A year on the edge

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Some called it a transition and some called it a coup. Others saw it as a nice New Year’s gift from a loving father to his son. Most agreed the move was legal, but unethical. The father/son handover started a year that promised to be eventful.

And eventful it was. Trapped between ministers and MPs who felt their support of such a monarchical move had to come at a price, and a population outraged by what came to be known as the Papa/Piti deal, Pravind Jugnauth had a hard time asserting his authority as prime minister. Deprived of the legitimacy that can only come from popular support, he started his reign on the back foot, juggling his willingness to sanction the excesses of his government with his desire to remain in the post bestowed upon him by his father.

Soon, scandals started pouring in on the government at an unprecedented rate. With one scandal displacing another, it was difficult for the population to keep track. From salacious stories to corruption allegations, going through racist comments and dangerous threats, there was no dearth of morbid entertainment. And no quarter was spared. From the presidency to the fishmonger supplying prisons; from mistresses appointed to juicy positions such as chairpersons and even ambassadors, to sons and daughters recruited as doctors and cadres in many organisations; from notaries bathing in manna from heaven to MPs receiving land and barachois and unique opportunities for businesses, everyone seemed busy making hay while the sun shone.

The sun however was obscured by an unflinching Commission of Enquiry on Drugs and a commissioner who seems adamant to get to the root of this scourge. As the commission started to lift the lid on the true scale of the drug business in the country, the involvement of many people in or close to government became apparent. The prime minister’s lawyer and close adviser, Raouf Gulbul, had to resign after serious allegations implicating Jugnauth himself. PPS Roubina Judoo-Jaunbocus and Deputy Speaker Sanjeev Teeluckdharry had a hard time explaining to the commission the number of unsolicited visits to many convicted drug dealers and the source of the money making its way to their bank accounts. They were, however, more lucky than Gulbul. Jaunbocus not only was unsanctioned, but was promoted to the role of minister when the serial offender, Showkutally Soodhun, had to finally resign after strong pressure from the public and religious bodies following a racist comment he made.

This stroke of bad luck knocked down a government still subdued by the forced resignation of the attorney general, following the revelation of our colleagues about an alleged money-laundering trade. Feeling the prime minister’s weakness and extreme reluctance to sanction his troops for fear of triggering a by-election, the members of the National Assembly had a field day – sex scandals, threats, promises of government jobs, dubious appointments of close relatives… Nepotism and abuse of power had never been seen on such a scale.

In the end, a by-election came when former Minister of Good Governance Roshi Bhadain resigned his seat in Belle Rose/Quatre Bornes. Labour Party candidate Arvin Boolell will soon waltz into the National Assembly after a swimming victory, triggering a clear Labour revival and the beginning of sleepless nights in the Sun Trust.

The whole scenario was complicated by some chickens coming home to roost: Betamax caused panic and more expensive petrol, Air Mauritius pilots’ wild cat strike resulted in delayed and cancelled flights, wreaking havoc at our airport, hunger strikes became more frequent, a higher death toll on our roads, water protests and protests against the government’s only announced project since they took over – the Metro Express…

While the firefighting was going on, the economy stayed on the backburner. The prime minister – who also held on tightly to the finance portfolio, against all rules of good governance – concentrated on propaganda and image building. The MBC has excelled in its role by devoting a huge chunk of its prime time to inaugurations of just about anything, from bus stops to school playgrounds and community centres.

Who would have thought so much would happen in one single year? But the prime minister’s point of view is different, “We had an excellent year.” One person agrees with him: his father who adds, “We have put the country back on the rails.” As long as father and son agree, who are we, mere mortals, to disagree?

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