A family affair

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Some people took exception to my comparing our island to North Korea – in my last editorial – after our prime minister's decision to pass on the mantle of power to his son. Forgive me! I did not mean to insult North Korea. Every week, we discover with pride that there are things happening here which could teach North Korea a lesson or two about how to treat the country as a family heirloom.

Those of us who watched the United Nations opening session this week may have noticed that our prime minister was sitting in the front row at the United Nations General Assembly Hall. As head of state, he was in his right place. Next to him, however, was sat – hold your breath – Mrs. Sarojini Jugnauth, and next to her, the newly-appointed secretary to cabinet and head of the civil service, Nayen Koomar Ballah, who happens to be her cousin. Our Mauritian ambassador to the UN, Jagdish Koonjul, and Olivier Bancoult, the leader of the Groupe Réfugiés Chagos, were relegated to the second row!

A minimum knowledge of the workings of the United Nations and the organisation’s protocol reveals that the United Nations Assembly Hall is reserved strictly for delegates. Spouses, accompanying guests and other VIPs sit in the visitors’ gallery, where Michelle Obama herself sits. The American first lady has never been seen sitting with her husband in the Assembly Hall! In the US, they have rules. In Mauritius, we have families. Their country is governed by rules. Ours is governed by a family.

We are not begrudging the prime minister’s wife the right to sit next to her husband. Far from it. However, we are entitled to ask a few questions such as:

  1. Was Sarojini Jugnauth a member of the Mauritian delegation?
  2. Was her trip paid for by the Mauritian taxpayer since she was sitting with the Mauritian delegation?
  3. Did she get any per diem as a member of the delegation?
  4. If she is not a member of the delegation, in what capacity was she sitting with the delegates in the first row of the United Nations Assembly Hall, in front of the Mauritian ambassador?

This week, we paid for the amateurism, arrogance and the thirst for revenge of some of our ministers when the Italian court decided that Nandanee Soornack would not be extradited as her rights in Mauritius might not be respected. The zeal of some ministers to get involved in a legal case which should not have been politicised was pointed out. And we have therefore missed the opportunity to see her face justice.

There will be other similar opportunities where the reputation we have forged for ourselves – from the people nominated in our institutions to passing down power to one’s children through sitting in the United Nations Assembly Hall with one’s family – will determine the treatment meted out to our country. In those circumstances, we would like to think that we stood for what was right when the time was right.

In this era where even the time of day is considered a state secret, we do not expect to get any answers. We have, however, asked the questions. And they are disturbing ones.

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