As policyholders, more and more dubious about the fate of their money, are taking to the streets; as more and more employees of the various companies of British American Investment (BAI) are starting to lose sleep over their jobs and their future and as moroseness and fatalism descend over our towns and villages, public opinion is now looking for a target to take out its anger, sadness and frustration on. In the middle of this confusion, it is not yet sure who that will be: the government for its alleged vindictiveness and score settling at the expense of a large chunk of the population or Dawood Rawat for allegedly massively siphoning off policyholders’ funds abroad, leaving tens of thousands of people out in the cold. The demonstrations which have been held are the ripples on the surface, hiding a deeper and stronger undercurrent one would be unwise to ignore.
In the blame game between the government and Dawood Rawat, through his lawyers, it is still uncertain who will come out of this on top although the government does have a huge advantage. It is freshly-elected with a clear mandate to clean up the country of fraud and corruption. And it has held that line. Every time there have been allegations of witch-hunting, score settling and political vendetta, it has been able to put the best possible face on it and toss around the card of cleaning up and introducing an era of transparency and integrity in public life. Every time it has done that, people have applauded or at least shut up.
That card however, is likely to reach its sell-by date soon. Unless the government manages now to accompany all the lofty rhetoric and rather vague sound-bites with exemplariness and even-handedness. That is, it needs to convince the people that this new era of cleansing and transparency is not partial, partisan and one-sided but that it applies indiscriminately, irrespective of who the alleged culprits are and not just to those who are seen to be close to the former government. In other words, whether one is called Ramgoolam, Soornack, Rawat, Gooljaury, Gowressoo or is even a sitting government minister, they need to be treated in exactly the same way before the law. That, right now, does not seem to be the case.
Government ministers also need to stop shooting from the hip and show the restraint and decorum which are incumbent upon such high dignitaries, thereby avoiding the perception that they are engaged in a political vendetta. They should be reminded that the electoral campaign was over a long time ago and that the electorate has already meted out the ultimate sanction (dan karo canne) to their adversaries. A minister who sarcastically refers to Dawood Rawat’s “classe” in a press conference or another one who in the national assembly scoffingly declares that Rawat “pe rod boire poison” ([Rawat] is looking to drink poison) is not showing the detached attitude of a government dealing with issues – that victims by the way do not find funny – unemotionally, dispassionately and unbegrudingly.
But above all, the government needs to genuinely demonstrate that it is totally committed to integrity and transparency about every aspect of its running of the country. For example, instead of favouring its own cronies no matter what, it should be seen to nominate persons in positions of responsibility in public bodies and state-owned enterprises who are competent, completely above board and devoid of accusations of, or convictions for, impropriety. Integrity also extends to reports, paid for out of public funds, being made public in their entirety rather than publicising only their truncated versions for obscure reasons.To put it bluntly, those who have undertaken to sanitise public life should show beyond doubt that they are themselves transparent and spotlessly clean. Cleaning the Augean stables presupposes opening up one’s own stables for inspection too. Angels, after all, do not come from hell.