They don’t lie; they just don’t answer

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The shamelessness with which MP Arvind Boolell was prevented from asking a question about the one issue that had the whole country up in arms last week is revolting. What is wrong with giving us the reasons why female ministers, journalists and other women were barred from attending a banquet where the prime minister, Pravind Jugnauth, was happy to give a speech about the progress made by women in Saudi Arabia? Why doesn’t he repeat his inane answer that he and his security are so out of it that he is not even informed of the guest list of a function he is attending? Why doesn’t Showkutally Soodhun repeat on the Hansard to be read by generations to come what he told journalists outside – that for questions about our democracy, human rights and where our money is being spent, we have to ask God directly? Why don’t they look us in the eye and deny that the function which half of our population was excluded from was paid for by us?

Instead, a question is planted by the guy who is not afraid of sounding ridiculous and an inordinate amount of time is devoted to answering it while the speaker of the National Assembly – and president of the Parliamentary Gender Caucus – sits and patiently listens to precious time being devoted to giving irrelevant information instead of answering the nation’s questions!  

But ghastly as this episode is, it is hardly surprising. So many tricks in the book are used to avoid answering questions that one wonders if there is any point asking them anymore.

The first trick is hiding behind the fact that the question asked is about a private company. That is enough to keep cash cows like Mauritius Telecom and the State Bank of Mauritius out of the public eye. So ex-convicts, shady characters and blue-eyed boys who have become experts in bootlicking – some of whom have no idea about banking or finance – sit side by side and draw exorbitant fees. We have just found out the fees drawn by the chairman of SBM Holdings – about Rs6 million – for a part-time job that probably requires sitting in a board room twice a month sipping tea and gorging on gato-piment. Don’t bother asking any questions as this is a private company listed on the Stock Exchange. As for Mauritius Telecom, the salaries and benefits are a jealously guarded state secret. Yet, it is our hard-earned money that is being used to satiate the greed of lucky cronies as, in so doing, they erode the dividend potential that might reward the shareholder. That shareholder is US, the taxpayer!

If the company is not private, worry not. The contract drawn with shady companies will inevitably contain a confidentiality clause that will be brandished every time there is a slight attempt to wring some information out of the government. If that does not work, then you refer the case to the police or – better still – to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)! From then on, the answer to any embarrassing question will be, “the matter is being investigated by the police/ICAC so we can’t get in the way of their inquiry”. And these very independent institutions will busy themselves looking into the matter for as long as it takes for our ministers to be kept off the hook. They are still ‘looking into’ the Yerrigadoo file, aren’t they? Sometimes, the government may have to resort to a commission of inquiry or a fact finding committee. No danger there either as the report – whenever it is out – will be safely kept in a drawer and any danger of embarrassment is kept at bay. The reports on Vijaya Sumputh and Youshreen Choomka are safely under lock and key and have caused no harm at all.

This week, the not-so-new trick used is that of having one’s own MPs ask irrelevant questions to fill the time while the person answering them dives into so many details that it is obvious to anyone that the aim is to avoid answering embarrassing questions.

If any MP dares protest, simple: the speaker throws them out! Democracy at work. Westminster style siouplait!  

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