Following the general election in August 1967, the National Assembly welcomed a batch of politicians that would be part of the first crop of parliamentarians for an independent Mauritius. On Wednesday 21 February 1968, l’express details how parliament has to deal with one of its first major crises with a commission of inquiry requested following the racial tensions a month earlier. For 50 years now, parliament has been host to a number of allegations, scandals and other moments that have shaped the country.
Even though lawmaking and government action are the priorities of members of Parliament (MP), they often fiddle with more controversial issues. With parliamentary immunity on their side, MPs across parties use the National Assembly as an opportunity to directly attack their rivals. A prime example of the bitterness of these proceedings can be found in the reactions to the fire that burned down Le Mauricien in 1978.
At the time, the Mouvement militant mauricien (MMM) has become the primary party in the country but with the help of a post-electoral coalition, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam has stayed in power. However, the rivalry is intense between the two factions. In Parliament, on Tuesday 18 April 1978, Paul Bérenger, leader of the MMM, claims that Ramgoolam orchestrated the arson of Le Mauricien with the help of pseudojournalist Jean-Paul Sheik Hossen from Le Cernéen (which eventually turned out to be false).
Fully aware of the safeguards of the National Assembly, Ramgoolam argued in an interview that he would “deal with it Tuesday next” in Parliament when faced with the accusation. Taking that into consideration, the Labour Party then countered with its own allegations claiming that the MMM had excellent ties with Cuba and that it was keen to use Cuban troops to take over power in Mauritius. Unfortunately, allegations like these have plagued the smooth working of Parliament for decades. It is one of the reasons why we are often treated with a rant from the aggrieved parties ending with an invitation to “go and say this outside of Parliament.”
More than an opportunity to focus on lawmaking, Parliament has also been, over the years, a platform to settle scores. In 1994, Bérenger and Jean Claude de l’Estrac did just that. With the latter having left the MMM to be one of the founding members of the dissident party, Renouveau militant mauricien (RMM), the former allies had a major clash on Tuesday 29 November 1994. The RMM stayed in power with the Mouvement socialiste militant (MSM) while the MMM went into the opposition with the Labour Party.
During a Private Notice Question by Navin Ramgoolam, the tension was palpable between both sides. It eventually reached the point of no return between Bérenger and de l’Estrac as they challenged each other to immediately resign from Parliament and go head-to-head in a by-election. To the dismay of many, they both did so on the same day by giving handwritten letters to the Speaker of the National Assembly. On that day, parliament proceedings were a spectacle.
There have also been attempts to use and abuse the weakness of our unicameral legislature. In December 2016, the original alliance Lepep government was dismantled with the departure of the Parti mauricien social démocrate (PMSD). The apple of discord was the Prosecution Commission Bill. The purpose of the bill was to have the Director of public prosecutions be held accountable by that commission.
With the government boasting a three-quarter majority in parliament, the law would have gone through regardless of the criticism from the opposition and independent observers. However, the PMSD decided to leave before the law was voted. Losing its outright majority in Parliament, the government did not even bring up the bill for a vote.
With this in mind, Milan Meetarbhan, constitutional lawyer, suggests that it might be time to review our unicameral legislature. That would mean having a second chamber that would make it more difficult to abuse the parliamentary process. “When we think of electoral reform, I think it is important that we consider having a second chamber rather than increasing the number of MPs”, explains Meetarbhan. “It was in the works by the coalition that won the 1995 general election but it was eventually abandoned.”
One thing that might be harder to deal with is the level of intellectual debate in the National Assembly. With live broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings becoming a reality last year, we’ve been dealt with a shock. In the temple of our democracy, anarchy often reigns supreme. From the usual expulsions by Speaker Maya Hanoomanjee to the inappropriate words of Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth and the weekly commotion by the opposition, there is very little to work with.
According to Meetarbhan, the change needs to be structural to have any hope of progress in the future. “The level and quality of debate cannot be dictated by law”, said the constitutional lawyer. “If the electorate is more discerning and pays more attention to the competence of candidates, then you will have a different breed of parliamentarians and hopefully things will get better then.”
Questions to Raouf Bundhun: “Parliament now is a complete mess”
There are only a handful of people that have seen Parliament evolve as significantly as former vice President Raouf Bundhun. As a member of the Independence Party in 1967, he was elected to serve in the National Assembly as Mauritius transitioned towards independence. Five decades later, he laments the level of intellectual debate in parliamentary proceedings.
You were in Parliament on 22 August 1967 when Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam brought the motion for independence. Is that the highlight of your parliamentary career?
There is no doubt that this was a historical moment. I still remember most MPs from the PMSD walking out after a comment from Sookdeo Bissoondoyal that day. The only who did not leave from the PMSD was Yvon St. Guillaume and he voted with us for independence. However, I have to admit that my highlight as a member of parliament came just a week later for my maiden speech. I was a young politician at the time and the debate followed the speech from the throne by the governor-general.
Fast forward to 2018 as we wait for MPs to get back to work. How have parliamentary proceedings evolved in all these years?
There was a time when parliamentary proceedings meant intellectual debates and exchange of ideas. I also remember when Sir Harilal Vaghjee, speaker of the National Assembly, walked in. Everybody would be quiet because Vaghjee had that kind of charisma. He kept everything under control and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him order somebody out. Parliament now is a complete mess.
What do you mean by complete mess?
Members of Parliament don’t know the standing orders anymore and they tend to be very disruptive. You would never see that kind of behaviour during my time even when the debates were intense. I pity Speaker Maya Hanoomanjee.
Do you think the live broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings has helped create the perception that the National Assembly is complete chaos?
Well it does show a side of Parliament that maybe the general public did not see before. The youth can see now how democracy works in this country but given how MPs act, that is definitely not something positive. Live broadcasting has not created any perception. It is only showing what the MPs are offering as a spectacle week in week out.
Parliament and Independence Day celebrations hogging headlines
On Wednesday 21 February 1968, it is the motion by MP Yousuf Mohamed and MP Raouf Bundhun in Parliament that captures the attention. The motion seeks to request a commission of inquiry to look into the racial tensions that brought the country to its knees earlier during the year. There is also big news from Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Prime Minister, regarding the celebrations for the Independence Day. He announces that the budget for the festivities will be just over one million rupees. In a little note below the text, l’express suggests that it is likely that the budget for the celebrations was greatly reduced because reliable sources had suggested that it would be closer to Rs 6 million. Speaking of Independence Day, there is also news that Quatre-Bornes will participate in the celebrations. The purpose of this activity is to decentralise this historic day and allow people from around the country to revel in the joy of Independence.
On a more long-term note, the fishing industry in Mauritius is boosted by financial aid from the United Nations (UN). On top of a contribution amounting to approximately Rs 1.5 million, the country will also benefit from the expertise of consultants from the UN.
The legislative Assembly elections, 1967
Additional Seats allocated, according to the relevant legislations
- Bussier, Emmanuel Marie Laval - PMSD (Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate)
- Maingard de la Ville-Es-Offrans,Jean Jocelyn - PMSD (Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate)
- Balancy, Pierre Guy Girald - Independence Party
- Rima, Jean Alet - PMSD (Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate)
- Forget, Joseph Guy - Independence Party
- Francois, Eliezer - Independence Party
- Mohamed, Abdul Razack Haja - Independence Party
- Narrainen, Tangavel - PMSD (Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate)
Elected members of the legislative Assembly elections, 1967
Duval, Charles Gaëtan - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Fakira, Abdool Monaf - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Moignac, Augustin - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Abdool Carrim, Abdool Rajack - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Fok seung, Fok Yan Ki, also known as Marc Fok Seung - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Olivier, Jean Alois Reynald - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Dawood Patel, Ebrahim, also known as Ebrahim Dawood - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Oozeerally, Mohammad Elias - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Ah-Chuen, Moi-Lin, also known as Jean Etienne Moi-Lin Ah CHUEN - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Foogooa, Mohabeer, also known as Fagoo - Independence Party
Bundhun, Abdool Raouf - Independence Party
Rault, Pierre Gérard Raymond, also known as Peter Gérard Raymond Rault - Independence Party
Ramgoolam, Sir Seewoosagur - Independence Party
ModuN, Ramsoondur - Independence Party
Jugnauth, Lall - Independence Party
Jagdambi, Mohunpersad Shurmah, also known as Sharma Mohun Persad Jhugdambi - Independence Party
Ramlallah, Beekrumsing - Independence Party
Jaypal, Rameshwar - Independence Party
Ramnarain, Hurrypersad, also known as Harryparsad Ramnarain - Independence Party
Ghurburrun, Beergoonath, also known as Doctor Ghurburrun, Beergoonath - Independence Party
Virah Sawmy, Simadree - Independence Party
Ringadoo, Veerasamy - Independence Party
Teeluck, Mahess - Independence Party
Mohamed, Mahamed Yousouf Abdul Razack Hajee - Independence Party
Jeetah, Ramnath - Independence Party
Gujadhur, Radhamohun - Independence Party
Teelock, Gowtam - Independence Party
Boolell, Satcam - Independence Party
Jagatsingh, Keharsingh, also known as Kher Jagatsingh - Independence Party
Foondun, Abdool Wahab - Independence Party
Bundhun, Tarraman - Independence Party
Basant Rai, Dayanundlall - Independence Party
Bissoondoyal, Sookdeo - Independence Party
Badry, Lutchmeeparsad - Independence Party
Gangaram, Gunnoo - Independence Party
Walter, Harold Edward - Independence Party
Sunassee, Kistnasamy - ndependence Party
Ramjan, Sheik Youssouf - Independence Party
Ramdin, Dayanunsing, also known as Dayanand - Independence Party
Gokulsing, Koomar - Independence Party
Bappoo, Seewa - Independence Party
Tirvengadum, Kistnasamy - Independence Party
Kisnah, Mohun Persad - Independence Party
Jomadar, Rajmohunsing - Independence Party
Osman, Abdool Hak Mahomed - Independence Party
Chettiar, Angiddi Verriah, also known as Verraya - Independence Party
Awootar, Peereeduth Rajcoomar, also known as Preeduth Awootar Mewasingh - Independence Party
Mason, Joseph Marcel - Independence Party
De Chazal, Louis Gaëtan - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Marchand, Jean Marie Michel Guy - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Ramlugon, Seewoonarain Hojah, also known as Krishna Ramlagan Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Lesage, Joseph Clément Maurice - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
St. Guillaume, Joseph Jacques Yvon - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Dahal, Ajum - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Patten, Soobramanien Aroonassala - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Leckning, Cyril Francois Antoine - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Ythier, Jean Henry - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Rivet, Louis Raymond - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Devienne, Louis Raymond - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Sham, Hurry Parsad, also known as Panchoo - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Ollivry, Marie Joseph Emmanuel Guy - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate
Roussety, Clément Sylvio - Parti Mauricien Social Democrate