The amendments to the proposed good governance and integrity bill should not lull any patriot into complacency. The bill and other related bills were dangerous, unconstitutional and a threat to human rights. With the suggested amendments, they are dangerous, unconstitutional, a threat to human rights and unfair to hard working citizens.
The message that the proposed Rs10m ceiling sends is that it is OK to be a crook, deal in drugs, be involved in any form of corruption, as long as your illicit gains do not add up to more than Rs10m. It is absurd! Apart from trying to appease a certain category of disaffected voters, this amendment does not convince anyone of its merit. Small or big, crooks are crooks and elicit little sympathy so what exactly is the rationale behind introducing legislation that gives the ‘small’ crooks a way out – which they don’t currently have under the law?
The most dangerous thing about the bills is that they take powers away from the judiciary and place them in the hands of politicians and their nominees. The definition of nominee in Mauritius being cronies appointed by ministers whether the nomination is rubber stamped by the president of the republic or not. As for the consultation with the leader of the opposition, suffice it to say that Roshi Bhadain himself cynically explained that a phone call is considered enough consultation whether the one consulted gives his blessing or not.
So, the amendment proposed - that the appointment of the director of the agency and the board will be by the prime minister, instead of the minister of good governance, may be welcomed by the latter’s colleagues who gloat at the idea of having him cut down to size. In practical terms, however, it is a superficial, cosmetic change.
As for the period of inscribing one’s assets, whether it is for six weeks or six years, that is not the issue. The real issue is whether you have property rights under the constitution or not. The issue is whether a minister – whoever that is – and his appointees, have the powers to potentially harass and intimidate – perhaps blackmail – citizens if they have bad intentions. That is the crux of the contention to these bills.
In moments like these when there is so much opposition from within and outside government ranks, it is important that those who participate in public debate are intellectually honest. Nobody is saying citizens should be allowed to enjoy their ill-gotten loot without being disturbed because they are citizens of this country. What we are saying is that the decision to take action – any action – against them should never be initiated by politicians – and those they have appointed and who are often under their sway – and those prosecuting them should not be hand-picked judges. We have courts of law and a director of public prosecutions nominated by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission. They should be invested with full powers to hunt all the crooks and corrupt bandits who have ever walked on this land, whether they are in the good books of the government of the day or not.
Corruption has become a thorn in the nation’s flesh and sobriety is needed to ensure that efforts to reduce it are not undermined by acts of petty politics and other ulterior motives.
The new legislation – with or without amendments – has caused one casualty, several rifts within the government and has the legal profession up in arms. It requires some divine intervention to go through parliament. Isn’t it time someone ate humble pie and admitted the whole thing was an awful mistake?