Corruption, Caste and Accountability



animal-farmDo you trust Ramgoolam?

At the end of his first term as Prime Minister in 2000, Dr Navin Ramgoolam’s Government paved the way for the establishment of the Economic Crime Office to investigate corruption in both the private and public sectors.  Shortly after Sir Anerood Jugnauth ousted him, it was closed down and replaced with the toothless ICAC with no power to investigate crimes of the past. Was it a coincidence that a leading member of Jugnauth’s cabinet was under investigation at the time?

Hiding the truth from public scrutiny has become a characteristic of successive Prime Ministers and it seems that the longer they have tasted power, the more desperate they become. An article in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, colourfully entitled “Like baboons, our elected leaders are literally addicted to power“, explains why:

Baboons low down in the dominance hierarchy have lower levels of dopamine in key brain areas, but if they get ‘promoted’ to a higher position, then dopamine rises accordingly. This makes them more aggressive and sexually active, and in humans similar changes happen when people are given power…But too much power – and hence too much dopamine – can disrupt normal cognition and emotion, leading to gross errors of judgement and imperviousness to risk, not to mention huge egocentricity and lack of empathy for others.

After 14 years as Prime Minister, is Ramgoolam going to even greater lengths than Jugnauth in order to feed his dopamine addiction?

Corruption

In the foreword of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), then Secretary General, Kofi Annan, wrote:

Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish. This evil phenomenon is found in all countries—big and small, rich and poor—but it is in the developing world that its effects are most destructive. Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a Government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice and discouraging foreign aid and investment. Corruption is a key element in economic under-performance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development.

Mauritius ratified the UNCAC on 14th December 2004, just five months before Ramgoolam became Prime Minister for his second term. In the nine years since, precious few of its provisions have been implemented. Two stand out:

Article 20. Illicit enrichment

Subject to its constitution and the fundamental principles of its legal system, each State Party shall consider adopting such legislative and other measures as may be necessary to establish as a criminal offence, when committed intentionally, illicit enrichment, that is, a significant increase in the assets of a public official that he or she cannot reasonably explain in relation to his or her lawful income.

Unexplained wealth is a crime in many countries, even African ones, but not Mauritius. In spite of the unseemly increases made to his salary, it remains difficult to conceive how Ramgoolam could afford to acquire: a beach-side villa in Roches Noires, an Aston Martin DB9, Rolex watches and a Rolls Royce. One “legitimate” explanation is that he is the recipient of excess funds “donated” to the Labour Party. By failing to implement the following, his Government has left us in the dark:

Article 7. Public sector

3. Each State Party shall also consider taking appropriate legislative and administrative measures, consistent with the objectives of this Convention and in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, to enhance transparency in the funding of candidatures for elected public office and, where applicable, the funding of political parties.

Very few democracies in the world permit political parties to operate without at least submitting audited accounts to regulating bodies. Mauritius is a sad exception. Incidentally, if the Labour Party was distributing “profits” amongst its members, it would be required to register under the Companies Act 2001 or be deemed unlawful and hence, illegible to participate in the elections. The author made this assertion in 2010 before the Supreme Court, but the Judge rejected it on the bizarre basis that he wasn’t convinced that any party had at least 20 members.

The African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption is even more stringent than the UN equivalent. Since 2003, it has been ratified by 35 countries. Mauritius isn’t one of them. Surely it is no coincidence that we are falling behind other African nations in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Obscurity is truly a close companion of crime and corruption – and Ramgoolam is its champion.

Caste

The PM and the President, Kailash Purryag, share not only a strikingly similar appearance, but also an apparent determination to connect with their roots in the Indian state of Bihar. In the President’s case, in 2013 he tearfully greeted a distant relative and accepted his gift of soil in Wajidpur village. This contrasts with the way Ramgoolam rudely shunned those claiming to be his family in Harigaon village in 2008. It seems this was more likely because of political manipulation rather than the caste controversy caused by the Brahmins and Kurmis both claiming him as their own.

However, the controversy seemed to re-emerge  in Mauritius when it was discovered that the records of indentured labourers, most of whom came from Bihar, were not available for general public scrutiny. In an interview, Ravin Dwarka, the President of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, where the records are currently stored, said that in the past some Mauritians who wished to trace their roots were devastated to discover that they were actually of a lower caste and so this led to a change in policy. Somewhat inconsistently, he insisted that such individuals would continue to have access to their family records.

Perhaps his other explanation is closer to the truth:

Moreover, this is why Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and his ministers had the records transferred to the MGI, because information on caste and religion was too sensitive and needed protection. These archives can cause riots and threaten national unity.  (Translated from French)

Surely we are now living in more enlightened times, where communal concerns of religion and caste are a thing of the past? Isn’t that the justification of those calling for the elimination of the Best Loser System, which was designed to ensure that the nation’s minorities would be represented in the National Assembly? So what if Ramgoolam is not a member of the numerically dominant Vaishya middle class, since, according to Dr Vijaya Teelock of the University of Mauritius, many of them probably upgraded their caste too? Why hide the truth of our common origins as unfortunate slaves and immigrants, compelled to seek a better life in a distant land? Isn’t this what truly unites us?

Accountability

Perhaps most disturbing off all is the manner in which Ramgoolam has flouted our democratic values and manipulated the Parliamentary process in the months preceding the elections. Mauritius benefits from an independent Director of Audit whose role is to prepare a report on the performance of the Government each year. The deadline for completing this is the end of August but the report is usually ready in July. It is made available on the website of the National Audit Office as soon as it has been laid before the National Assembly. Every year the headlines of newspapers announce colossal waste and the details reveal indefensible incompetence.

This process is vital to ensure accountability of the Government before the people. The only time that the public has the opportunity to call the Government to account is in the general elections where they can be re-elected or replaced. Therefore, it is diabolical that the reports for 2013 are not available. Ramgoolam achieved this in a truly Machiavellian manner, by ensuring that the National Assembly remained adjourned until it was dissolved and elections called. This violates the Constitution, Ramgoolam’s oath of office and the most fundamental principle of democracy. Moreover the Leader of the Opposition, Paul Berenger, remained conspiratorially silent.

The author has sought in vain to obtain the reports in order to publish them before the elections. His access to the Supreme Court was barred by the recent requirement that every application be submitted by an attorney. Those with sufficient experience are either standing in the elections, connected to the Government or too afraid to challenge it. However, even if he had succeeded in getting the attention of a Judge, previous rulings have established that Mauritian Judges will not defend democracy in the public interest. His goal now is to persuade the Privy Council to overrule them.

Conclusion

Where is our cherished country heading? While governments around the world are admittedly struggling to divert the earth from its trajectory to ecological catastrophe, it is far from turning into the Planet of the Apes. It seems, however, that Mauritius is at risk of becoming a bastion of baboons…who have gone bananas.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

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