Democracy in Mauritius: three damning cases

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Kistnen case, the end of law and order

The widow of late Soopramanien Kistnen is still waiting for justice and thanks to Rama Valayden and the magistrate Vidya Mungroo-Jugurnath, the murder of the former political agent has not been passed for a suicide as the police was trying to make believe.

“For murder, though it has no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ.”

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

We were, and still are, suffering during this period of international crisis of procurement systems that have been corrupted, and commanding heights of the economy that have been captured by members of a restricted circle. Mauritian courts and judges have expressed concerns that they might be the last defenders of a functional democracy as we witness an unprecedented level of perjury in court concerning this potential case of political assassination. The widow declared some time ago to Le Mauricien: “Lapolis dir mwa mo misié inn swisidé. Mo dir zot inposib, zamé li pou fer sa.” After several back and forth trips to the police station and meeting with lawyers, years are passing by her, and her son already turned 18 last year. If that wasn’t enough, it is alleged that the police officers who were suspected were never seriously bothered, and some have even obtained promotion.

It would be good to put things in context and state the timing and situation of the government when this plot was hatched. Did it begin while there was embezzlement of money for the benefit of certain people close to power? Was the same logic applied to the murder of Mr. Kistnen? At what point must the government take responsibility for this situation? I must sadly admit I do not believe Pravind Kumar Jugnauth (PKJ), when he claims not to know the content of the report of Magistrate Jugurnath, sent it to the commissioner of police by the Director of public prosecutions since January 26, 2022.

We are all aware that as interior minister, the prime minister (PM) has daily meetings with the CP. The latter could not have failed to tell him that the DPP had requested a thorough investigation into three aspects with a clear common denominator, minister Yogida Sawmynaden. A number of elements point the finger to the three MSM candidates of constituency No. 8; and the last of them is linked to procurements, which personally engage the responsibility of the PM, who has been extremely clumsy, to say the least, in dealing with this situation. He cannot seem to find the proper answers and a shadow of doubt is cast with all its might on the PM’s chair. Who is that man occupying this seat? Do we even know him?

Privy Council, episode 1

Pravind Jugnauth literally lied in court as he stated that he did not know his signature was meant for the sale of Medpoint, according to QC David Perry.

A flashback on the Medpoint Case is important because this case is symbolic as a head of state heads to the Privy Council, not sure if he’ll walk out, still as a PM, or as a convict. It is difficult to accept the fact that no one in this country can explain the valuations in the Medpoint case. Why was there a need to buy equipment that was totally obsolete when the agreement was initially on real estate only? Who really paid for all these transactions? Truth is it’s evident that there has been taxpayer’s money involved making the issue even more serious. Let’s take a closer look: according to Article 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (POCA), the PM’s involvement in any way shape or form in the Medpoint file would have been illegal. Indeed, the conflict of interest here was not that he financially benefited from a transaction, but that the sale of Medpoint itself was the interest, as it was being purchased by a company incorporated in 1990, when PKJ himself was a director, company secretary and shareholder. His sister, Mrs Shalini Devi Malhotra, had also been a director and shareholder in the company. In 1994, even though he resigned as director and secretary, PKJ retained his shareholding and by 2010, Mrs Malhotra held around 23.59% of the total Medpoint shares.

We are here in a situation where government funds were allocated to a sister’s company on the approval of her brother, expedited before the cut-off date of a major fiscal rule change. According to QC David Perry, PKJ literally lied in court as he stated that he did not know his signature was meant for the sale of Medpoint; and that he could have delegated his signing authority to the financial secretary. Now, I am not sure which is worse, an irresponsible individual who signs to spend Rs 144 million without knowledge of the implications; or an incapable individual who does not understand the basic concept of conflict of interest and how a simple act of delegation could have helped mitigate it? The acquisition of the Angus Road properties seems to follow the same pattern as the Medpoint scandal as we see attempts or potential attempts to capture state funds and resources. According to PKJ’s very shaky defence, Loganaden Govinden had years ago paid Rs 20 million as a deposit to Bel Air Sugar Estate to acquire the Angus Road properties; and years later, he became uninterested and communicated with PKJ who decided to purchase the said properties, in 2008.

Privy Council, episode 2

Everything suggests that the appeal of Suren Dayal, who is contesting the elections of three members of the government in constituency N° 8, would be heard by the Law Lords during the first quarter of 2023.

As we are all aware, democracy is a process and the battle for such an ideal is an everlasting one. As Mauritius used to shine as a model of democracy in Africa and the Indian Ocean region, its reputation was severely affected by the publication of a V-Dem Institute report, which observed “instances of autocratisation,” and established the chances of an eventual “democratic breakdown” to 80%. The conclusion: Mauritius is no longer a “liberal democracy” but merely an “electoral one”. This report factors, among other things, the deployment of armed militarised police against peaceful protestors in the capital city on January 7, 2021, and the fact that the 2019 elections were contested as elements of fraud had become evident.

After suffering a setback before the Supreme Court, Suren Dayal, unreturned candidate during those elections looked to the Privy Council for justice. The file of the electoral petition that he had lodged against the PM and his running mates Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun and Yogida Sawmynaden, in constituency No. 8 (Moka/Quartier-Militaire), reached the Privy Council on December 9, 2022, after all conditions had been met. Suren Dayal has therefore obtained leave to appeal the judgment rendered on August 12, 2022, by the Supreme Court, which rejected his electoral petition against the three above-mentioned. The petitioner had alleged several issues of bribery, including the PM’s promise to double the old-age pension about a month before the 2019 election, the announcement of a rushed implementation of the PRB report in January 2020, and the MBC’s partisan coverage of these elections, which even received a warning from the Electoral Supervisory Commission. It would be hasty to go too far and predict dates since the case is still in the procedural phase. However, everything suggests that it would be heard by the Law Lords during the first quarter of 2023, and that the ruling would be delivered around mid-2023. This case will undoubtedly keep all Mauritians in suspense as the PM’s chair itself is in jeopardy.

The cases of Kistnen, Medpoint and electoral bribes speak volumes about the state of the country, shaken at its foundation. We get the leaders we deserve, they say; it therefore begs the question: what crime did the Mauritian people commit to be led by an individual who has been summoned by the highest courts of justice several times; and twice by the Privy Council. Opposition members are affirming that inside information indicates 2023 will be an election year, as PKJ tries to adjust the political calendar to his advantage. After all, if the judgment of the Privy Council goes against him, his political career will be over; and so will be the reign of the MSM, which is really the private property of PKJ and his clique.

We all understand that the clock is ticking and that citizen initiatives like ours, by Mauritians around the world, are the obvious symptoms of a state managed by individuals more concerned with private interests than with public ones. We are dealing with an international context where we see multinationals interfering shamelessly behind the scenes of power. When we see characters like Mr. Trump, billionaire and statesman, or politician, it is the incestuous marriage of money and power to manipulate democracy, as was the case in 2019 in Mauritius. What that means is growing social inequalities and households having to choose between rent and gas, so that this illegitimate power-hungry government can be satisfied.

It would be irresponsible on our part, Mauritians at home and within the diaspora, not to commit ourselves, each at our humble level, to at least try to get things moving. I would therefore like to extend to you a message. Time for hope might be behind us by now. The time is for struggle. We have reached the crossroads of our nation’s destiny and whether we will succeed as fail as nation and state will depend on the decisions we make today.

Despite my sadness as a member of the diaspora witnessing the gradual decline of our republic, I hope you find solace in your family and loved ones this season. Happy New Year and may the grace of God accompany you during this year that will be hard fought on the political scene.

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