Public Institutions & Political Interference

Will Mauritius remain a jurisdiction worthy of trust?

On 25th January 2017, a decision is due to be taken concerning the case filed with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) by the police in the matter of a substantial amount of money it secured from the residence of Navin Ramgoolam in February 2015. The DPP’s Office has two options: i. to institute a case against Navin Ramgoolam on the basis of the evidence submitted by the police in the matter; ii. to drop the case on grounds that evidence gathered by the police cannot stand the standard of proof required by a court of law.

It would appear that the risk that it might go for the latter option has recently accelerated things at the level of the police department. Since after he was investigated early in 2015 and arrested under specific charges, Navin Ramgoolam has again been called this week at the Central Criminal Investigation Department (CCID) for further investigation, possibly to enable the CCID to supplement the amount of evidence it had previously gathered and presented to the DPP in the case.

It may be recalled that several other cases the CCID had filed against him in other matters were summarily dismissed in court for lack of evidence. Navin Ramgoolam has claimed that those cases were brought against him for political reasons. Since the present case is the final charge of substance the police has brought against him, any failure for it to pass the evidential test may jeopardise the credibility of the police and lend credence to the alleged thesis of political motive Navin Ramgoolam has spoken about.

In such a case, the government in power will suffer a setback in public. Already, the political cauldron has been much in ebullition since the middle of December last when the PMSD, then a coalition partner of the government, decided to quit the government. The reason for so doing, the PMSD claims, was to deny the government the three-quarters majority it was pressing for to secure the passing of the Prosecution Commission Bill whereby a Commission would be set up having the power to overrule, retrospectively to three years, the DPP’s heretofore unquestioned Constitutional authority to proceed or not to proceed with a case.

Not only has the government’s three-quarters majority been lost. This has made the government more fragile than ever before. It may poach defectors from the opposition to comfort its majority in the House, leaning on certain politicians’ predispositions to be bought over in exchange for a ministerial or quasi-ministerial position. But it may also lose its own members blackmailing it or being discontented with not having been offered a ministerial portfolio after the PMSD’s departure from government.

In the light of these developments, a frantic search is presumably on towards consolidating the government’s majority. There is a presumption that defectors from the opposition will change side for personal interests or for defending clannish interests. Given the manner in which the government has run its business right from the beginning, many analysts consider that it has eroded the significant goodwill voters had vested it with in December 2014 when they massively spurned the Navin Ramgoolam-Paul Bérenger alliance. So, they question not only whether it will complete its full mandate; they call in question whether it now stands a fair chance of being re-elected at all.

Whatever the outcome of all these goings-on, we have to realize that there might well be a strong element of political expediency which is dictating the destabilizing decisions which have rocked the government from time to time. It may be recalled that, in October 2015, a Good Governance and Integrity Reporting Bill purporting to institute an executive body under the responsibility of the Minister of Financial Services was sought to be instituted with the objective of seizing what was called “unexplained wealth” after going through a summary reference of the matter to a Judge in Chambers.

The law was passed, despite it having been described by practitioners as a “sham”, overriding the Constitutional provision to the right of silence and of presumed innocence, in particular. It was seen as a purely political instrument short-circuiting the established judicial system. No one condones that ill-gotten wealth should be dealt with firmly. The objection was about the roughshod procedure followed for giving effect to it. The principle of the rule-of-law was and still is at stake.

The December 2016 Prosecution Commission Bill with Constitutional amendment et al – which presumably sparked off the PMSD’s departure from the government – is one more example, if at all it was necessary, with the same intent to undermine established public institutions, this time the Office of the DPP.

We can’t say whether this action might have been precipitated by the case of Navin Ramgoolam coming for determination before the DPP’s Office whether to proceed or not on 25th January next. We can’t also say whether the police investigating Navin Ramgoolam, again in this case a week before the DPP’s decision is due to be taken, has or hasn’t beefed up the evidence culled so far to the extent required to pass the test of evidence for the exact charges being levied against him.

Unjustified sporadic incursions of this type into the effective working of established public institutions in such circumstances is not good for the country and for the government. The test of good intent is derived from the motivations behind the actions. If changes are needed at this point for the general good, the laws and institutions having been found to be deficient dealing with harmful social issues, then the motivation would be justified. But if they are being implemented ad hominem, the motivation is surely not pure and could then be set aside at no cost to the public welfare.

It needs be recalled from time to time that Mauritius is geographically a small entity. Despite this, the assurance it has provided for unflinching adherence to the rule of law in its nearly 50 years of post-Independence history has stood it up as a jurisdiction worthy of trust. We should do all we can to project a strong signal from the country that it will, under all circumstances, stick to principles and not have recourse to bending proceedings to meet temporary political expediencies.

M.K.

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