The Mauritian inquisition

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Another week spent swirling in the eye of the BAI cyclone and we are no nearer to the truth than we were when it first hit. Yes, we had Minister of Financial Services and Good Governance Roshi Bhadain’s conference. Riding high and holding the future of Mauritius in his hands, he spewed out one toxic accusation after another into the country’s increasingly heavy atmosphere. Heavy with people’s sadness at the possibility of losing the savings of their lifetime; with the agony of parents who see the prospects of educating their children, securing the future of their families or being able to lead a decent life after their retirement suddenly crumble before their very eyes; with their anger at being drawn into a war they did not choose to get involved in. Heavy also with a financial sector helplessly looking at the image it took them so many years to build being tarnished, perhaps irremediably. 

Brandishing papers and waving them around theatrically, Bhadain breaks the news to us – again – that this is a Ponzi scheme after all! Astronomical sums we can never count are tossed at us before we are told that Dawood Rawat is “guilty of serious, deliberate and ingenious fraud”.

On the other side, a communiqué and total silence! Naturally, we understand that Dawood Rawat is being operated on as we speak and is arguably in no position to refute any of the accusations levelled at him. And here’s where my problem is:

First, shocking though the accusations may be, people are not tried in public places. Not since the Middle Ages. There are courts of law with judges and magistrates who understand the issues involved and require evidence before deciding who is guilty and who is innocent. Public incriminations by ministers – often without sufficient evidence and no answers to the real questions – defeat the whole purpose of justice.

Secondly, in our eagerness to bring everything out on the public place and obliterate the enemy, how much harm are we doing to our reputation as a financial jurisdiction? Among the papers Bhadain proudly brandished, for example, is of a loan obtained by former Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam. In his haste to crucify the enemy, the learned lawyer must have forgotten that the document had been illegally obtained and that it should never have been in his possession! Banking secrecy is one of the most fundamental principles in law and it applies to everyone irrespective of who they are. Financial institutions cannot be trusted if anyone – even a minister – can obtain and brandish some of the most sensitive information at a press conference. Which foreign investor will still come and invest in this country? That is a question those who have worked hard to build the financial sector are already asking.

But what worries me most is that, in this climate where institutions have been hijacked by super ministers, where many serious questions remain unanswered, it is impossible to have any visibility let alone transparency. The Financial Services Commission has been openly criticised and silenced. No action has been taken, though, against anyone who may have contributed to a situation which has been going on since 2002! More worrying still, we are told that Bramer Bank could not be saved as it was allegedly corrupt and mismanaged. Then its CEO is recruited to ‘corrupt and mismanage’ the newly created bank the very next day! No explanations are given. No one even dares to ask.

Whatever our shortcomings, we used to pride ourselves on being a country with functioning – though not always independent – institutions and the rule of law. What we have today are silent institutions and super ministers on the loose. I fear that we may have set some very dangerous precedents.  

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