Political Leadership should uphold Political Integrity

The inability to enforce a sense of political integrity will continue to trump any efforts the government may deploy to “normalize” the situation in Mauritius

The inability to enforce a sense of political integrity will continue to trump any efforts which the government may deploy to “normalize” the situation in the country

Every time you think that the tragically comic exhibition of incompetence from this government has reached deep bottom, one event or the other comes up to prove you wrong. The most recent of these has been the death threatening statements made by the Vice Prime Minister against the Leader of the Opposition. The invocation of “jihad” to justify this grotesque and inadmissible outburst makes it even more tragic and liable to suspicious interpretations.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that this is one more “scandal” which he would have gladly done without, coming as it does in the wake of the disgrace constituted by the large number of prominent members of his party who have been called to appear before the ongoing commission of inquiry on drug trafficking. Many local commentators and the opposition parties have expressed utter shock that the Prime Minister has not in fact considered that this was indeed the one too many which deserved some form of sanction against its perpetrator.

There is no doubt that this latest in the list of recurring “scandals”, which have become the hallmark of the working of this government, is distinctly different in nature – compared to the usual cases of nepotism or financial corruption which have proliferated. In truth though it does not mean that it is more or less symptomatic of a much deeper crisis of governance which has been sapping the foundations of Mauritian society since quite some time now.

In any self-respecting democratic system, several of the innumerable outrages, which have shaken the country since many years now, should have resulted in the sacking of Ministers, officials and may be even Prime Ministers. Yet in spite of all the noise in all forms of media including social media very little happened in terms of sanctions.

The culture of “impunity” is so deeply embedded into the political norms of the whole “political class” that even the protests of the section which temporarily constitutes its opposition at any one time pains to gather the sort of momentum which would spur any action because of lack of credibility.

It is most unlikely that there will hitherto be any sanctions against officials or other Members of government (in the recent past there has been the exception of former Minister of the Environment Raj Dayal who was quickly dismissed for exceptional reasons which we shall not delve into here) even when they are involved in the most sinister manoeuvres. The reason for this being that the principle of accountability to stakeholders has all but disappeared from our governance structures and processes.

In the domain of politics there are seldom any set of enforceable laws or even strict rules which define and constrain the behaviour of the actors in the game. In mature and successful democracies, the conduct of politicians are founded on unwritten but accepted conventions and values which are an integral part of the democratic process.

One vital such convention, for example, is that the leader of a governing party who has failed to obtain a majority in Parliament at a general election immediately resigns from the party leadership – thus taking full responsibility for the failure of his leadership. Had this principle been observed in Mauritius ALL the leaders of the major parties would have been out of the game at some time or other.

Although it might be hard to imagine, given the fact that we have been stuck with the same set of political leaders for the best part of a whole generation, the political dynamics occasioned by such changes in leadership would most likely have prevented the perpetually deteriorating governance scenario which we have been witnessing over the years. For one thing it would have saved us from the appalling situation of leaders attempting to become Prime Minister for the nth time on an electoral promise that… they would limit prime ministership to two mandates.

On the face of it, the argument of the Prime Minister to the effect that although he cannot condone the statements made by his Vice Prime minister he also refuses to act as police and judge at the same time, looks like a reasonable and principled stand. However a closer look will reveal that there is a terrible flaw in this reasoning.

No one in his right mind expects a political leader to act as judge and jury in any circumstance. There are other proper instances and processes to “judge” a person who is suspected of having violated the law of the land and under certain circumstances proof needs to be “beyond reasonable doubt.”

This does not however preclude the fact that in the political domain there are no obligations of such nature: citizens have a right to expect that anyone who engages in politics – serving the general good- agrees to play by the rules which govern it, namely that if on the balance of evidence one’s behaviour is considered detrimental to “the general interest” or likely to cause serious doubts regarding one’s integrity, then one must step down and go through legal due process to clear one’s name or otherwise.

Tough, but perhaps this is one thing which has gone awfully wrong in our democratic process today: too many who embrace politics believe that it could be different.

The role of the political leader under such circumstances is crucial for indeed with him lies the ultimate responsibility to take a view on whether the circumstances warrant sanctions against the perpetrator. This ability to apply judgement in the midst of contradictory and often partisan induced opinions constitutes one of the distinctive traits of political leadership and should be a serious consideration in the choice of the electorate.

The inability to enforce a sense of political integrity will continue to trump any efforts which the government may deploy to “normalize” the situation in the country or to achieve its objective for economic growth and social progress. The critical responsibility for this lies with political leaders – not with the Courts.

Rajiv Servansingh

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