Reza Uteem: Since this prime minister took office, not a single drug baron has been convicted

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Considering the number of legal, economic and political issues that made the headlines this week, we sit down with Reza Uteem to talk about his take on all of these and the situation in the country in general…

Let’s start with the economy. Many of you had predicted that Moody’s would downgrade the country because of the deterioration of the debt situation and what not. That has not happened. Are you disappointed?

On the contrary, I am delighted that Moody’s did not downgrade us as a downgrade would have had disastrous consequences for the country, on the financial sector in general and on the banking sector in particular. However, we should not rejoice too soon because we are still at risk of becoming junk status if government does not reduce our public debt level in the short term. Much will depend on what government does in its forthcoming budget.

It would seem that everything is going against the opposition as even the enquiry into the deportation of Peter Uricek has been halted. So nothing to sink your teeth into, is there?

In fact, it is the government that is on the defensive and under pressure from all sides. With regards to the Peter Uricek case, a judge of the Supreme Court has referred the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions for such actions as he may deem appropriate. Isn’t that in itself a clear indication of the seriousness of the matter? Following the referral from the learned Judge, the DPP has requested a district magistrate to inquire into any offence relating to the circumstances whereby Peter Uricek was removed from the Mauritian territory. The DPP did so probably because you can’t expect the police to investigate impartially when the police is suspected of wrong doing.

And the attorney general has sought a judicial review of the decision of the DPP.

Yes so the matter is now sub judice and I will not comment on the merit of the case. All I will say is that the Attorney General is a politician and his action is the reflection of a despotic form of government that will stop at nothing to have its way. A government that seems to care little about the separation of powers and the rule of law.

But the guy deported is a notorious drug trafficker!

Let’s us not forget that it is under this government that he obtained an occupation permit and stayed in Mauritius for three years. Since 2020, the attorney general has known that he was a fugitive but this government chose to let him stay in Mauritius. What did he do during these three years in Mauritius? Who did he meet? Did he engage in any illegal activity? How many more presumed criminals have obtained occupation permits under this government?

Unfortunately, this government conne tout never takes on board any of the numerous suggestions made by the opposition during debates.

You were one of the lawyers who walked in protest against the way the police are treating lawyers. Was it not lonely?

What happened on Friday was historical. For the first time barristers, who are very conservative, in Mauritius, took to the street. Because of the restriction on the number of persons allowed to attend a gathering, we could not hold a bigger event. However, the message that we sent was loud and clear: barristers will not sit back and watch our country slip into an autocracy. The police has the duty to uphold the law. They have to respect the judiciary and allow barristers to do their work without fear or favour. They should never become an instrument of oppression at the beck and call of the executive! It is for the commissioner of police to ensure that the police force do not use their powers abusively.

Some people are not sympathetic to the lawyers’ plight. Their argument is that you are reacting only because you have been hurt. Where were you when the police were abusing the rights of the citizens through provisional charges, for example?

And who defended those citizens when they were victims of such injustice if not us barristers? During confinement, barristers did not hesitate to represent citizens and were even arrested and charged. Under normal circumstances, we turn to the court for redress just as we did when we were denied work access permits. This time we decided to demonstrate because we are exasperated. Enough is enough.  A barrister must be allowed to defend his client and we will not accept being bullied.

The other setback could be the motion of no-confidence against the prime minister. That didn’t go anywhere either, did it?

When the leader of the opposition moved for the motion of no confidence, everyone knew that the government has a comfortable majority in parliament and will defeat the motion. But it was important to have this debate because people are suffering and up to now, government has turned a deaf ear to their plight and has refused to take the bold measures that are necessary to help the most vulnerable members of society.  During the debate, various members from the opposition highlighted the shortcomings of this government not only for mismanaging the economy and wasting public funds but also for their repeated violation of democratic principles and human rights as well as their dismal record when it comes to fighting the drug scourge, fraud and corruption. Unfortunately, when we listened to the interventions of members of government, we discovered how cut off they are from reality and how conceited and arrogant they have become in power.

Maybe their arrogance comes from the fact that the motion proved that the government is united behind Pravind Jugnauth. That’s more than you can say about the opposition, isn’t?

There were never any doubts in our minds that all the MPs in government are behind Pravin Jugnauth. The MSM is a family business with no room for dissent or protest. And to be fair, what choice do they have? But it is sad to see how former MMM members have betrayed their principles and now bend over backwards to please laKwizine! Le réveil sera brutal!

They don’t have to wake up for as long as the opposition is in such disarray, do they?

I have always been in favour of a united opposition because we need everybody on board to save our country. Our economy is on its knees and we will need the best team that we can muster to take Mauritius out of this economic slump! We need a strong and inclusive government which has the support of every component of our rainbow nation. I am confident that our political leaders will be able to resolve their differences for the better good of the nation!

The opposition highlighted the shortcomings of this government not only for mismanaging the economy and wasting public funds but also for their repeated violation of democratic principles and human rights as well as their dismal record when it comes to fighting the drug scourge, fraud and corruption.

How? Two of the opposition’s prominent members are saying that they are not interested in an alliance with the Labour Party. How are the differences going to be resolved?

I have not heard them say that they are not interested in an alliance with the Labour Party.  They have made certain comments on Navin Ramgoolam and vice versa. As far as I am aware, the Plateforme de l’Espoir is in favour of an alliance with the Labour Party but not at all costs.

It is obvious, let’s face it, that a united opposition including everyone in l’Espoir and the Labour Party – and I am not even including the various other citizen movements – is impossible. How will you bring everyone together?

I never said that it will be an easy task to get everybody on board. Any alliance will have to be around an electoral programme agreeable by all parties. Everyone will have to put the interest of the country before party interest or personal interest.

Nando Bodha didn’t leave a cushy position in the MSM to become just a number in a new government hierarchy and Roshi Badhain has never made a secret of his prime ministerial ambitions. How will you reconcile all these differences with a Labour party-led alliance?

Both Nando Bodha and Roshi Badhain have made no secret of their ambition to be prime minister and like every other citizen of this country, they have a legitimate right to be prime minister of our country. Arvin Boolell also has repeatedly said that he is interested in the post of prime minister and he is still member of the Labour Party led by Navin Ramgoolam.

What does that mean?

It means that having the ambition to be PM is a personal and legitimate aspiration. Boolell also wants to be PM but this does not prevent him from supporting the Labour Party led by Ramgoolam.

Are you saying it’s the same thing for Badhain and Bodha?

I can’t speak for Bodha and Badhain. I can only state that they have the right to want to serve as prime minister.

What is your reaction to the Straconsult/Le Mauricien survey? Humbling? Sobering? Disappointing?

The result of this survey simply does not reflect the reality on the ground. People are suffering and do not have any faith in this government to find any meaningful solution to reduce the cost of living and create wealth. On the street, on the radio, in gatherings, people are criticising this government and want change.

What is your reading of the events that have taken place at the Mauritius Turf Club (MTC) this last week?

Another glaring sign of an authoritarian government that wants to control everything and is allergic to criticism. We all know who the big political funder who stands to benefit the most from the tug of war between the MTC and the Gambling Regulatory Authority is. We are talking very big money here. The government did not hesitate to cause the Municipal Council of Port Louis to revoke the lease of Champs de Mars behind the back of municipal councillors. The saddest part of it all is that at no point did the government bother about all the workers who stood to lose their jobs as a result of their callous decision.

But now all is well, isn’t it? 

I am not so sure. The government will not be happy until they control the organisation of races for the benefit of their protégé. Why has the government incorporated a company to organise horse racing in Côte d’Or if not to undermine the MTC?

Isn’t the opposition also continuously undermining the government? The prime minister accused you of being behind the recent demonstrations. Were you?

The allegations the PM is going around making are baseless. If he had an iota of evidence that any member of the opposition had instigated any form of demonstration, don't you think that this person would have been behind bars by now? The government is in a state of denial and is wrong to underestimate the magnitude of discontent. People are suffering and getting desperate.

Talking about the current situation, can you answer the following words in one sentence?

Drug trafficking.

Drug trafficking is flourishing and since this prime minister took office, not a single drug baron has been convicted.

Equality.

The poor are getting poorer.

Justice.

Double standards are unfortunately a reality not just a perception.

Public funds.

We need a law to protect honest civil servants and punish those who squander public funds.

Communalism/racism.

A weapon for the desperate to divide and rule.

Democracy…

Government has passed several laws seriously curtailing civil liberties and fundamental human rights.

Development…

Sustainable development is achievable with the right people in the right places taking the right decisions.

The opposition is worse than the government…

It is hard to imagine how anyone can be worse than this government!

The opposition is interested only in scandals and gossip.

The opposition plays its constitutional role of making government accountable for their shortcomings.

It should be more constructive.

Unfortunately, this government conne tout never takes on board any of the numerous suggestions made by the opposition during debates.

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