the mafia has infiltrated our institutions is not a surprise by any means
We are adamant that the same mafia has infiltrated many of our political mainstream parties

* ‘Rallying behind a so-called leader in the hope that things will change will be a repeat  of the same merry-go-round that has exasperated so many of us over the years’

In this week’s interview Kugan Parapen, economist and a member of Resistans ek Alternativ, throws light on some aspects of the lucrative drug trafficking business and the stakes involved, namely huge outlays that pitch competing dealers against each other, with help from and the collusion of the high and mighty. He also discusses in some detail the flaws in the usual pattern of forming alliances and makes proposals for its reform so as to have a more representative democratic outcome.

Mauritius Times: I guess you also would have serious concerns about the things that have been happening in the country during these last months, especially those related to law and order: drug trafficking on a scale unknown to the public along the west coast; house cleaning at the level of ADSU and mass transfer of its investigators; allegations of drug planting and arrests of individuals perceived to be opponents of the government, etc.  What’s your reading of this rather peculiar situation?

There is an increasing feeling of dysfunctionality about the State of Mauritius. In many ways, it feels as if we are watching the penultimate chapter of a tragedy. And there is a sense of inevitability about it too. Just as you watch certain movies in spite of already knowing how the ending will be.

Unfortunately, for many citizens of this country, seeing is believing. Drug trafficking has been the lynchpin of our society for generations. So, it is rather ironic to see Mauritians being shocked at what is unraveling on the West coast. Mauritius has one of the highest prevalence of opiate consumption worldwide. Surely someone must be supplying these drugs. The Prime Minister has made it a point to place the fight against drug trafficking at the top of his electoral manifesto. At a time when the world is advocating a radically different approach to the issue! Is our Prime Minister stuck in a different era or does his zero-tolerance stance serve other much darker purposes? We would do well to look at the reality behind the perception.

The narcotic business is known to be one of the most lucrative in the world. Invariably, it attracts all kinds of people from all spheres of society, including the highest. We are talking of billions and billions of rupees here. A United Nations report from 2011 puts at 4% of the population who are regular cannabis users – that’s a population of around 50,000 people. Assuming that they consume one gram of cannabis per week, we reach a market of some 2.6 tons of cannabis per year.

According to media reports, a gram of cannabis is worth some Mur 1,500 at current market prices. Thus, a conservative estimate of the cannabis market in Mauritius comes out to about Mur 4 billion annually. And here we are talking about cannabis only. When you factor in the hard drugs, you come to the conclusion that the market value of drugs consumed in Mauritius is easily above Mur 10 billion.

* That is one hell of a market…

Absolutely, and surely, such a market isn’t the property of one drug lord. Drug cartels compete among themselves to increase their market share and they will go to great lengths to ensure that they reach a domineering position. Imagine having an ally who is powerful enough to take many of your rivals out of business. Wouldn’t that be an exciting opportunity?

Across the world, drug lords have long been known to interfere in the political arena to ensure their perennial survival. In Mauritius, it is an accepted fact that drug monies fund political campaigns, especially in the absence of any law surrounding the finance of political parties.

With this in mind, allow me to be doubtful of politicians waging war on drugs. If that was the right approach, it would have been common knowledge by now. The Global Commission on Drug Policy as far back as 2011 has declared that the war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. And here we have a ‘modern’ Prime Minister going on a supposed crusade against drug traffickers. Seriously.

* We do not know whether what we have seen so far is but the tip of the iceberg, but when the Prime Minister, who is responsible for law and order, has himself alluded to the infiltration of the mafia in our institutions, then there must be something awfully bad that has crept into the system. Is this a case of a disaster that was waiting to happen?

Rezistans ek Alternativ has repeatedly warned against the erosion of our democratic pillars. That the mafia has infiltrated our institutions is not a surprise by any means. We are adamant that the same mafia has infiltrated many of our political mainstream parties over the years and given that each one of these mainstream parties have been in power at some point since independence, it is only logical that the mafia has infiltrated the State.

Many civil employees have also sold their soul to the devil. One common reason being that those in power do not lead by example. Why should a civil servant upstand righteous values when the smell of rot is omnipresent? I strongly believe that people working for our institutions should be rewarded for promoting good governance and efficiency. Aligning their interests with public goals is a necessity.

* On the other hand, we the anti-corruption agency, ICAC, that has jumped into the fray to inquire into money-laundering aspects of the drug-related cases, and in the process, it seems to have taken over from the Anti-Drug and Smuggling Unit (ADSU) the task of tracking drug traffickers. Good for its image, but we have yet to know where matters stand as regards its investigations into the CEB’s Redevelopment project, the numerous pandemic procurements. What’s your take on that?

The ICAC is a farce which is costing taxpayers a fortune. The political interference is evident. We remember the volte-face of ICAC in the MedPoint case. The impression that we have of this institution is that it serves its mission only when non-high-profile persons are in the limelight. As you correctly mention, many of its investigations are yet to be completed and its track record with respect to convictions is poor to say the least.

In the current ongoing investigation around Franklin and his network, it beggars belief that the investigation is centred around the money laundering accusations and not the drug trafficking itself. Especially when the person in question has been convicted in neighbouring Reunion Island on drug trafficking grounds. Are Franklin and ICAC the main protagonists of a major smokescreen to divert attention from other ongoing issues in the country? That’s a question worth pondering.

* Similarly, at a time when the people’s attention is focused on drug traffickers and their undeclared wealth, nobody except for Resistans ek Alternativ is talking about what’s happening to the billions of public money to bail out distressed companies during the pandemic.  What does this say about the nexus which seems to bind large donors, political parties and elected officials?

What we’ve witnessed over the years is a reluctance of most political parties to be critical of the private sector. And that is totally understandable while being completely unacceptable.
Understandable in the sense that the private sector is one of the main contributors of these mainstream political parties and hence you simply do not bite the hand that feeds you.
Unacceptable in the sense that these political parties claim to be representatives of the electorate and are hence supposed to work in its best interest. How can you do that when you are being held hostage by the private sector?

Unless the interest of the private sector and the electorate align, one can argue that these political parties which are financed by the private sector are betraying their members and the population at large.

The latest financial results published by the major corporates show that these companies have never been as profitable as they are now. Especially those involved in the export-oriented sectors. One can think of the private sector’s profitability as a zero-sum game. That is for one to be profitable, someone must be on the losing side. In the current state of affairs, I believe that the main loser is the working population. Allow me to elaborate.

One of the main factors contributing to the profitability of the private sector is the significant weakness of the Mauritian rupee. A weak rupee allows export-oriented companies to report inflated revenues owing to more favourable conversion rates. For instance, if the Mauritian rupee depreciated by 10% versus the US dollar, the revenue of local companies trading in US dollars would increase by 10%. Assuming no change in the cost structure of that company, the profitability level would then also go up by 10%. Conversely, a weaker rupee causes the cost of living of the population to increase considerably, especially given the dependence of the consumption sector on imports.

Additionally, it is a fact that the portion of value added in an economy which accrues to labour has been consistently declining over the years. When we combine the weaker currency and the declining labour share of wealth, we can easily see why the working population are at the receiving end of contemporary capitalism. And we haven’t yet factored in the fiscal assault which the commoner has to endure to shoulder the fiscal imbalance caused by the low-tax jurisdiction for corporates.

Unfortunately, this reality eludes most. If it didn’t, you can be sure things would be a whole lot different around here.

* To come back to the mafia infiltration allegation, if, as alleged by the Prime Minister, the mafia, whatever this may mean, can infiltrate our institutions concerned with law and order, and if judges have to call on ministers – as alleged by Navin Ramgoolam, what does this say about the current state of governance in the country?

The country is suffering from a full-blown crisis. And unfortunately, one cannot say that the writings were not on the wall.

Ever since independence, the country has been suffering from the cupidity of its political class and those who gyrate around it. Power is perceived as the holy grail for self-advancement. Its nobility and ability to deliver for the greater good have largely been ignored.

We are currently witnessing the pinnacle of mediocrity and decadence. In this context, it’s hard to talk about the state of governance. We should rather talk about the lack of governance. The way the Prime Minister supported the Commissioner of Police when he challenged the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision to grant bail to Mr Laurette is a good example of the mess in which this country finds itself.

* If somebody were to tell you in light of all that’s happening in the country that the system has gone haywire and needs to be fixed, the question that arises is: who can and will do that?

The answer to our problems has got to be a collective one. I like to say that the country’s accession to independence was very much artificial. In reality, we traded an international queen for local kings. With the help of hindsight, we have got to realise that the mindset which brought about our independence was not the optimal one. And this has got to change.

For real change to happen, there needs to be a collective force driving it. Rallying behind a so-called leader in the hope that things will change will be a repeat of the same merry-go-round that has exasperated so many of us over the years I’m afraid. We cannot keep doing the same mistakes and expect things to change. This time it needs to be different.

* As regards the next elections, political commentators and Opposition parties are anticipating early elections before the Law Lords of the Privy Council deliver their judgement in the belief that the PM would wish to avoid the discomfiture of losing out to Suren Dayal. Do you expect Pravind Jugnauth to confound his detractors and instead decide to face the music?

Indeed, there a lot of speculation doing the rounds about the imminence of general elections. Even those who are close to the government are evoking the possibility of snap elections. There might be some truth in it after all.

The Prime Minister’s decision to announce free pre-primary care for all on the occasion of the Independence Day when traditionally such announcements would have been kept for Budget Day has convinced some that elections are really behind the corner. I believe it is very well possible that elections are held in 2023 and as such, the opposition needs to be ready for any scenario.

* We are not aware where matters stand as regards Resistans ek Alternativ’s proposal to the LP, MMM and PMSD for a ‘gouvernement de transition’. But we would like to think that ReA has thought it through carefully and concluded that it’s going to be a workable alliance. Do you really think so?

First of all, let me correct you with respect to the proposal that Rezistans ek Alternativ has made. It was never a case of the party proposing a ‘gouvernement de transition’ to the traditional opposition parties that are LP, MMM and PMSD. Our appeal was an open one and it targeted all opposition forces – be it parliamentary or non-parliamentary; be it mainstream or non-mainstream. In fact, we have met with a wide range of political parties over the last few months in order to gauge their feeling about the prospect of a broad alliance of opposition forces for the next elections.

Rezistans ek Alternativ decided to make this strategic move after careful consideration of the electoral parameters. The inherent flaws of our electoral system have been a major factor in motivating us to come forward with this proposition for an alliance of opposition forces. 2019 was an eye-opener when it comes to our democracy. The MSM acceded power with only 38% of the votes. Something which is profoundly and unequivocally nondemocratic.

This perspective has nothing to do with partisanship. It has to do with the fundamentals of democracy. One of the major pillars underpinning democracy is the rule of the majority (the so-called 50% plus one). Our current electoral system permits what is simply unacceptable – that is the accession to power with majority rule. It has taken our country more than 50 years of independence to experience such a letdown.

The First Past The Post (FPTP) system doesn’t produce a desirable outcome when we do not have a two-cornered electoral battle as it proved the case in 2019. In a multi-party electoral setup, the FPTP cannot guarantee that the elected majority is effectively a reflection of vox populi. When less than 4 electors out of 10 has voted for a party, can this party claim to be the democratic winner of an election? No way!

* But we may end up with the same outcome in 2019, isn’t it?

Indeed, at the next elections, if opposition forces are split, the likelihood that a similar outcome to 2019 happens is extremely high. Rezistans ek Alternativ would not be advocating for a coming together of opposition forces if a proper electoral reform had been implemented. No one in his right mind should tolerate a democratic system that is flawed and produces undemocratic results. And this is why one of the main missions of a ‘gouvernement de transition’ will be to enact the required electoral reforms to put the country on the path of democratic righteousness.

The current state of rot of our institutions and of our State in general suggest that radical changes need to happen in this country. As such, ‘gouvernement de transition’ will need to focus on some major reforms to be implemented to ensure that future governments cannot abuse of power like the ones in the past, especially the current Jugnauth regime. To be able to enact wide ranging reforms, you need a strong majority in parliament; otherwise, all the good intention in the world will not result in much real change. There again, a ‘gouvernement de transition’ should deliver as opposed to a fractured parliament.

That said, Rezistans ek Alternativ is not naïve and realise that the population cannot simply issue a blank cheque to any government. We are all too aware of politicians promising the moon to the electorate before elections and failing to deliver on such promises after elections. That is why the traditional alliance should not be trusted. By traditional alliance, we mean an alliance with a majority partner (more than 30 electoral tickets) and a minority partner. We believe that no party should have an absolute majority in an alliance of opposition parties. That is no party should be entitled to 30 electoral tickets or more.

There are numerous examples from the past where alliances break down after elections only for the majority partner to govern solely and without any counterbalancing force. Such outcomes have been historically very bad for the country.

On the other side, the 30/30 alliance of 2000-2005 between the MSM and MMM is arguably one of the less corrupt governments the country has had. My point is not to praise this alliance but rather to emphasize the benefits of removing a domineering partner in an alliance. When the absolute balance of power is not skewed in favour of one particular party, the abuse of power is naturally contained. And that you will concur is a desirable outcome.

This brings me to the idea of relative majority. Obviously, not all parties have the same electoral support. There is bound to be a party which will be the driving force of any alliance and the Prime Minister will logically emanate from that party. However, gone are the days where that party should feel entitled to more than 50% of the candidates on the ballot papers.

For example, a leading party can have 25 electoral candidates and still command a majority (relative). Imagine a 3-party alliance with the following distribution: 25/20/15. This is for illustrative purposes only. In such a set-up, no party enjoys absolute power and this ensures that the possibility of abuse of power is somewhat contained. In such a scenario, the driving party cannot pretend to govern on its own and this interdependence ensures that it is in the interest of all parties involved to collaborate and stick to implementing the electoral programme. 

The only acceptable winner of the next general elections should be the population. And there is clearly no way in which the welfare of the population is maximised under the rule of an absolutism. The electorate will not give parties the same leeway as they did in the past. It is up to the concerned political parties to innovate and propose a new form of democracy that is in the best interest of the population.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 24 March 2023

An Appeal

Dear Reader

65 years ago Mauritius Times was founded with a resolve to fight for justice and fairness and the advancement of the public good. It has never deviated from this principle no matter how daunting the challenges and how costly the price it has had to pay at different times of our history.

With print journalism struggling to keep afloat due to falling advertising revenues and the wide availability of free sources of information, it is crucially important for the Mauritius Times to survive and prosper. We can only continue doing it with the support of our readers.

The best way you can support our efforts is to take a subscription or by making a recurring donation through a Standing Order to our non-profit Foundation.
Thank you.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *