“My father said ‘I want to help the country’”

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Citation: “The taxpayer will have nothing to pay regarding the Super Cash Back Gold because we have worked hard for months to come up with a financial arrangement with experts.”

Accroche: “Do you think that Mr. Navin Ramgoolam would have accepted, when he was in power, that the DPP is Roshi Bhadain’s brother?”

Axel Cheney: When your government began its ‘cleaning’, people had started saying it was a political vendetta. However, they began criticising only when they saw how nominations have been made.

Roshi Bhadain: Some of the critics are justified. I’ve had my personal reservations about them.

AC: For example?

RB: I won’t tell you.

AC: Why do you disagree with some of the nominations?

RB: Because I have also seen that some of the nominations have not been done in transparency. I brought up the necessary issues in the appropriate forums, and I will continue to do so as the minister of good governance. However, I do not agree with what you said about the other nominations because we have looked at their competence and their value-added for the organisation. I could start talking about the people who are recruited at La Sentinelle.

AC: But La Sentinelle is not a public company.

RB: Yes, but there are shareholders and directors who are managing the assets of the shareholders, so if there are conflicts of interest and all those things, it will happen. It happens a lot in Mauritius. It is a small country. Let’s understand and not pretend we’ve come from space and landed here. This is always going to happen. However, we should not condone this. We have to gradually change the system. If you ask me if there are some imperfections in the nomination of some people in this government, I will say yes, I agree.

AC: I would like to know which nominations.

RB: We know how Mauritius operates. It’s been like that since independence, and it’s not right. It has to change, and it will change. However, things which have happened will have to be corrected in time. And I have no doubt that it will happen because you cannot change the system in one year. We cannot erase 10 years of nepotism, conflicts of interest and everything that has happened during these years.

Touria Prayag: But that is exactly what cleaning is. Cleaning other people’s rot, but also yours. What you are doing now is selective ‘cleaning’.  

RB: Absolutely, and that is being done as well. I can assure you.

TP: Is it? If I give you some names, will you tell me…

RB: (He becomes very defensive at the suggestion of mentioning names.) Look, you want to create polemics? Well I can also give you names at La Sentinelle. I know some of them.

(This is not the first time he has issued threats, so we decided to call his bluff.)

TP: Go ahead, give us names. We have nothing to hide.

RB: (Turns to AC) Do you want me to give names?

AC: Let’s talk about the main polemic. Kaushik Goburdhun at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). (And he gets away with it and embarks on his favourite topic.)

RB: You have invited me to come and explain how we are working for the benefit of the country, and I have told you on the phone that whether it is journalists or the opposition, we are all patriots, and we want to show how much good faith and good intentions there are, which are materialising into reality to help the country take off. Now, you are asking me questions about the nominations, I told you the truth. What do you want to know about Kaushik Goburdhun? You reported that he was my cousin. Is he my cousin? Have you done your research?

AC: Isn’t he the cousin of your cousin?

RB: Oh, that’s a cousin? Then the brother of Satyajit Boolell is Arvin Boolell. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)! Why isn’t that a problem? Did you put that on the front cover?

TP: Nominations aside, are you satisfied with the work of the ICAC in general?

RB: No, I am not satisfied at all.

TP: The nominations at the head of the ICAC, since the beginning of last year, were made without consulting the leader of the opposition. Don’t you think this has brought down the institution even more?

(At last we get a revelation.) RB: The ICAC, everyone knows, has always been an institution that has been largely manipulated by politics. The ICAC is monitored by a parliamentary committee in which you have politicians doing politics. The Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) MPs have just resigned from that committee and said that there is no independence, etc, etc. Listen, let’s call a spade, a spade. (Then he jumps back on his favourite topic: The DPP.) If they want to resign because Kaushik Goburdhun became the general director of the ICAC, then they should resign from parliament as well because Mr. Boolell (the DPP) is the brother of Arvin Boolell. How can you have independence and impartiality there (at the office of the DPP) and you can’t have it here? Is this guy more professional than the other guy?

(I try to state the difference between the DPP’s nomination and that of Goburdhun.) TP: Has Boolell been nominated by the government?

(Evading the question.) RB: It doesn’t matter because he can decide to file a case against you or me. But, you will have an advantage.

TP: Yes, I am very pleased.

RB: I am telling you that he is in a position which calls for impartiality and independence in a transparent decision-making process as to who to sue and who not to sue.

(I try to ask the same question again.) TP: We are talking about nominations. So, let me put the question to you again: Has Satyajit Boolell been nominated by the government in which his brother was a minister?

RB: Navin Ramgoolam agreed for him to become the DPP because he is the brother of Arvin Boolell.

TP: So he was nominated by Navin Ramgoolam, was he?

(He starts losing his cool.) RB: Nominated? You are talking as if you are in a bubble.

TP: No, I am asking you the question because I would like to understand who nominates whom.

(Shouting but still not answering the question.) RB: Are you telling me that a DPP in Mauritius would get the position without the prime minister being aware or agreeable to that? Is that what you are telling me? Are you living in cloud cuckoo land?

TP: Calm down, I am asking you a simple question.

RB: I am calm (he says, shouting before he chances a smile). Ah, your friends. So we are getting somewhere finally. When am I going to become your friend?

TP: Well, you are not going about it the right way.

RB: I am working very hard toward that.

TP: Alright, answer my question about the DPP and let’s get that over and done with once and for all.

RB: OK, the DPP, for me, has become a monster today. I will tell you why. First of all, usually, every DPP becomes a judge, and this is the process which has been followed since independence. At one point in time, the office of the DPP had been taken away by the attorney general, and the whole aspect about the budget… (Here, he embarks on a tangent about the powers of the DPP and the Asset Recovery Unit, which falls under the DPP’s Office). We are talking about democracy, transparency and good governance. Is that structure conducive to good governance and transparency? Should we not review that system in Mauritius now in 2016? Let me say something. What if tomorrow, Boolell decides to prosecute Navin Ramgoolam on those cases against him? What will people say? They will say that he did that because he wanted his brother to become the leader of the Labour Party. If he decides not to prosecute Navin Ramgoolam, people will say that it is because his brother is and his father was in the Labour Party. That means that people will always have a biased perception. (The monologue continues and involves the number three of the DPP’s Office, Rashid Ahmine. We patiently wait until it is over.)

TP: You’ve said everything you wanted to say. Now, tell me, is the DPP nominated by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) or by a politician?

RB: You are talking about a situation where…

TP: Have you answered my question? Is it yes or no? (He loses his temper again.)

RB: Are you cross-examining me now? Let me explain. I am not in the accused box. I can very well leave if I want to. Alright, let me tell you: (At last he answers the simple question.) In the constitution, it is the JLSC which nominates the DPP. But, Mauritius being what it is, and we all know how Navin Ramgoolam interfered with every operated system…

TP: The judiciary as well you mean?

(He pretends he does not understand.)

RB: Who is taking about the judiciary? You’re talking about the DPP. The DPP is not the judiciary.

TP: I am talking about the institution that appoints the DPP.

RB: Let me finish. Do you think that Mr. Navin Ramgoolam would have accepted, when he was in power, that the DPP is Roshi Bhadain’s brother?

TP: I don’t know what a prime minister accepts or not. What I am asking you is this: Does he have the power to change that?

(He tries everything to avoid answering the question.) AC steps in: Are you saying that Navin Ramgoolam had the power to decide who the DPP would be? (No luck.)

RB: Who decides who is going to be chief judge and who is on the JLSC? Who appoints them? Let’s go back to the roots. There is a problem with our system. It’s a constitution that was written in 1968. Today, when you talk about systems that are in place, we have to review the concept. The concept today is that a prime minister has a lot of power over how things are done. That is the reason why the Mouvement Militant Mauricien(MMM) wanted the president to have different powers from the prime minister to create another balance of power or balance of convenience.

Jean Paul Arouff: Do you think that there is a need to balance it out? Do you agree with that?

RB: We should review the system. What the British left, was applicable at that time. Now, with everything that is happening in the world, towards transparency, good governance and technology, there are a lot of things that need to be reviewed. If we remain in an archaic system, we are going to have these types of problems.

(We had to make do with that convoluted answer and move on to his father’s nomination.)

AC: How does a minister of good governance reconcile the idea of good governance with the appointment of his father at the Development Bank of Mauritius (DBM)?

RB: Let me explain to you exactly what happened. Then, you can draw your own conclusions. My father was director of the Mauritius Export Development and Investment Authority (MEDIA). Then, he was executive chairman of the Cybercity for many years. Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo, when he was minister of industry, knew my father well. They were colleagues at the Ministry of Industry. He knows not only his performance but also his competence. After Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo, not me, approached him to restore order at the DBM, I went to see my father and I told him not to accept the appointment as it would embarrass me, being a minister. He said “I want to help the country and contribute in the ways that I can with all my years of experience.” I said “Ok, if that’s your decision, go ahead.” I think that even if I hadn’t been a minister, it’s highly probable that they would have called on his competence. Having said that, it’s embarrassing for me and I am publicly asking him to step down. I hope that he will do it.

AC: On the question of nominations, there are those that have been made that have led to criticism but also those that haven’t been made that have led to criticism, too. The question of Jean-Claude de l’Estrac at the MBC, what happened there?

(He again embarks on a propaganda trip.) RB:Jean-Claude de l’Estrac is a very competent person. He is perhaps the only person who has the necessary competence to tidy up the mess, the enormous mess at the MBC that the former regime has left.

AC: The question was about Jean-Claude de l’Estrac.

I’m getting to Jean-Claude de l’Estrac. I’m explaining what the problem at the MBC is. I’m explaining the background.  (He carries on to talk about roads, Airmate, cargo handling and the casinos). There is a surplus of people in those organisations so, what do you do? Do you fire them or not? If you fire them, journalists will talk about massive layoffs. If you don’t fire them, the institutions will go down. What do you do? We have to understand what happened over the past 10 years to understand the situation that we find ourselves in today.

TP: Minister, no one is blaming you for that. But what you have been doing is firing people who were recruited by the former government and recruiting people who are close to this regime. And some of your colleagues say that openly.

RB: Let me tell you something. (Here, he jumps to the ICAC and then back to the MBC). The management of Mrs. Chuong – the audit report of Rajun Jugurnathwill be made public soon – did an excellent job in managing the MBC’s debts. We have reached a situation now where we are able to reduce the MBC’s debt to an acceptable level. (We don’t want to contradict him but the report he was referring to actually puts the blame for the financial mismanagement and the amateurism in dealing with the finances of the MBC squarely on Jacqueline Chuong’s shoulders. But the minister was allowed to carry on.)

AC: By how much will you reduce the debt?

RB: Let us discuss it in cabinet, then I’ll tell you. But it will be substantial. Now, there is still the question of people management left. There are still problems left in terms of content and how the news broadcast is being done.

TP: You mean the question of propaganda? Can’t you change something as simple as that?

(He puts on his ‘owner of the MBC’ coat and challenges.) RB: OK, I’ll make you become the general director of the MBC. If it’s something simple.

AC: Are you counting on Jean-Claude de l’Estrac for the implementation?

RB: Wait. You want Jean-Claude de l’Estrac. You will come too, Axcel.

AC: Me? No.

(The interviewee then embarks on a conversation about recruitment and 'lev pake ale' by the previous government and the recruitment of ‘political agents’ before promising,) RB:  I said I will change and you give me time and let me work for God’s sake. Give me time. This is what I am doing. (Then he takes a subtle dig at his colleague from finance.) I am not the magician.

TP: It's your colleague?

RB: (Smiling knowingly) It’s you who are saying that!

AC: It is evident that there have been some lobbies.

RB: Before I finish my mandate in five years, I promise you there will be a methodology for recruitment in the public sector and when it comes to chairpersons and CEOs, there will be a methodology hopefully to be enshrined in law, the way I did it with the law on unexplained wealth. This is one of the things on which the Ministry of Good Governance is working and I will make sure that this becomes the norm at least for the next five years after we have finished with this mandate.

AC: Ten months after the BAI saga, will you still tell us that taxpayers will not pay to solve this crisis?

RB: Let me ask you a question: Have taxpayers paid anything so far? (Here we embark again on a full-fledged electoral campaign). When Bérenger talks in a severe tone and gives the impression Mauritius is collapsing, he knows everything. The only thing he did not know was that he would be losing the 2014 election. And later he puts the blame on Navin Ramgoolam. He is saying taxpayers are paying Rs10 billion for this crisis. But how? When? Based on what? I now put a question to you: Could we accept the situation in which the 200,000 families who had invested their money into that company lose it all? (Then he becomes emotional trying to sympathise with the BAI ‘victims’.)

AC: We are not contesting the alleged theft.

RB: You must know what is important for a country. Don't base yourself on the allegations of the leader of the opposition. The taxpayer will have nothing to pay regarding the Super Cash Back Gold because we have worked hard for months to come up with a financial arrangement with experts. (More campaigning goes on peppered with some figures which are impossible to check and which, to our simple minds, do not make sense.)

TP: The Freedom of Information Act, the law on political financing and the public declaration of assets, when are these coming?

RB: (Repeating the expression we hear at every political meeting) "Parole donnée, parole sacrée. (We have given our word and our word is sacred.)

TP: When are they coming?

RB: They didn’t come yesterday, they didn’t come today, they will come tomorrow.

(Suddenly there was no urgency to clean up public life.)

RB: You should give us the time to do the work.

TP: How much time?

RB: Five years. A government is given five years. You come after five years with your questions and I will give you all the answers.

(In five years… For the next government that is. So freedom of information, not for us, declaration of assets, not when we begin so that we can prove that we have been clean throughout, and a law for regulating political party financing, who wants that? OK. I will ask the same questions in five years. Though the answers will no longer be relevant.)

Voir aussi la deuxieme partie : “Are you telling me that I am giving figures just to please people?”

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