Following the doubt and speculation in some quarters, Weekly probes Adrien Duval, member of the Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate (PMSD) and former deputy speaker, about the ‘real’ reasons the PMSD quit the government. He shares his party’s grievances about its time in government and gives his opinion on the turncoats.
The PMSD left the government a couple of weeks ago ostensibly over the Prosecution Commission bill. What were the real reasons?
If the reasons don’t sound convincing, it’s perhaps because people don’t believe that a political party can truly act on its own convictions and can do the right thing when it is necessary and put the interest of the country before its own personal interest to preserve our democratic state and our constitution. These are the real reasons we left the government.
But there were so many bills that were equally dangerous that you signed happily and stayed in government. What has suddenly changed?
Yes, there was an equally dangerous bill, which was the good governance and integrity reporting (GGIR) bill.
Where were you then?
We were here. In fact, when the bill came at the time, if I remember correctly, it contained very dangerous provisions like, for example, there would have been a unit in the Ministry of Good Governance itself which would receive reports and make inquiries. Can you imagine, the minister himself deciding whether the explanation of how you acquired your wealth was satisfactory or not? Worse, whether to proceed with the confiscation of your wealth? So we actually gave our proposals on the bill and made our ex-partners accept them. We were convinced that the bill, as it was, was too dangerous and was giving too much power to the minister, and it is thanks to the Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate (PMSD) that we now have a commission which was supposed to be chaired by one British former judge with two British former judges as assessors. In other words, three independent people would independently supervise the carrying out of the investigations on unexplained wealth. We fought to have three British former judges.
But the law doesn’t specify that the assessors should be British or even former judges, does it?
But it was said in cabinet and Minister of Good Governance Roshi Bhadain said during a press conference that they would appoint Lord Philips, Sir Jeremy Cooke and Sir Bernard Eder on the board. He even publicised that on his Facebook page.
Facebook is not a national record. I mean, in the law itself, there is nothing that prevents the government from doing what they have done – that is appoint people perceived to be from their camp.
We had initially insisted that the appointments be made by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC).
Why didn’t you stick to that if you really have the kind of principles that you are talking about?
We were fresh into power. We were elected in December 2014 and the bill was passed I think in June 2015. It was a few months later, and it was the first dangerous legislation that the Alliance Lepep, that the MSM in fact, introduced. So we acted in good faith and we did insist that the nomination be done by the JLSC. This was not accepted.
With hindsight, are you now convinced that it was in good faith?
No, because of the nominations. Former Judge Bhooshan Domah and Dev Phokeer who was Bhadain’s permanent secretary, are both notorious for their proximity to the Jugnauth clan. I fear that the Integrity Reporting Agency, based on these facts, might be used for political reasons. But we fought it!
From our standpoint, we did not see your fight.
The GGIR as it stands today is more acceptable, thanks to the PMSD.
Then what is the letter your father, leader of the PMSD, wrote to the chairman of the Integrity Reporting Board, Lord Phillips, about?
He wanted Lord Phillips to be wary of the two assessors that have been nominated as they are known to be close to the Mouvement Socialiste Militant (MSM). So, they will not be independent.
The fact remains that then there was no question of you leaving power on principles. Why should we believe that it is principle which drove you out of power today?
It’s the sequence of wrong moves that drove us out of power. It is the government’s persistence in doing things for the wrong reasons that we took exception to. It is then that we started asking ourselves: Is this going to be a habit?
Apart from that, now that the PMSD is out of the government, what are your plans for the future?
Our role has changed. We used to be in government, taking decisions. Today, we are in the opposition and we will make sure that every decision that the government takes is being scrutinised and it is being held to account. And this is our only role, which is as important as being in government.
But how much credibility will you have when you challenge the government about decisions that you were party to when you were all in government?
Every leader of the opposition has had that problem anyway. Bérenger was prime minister in 2005 and he was the leader of the opposition a few days after the election. Pravind Jugnauth had the same problem in 2011 and Ramgoolam in 2000. This is a problem that all the political leaders who have occupied the functions of leader of the opposition have had. Being a long standing party, we have been in government on so many occasions and we have been in the opposition and faced the same dilemma. Of course, no one in their right mind would ask questions about something that they've been party to. If you were expecting Xavier Duval to do that, it won’t happen. He won't question the new minister about actions that he has taken himself when he was a minister.
Even if they are wrong?
Who will do that? What purpose will it serve? What he will do is to make sure that the ministers occupying the new ministries that were once occupied by the PMSD walk a straight line. And don't think that the situation we are facing is new in Mauritius. This has been the pattern for Mauritius. What is important is to hold the government to account in a credible way and to come with credible facts rather than baseless accusations to stop abuses and dangerous actions.
The biggest crime that was committed against this country and its economy is perhaps the dismantling of the British American Investment (BAI). The PMSD was unfortunately party to that. How do you feel now that you are outside the government?
Party to that, I don't know. To put things into perspective, I remember that Xavier-Luc Duval (XLD) received a call from Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo (then minister of finance) at about 11pm, saying that they had revoked the licence of the bank. We were presented with a fait accompli!
Oh, come on! Don’t tell me you were not consulted.
Of course we were not! It is a habit of this government to take decisions without consulting. It was the same thing with the revocation of Brian Glover and the nomination of the new chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, which did not go through cabinet. Therefore it was again yet another fait accompli. So how you can be party to that?
By saying nothing.
By that time, it was too late.
It wasn’t too late to say "I don't agree", was it? The dismantling of the BAI, the waste of public funds in the case of Heritage City, the arrest and detention of innocent people, the signing of the end of the Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA), the appointment of relatives and cronies all took place under your watch.
They were not taken by us. We were not consulted.
But you were the government.
We were part of the government. We had five portfolios and our responsibilities were with those five portfolios. We were not consulted in any way about any of the decisions you mentioned.
And you were happy to be a major partner who was not consulted on major issues?
This in fact was one of the problems that we had during our alliance with Lepep. The decisions were taken in the family lounge, not in cabinet. It shows a lack of respect. It was amateurish for government to take such important decisions without consulting its partners.
Do you regret now not having been more vocal about certain decisions which were taken and which you did not agree with like the dismantling of the BAI, for example?
Obviously, I regret the way it was done.
Do you regret not having been more vocal about it?
At the time, the country was taken by surprise. So were we. What could we have done at that time after the revocation of licence of Bramer Bank?
You could have left then, instead of now.
What would it have served? It was too late. The licence had already been revoked and the empire came crashing down as a result. What purpose would it have served right then to get out?
You could have prevented further harm, couldn’t you?
What harm could we have prevented by being in the opposition? The decision to dismantle the BAI was a cabinet decision and did not require constitutional changes. It could still be done without the PMSD in government. We came out when we knew that we could hurt them and stop them from carrying out a dangerous amendment to the constitution. We knew that leaving government would change the outcome and this was the reason. We can’t break an alliance every two days. There had to be something very important for us to go. And the Prosecution Commission bill and meddling with the constitution was important enough.
What if what was in fact important is the unpopularity of the government, which has reached rock bottom and which you did not anticipate?
Are you saying that this is the reason or that it could be a reason?
I am asking if that could that have been the reason.
You know that the government has become unpopular and you know that they can never bounce back from this.
You equally know that the PMSD has only been going up since 2014. The unpopularity of the government did not do us great harm in terms of popularity. Our popularity was not being damaged by being in government, in coalition with two unpopular parties. I think people appreciated the fact that we were in government because they knew that they would have a credible party with convictions and integrity which governs in a positive way.
That’s what every party says.
Yes, but in our case, actions speak louder than words.
At any point in time, the prime minister might hand over the prime ministership to his son. I think that your party is thinking of joining the rest of the opposition members to oppose this move. Why?
Well that is a question I think that has to be put to the leader of the opposition. All I can say is that firstly, Pravind Jugnauth is the leader of the biggest party in government. Constitutionally speaking, he can become prime minister. We said it when we in government and we are saying it now in the opposition. The problem is whether it is moral and whether the partners and the electors were informed. We were not informed.
Your father was.
No. That is not true.
When he was in government, he initially said the parties in government had talked about it. He later changed in his mind.
That is what Collendavelloo said. XLD said that it was never on the table.
XLD said it was understood that this was going to happen.
This is not how I remember it, but in any case, no one spoke to me. What the PMSD will do, I am unable to say. Honestly. I have my own opinion.
What is your personal opinion?
My opinion is that it’s a big mistake for the prime minister, having said that he would hand over, to stay as prime minister. It’s creating even more chaos and uncertainty which is bad for the country. He should have gone by now.
So it’s OK for him to hand over the primeministership to his son?
I’m not saying it’s OK. What I’m saying is that staying after he had said he would go is hurting the country even more. It is very damaging to the economy. He should not have said that in the first place. But after saying that over three months ago now and nothing has happened since, is even worse.
You all criticised the papa/piti deal but wasn’t it through the same deal of papa/piti that you entered parliament and even became deputy speaker?
I have to be honest. People have the right to their opinion. The reality is that that if 30, 40 years ago, that was the case in the PMSD, the party has evolved and modernised.
How has it evolved and modernised if your dad negotiated for you to become deputy speaker?
I was talking about the leadership of the party. The party has evolved and I am taking it on my honour to say publicly that in the PMSD 2.0 there will be no papa/piti deal in the succession of XLD. It will be on the basis of meritocracy.
Except that the party may decide that you are the most meritorious.
So what? So what you are saying is that because I am XLD’s son, I can never aspire to become the leader even if in fact people want me to be or I am elected to be. Am I doomed in politics? Is that what you are saying?
No, that’s not what I am saying. But if there was such meritocracy, why was it you who got picked as the deputy speaker?
Because I was the only lawyer who was elected for the PMSD.
Wasn’t that position negotiated before the election?
No! That is absolutely not true! People tend to forget that in the build up to the 2014 election, the Labour/MMM alliance was on paper going to win 60-0! There was no question of me or any other person in the PMSD negotiating any posts. Our concern was to stop the Labour/MMM securing a ¾ majority in order to stop their 2nd republic project. After we got miraculously elected, I was the only lawyer on the PMSD’s side.
Why is that important when even the speaker is not a lawyer?
In practice, speakers have always been lawyers. It is the first time we have a speaker who is not a lawyer. That question is an answer in itself. Why? Because there are standing orders. They are drafted in a legal way and you have to have the experience and the understanding of legal terms to understand the standing orders. There are thousands of reasons why it is important to have a legal background in this post. It has nothing to do with my being Xavier’s son. If this has been the practice in a party for 50 years or so, it was the wrong practice and a party evolves, adapts, changes. We have brilliant young people in the PMSD that we want to encourage to take over the party.
Give me one reason why we should believe you!
If you can’t believe we left the government over the Prosecution Commission, then I can understand that you can’t believe this. But at the end of the day, it is more important for me to believe it and for the party to believe it than for outsiders to believe it. Until it happens!
When you left government, your party said that there would be more defections from the MSM. In two weeks, you have lost two members. What is your reaction to that?
First of all, it is a fact that many government members and MPs are not comfortable with the government. They can see through the agenda of the Jugnauth family to bend institutions with the objective of trying to remain in power indefinitely, to crush democracy and to move to a one-party state by oppressing political opponents. Act by act, constitutional amendment by constitutional amendment, this will be the end result. I hope that the very few MPs that still have some principles will see the light of day and will take their responsibility and not be blinded by the privileges of ministerial posts. We maintain that there are backbenchers who, once there has been a cabinet reshuffle and all positions have been assigned to others, will definitely consider leaving government. As for the MPs who have crossed the floor from the opposition to the government and who have done so on the back of all the sacrifices of the PMSD, they will have to assume their responsibilities in front of history. It is a sad day for democracy that at the end of the day, Mauritian politics is reduced to personal interests, to money, to ministerial posts, to perks. This does not serve the interests of the country. Those who are condoning these undemocratic acts and are complicit to the excesses of this government and its determination to pervert democracy, will have to answer for their actions in front of history.
What will you do if more members leave?
There is nothing we can do. The government is trying by any means available to it to secure a three-quarter majority. This is the worst thing that can happen to our democracy. We will never be party to such undemocratic actions. We have had a democratic state where opponents are allowed to express their opinion thanks to the separation of powers. Everyone has to take their own responsibility in destroying that separation of powers. If some consider that the money, perks and privileges are more important than the protection of our democracy, of our fundamental rights, then they should not have had their place in the PMSD in the first place.
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