“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil,” they say, “is for good men to do nothing”. I disagree. I think for evil to thrive, you also need spineless men and women in high positions of responsibility who are prepared to condone and legalise it. And there is unfortunately no shortage of those kinds of people these days.
I am not surprised at the government for introducing an extremely dangerous, repressive, ridiculous and perhaps anti-constitutional law such as the Amendment to the ICT Act. History shows that the most dangerous laws, which have threatened our democracy, were introduced by Anerood Jugnauth: In 1984, it was Jugnauth himself who introduced the Amendment to the Newspapers and Periodicals Act, which provided for newspapers and magazines to give a guarantee of Rs250,000 (an exorbitant sum then) before being allowed to publish. A year later, he announced the intention to amend the Criminal Code to make it illegal to criticise the government or ministers. For some reason, this was not followed through. In 1991, he came up with the Public Gathering Act, which outlawed gatherings of 12 or more people without the commissioner of police’s approval. In 2002, the same prime minister abolished village council elections, to be later re-introduced in 2005 by the following government. In the same year, the highly dangerous Prevention of Terrorism Act that allowed authorities to intercept and monitor communications without a warrant was passed in spite of the resignation of then-President Cassam Uteem and Vice-President Angidi Chettiar. That was before Ameenah and Barlen!
Now, you didn’t expect the apple to fall far from the tree, did you? After the papa was gone but not quite gone, the piti as prime minister followed in the same dictatorial path: In 2016, the Prevention of Terrorism Amendment Act became even more repressive by allowing the police “to arrest anybody without a warrant who wears clothing or carries an object that leads police to suspect sympathy or support for a proscribed terrorist organisation”. We all saw how an innocent citizen by the name of Ish Sookun was treated under this law. These repressive laws were combined with other attempts to squirrel away at the powers of independent institutions while arrogating more and more powers to the Executive and institutions controlled by the latter. No one has forgotten the prosecution commission bill that sought to subsume the DPP under a Prosecution Commission. This was one of the most dangerous proposed bills which, thank God – and thanks to Xavier-Luc Duval and the PMSD resignation – did not go through.
In 2016, shame rained on our country when the Finance Act was passed, taking the power to issue investment banking licences away from the Bank of Mauritius and giving it to the Financial Services Commission. This was immediately followed by the Alvaro Sobrinho episode that has seriously tarnished the reputation of Mauritius. Add to this the 2015 Insurance Act Amendment that had allowed the then minister to appoint an administrator and approve the disposal of the assets of the British American Insurance company.
In the meantime and in stark contrast, the government has steered clear of passing any laws that would endanger, in the slightest way, their plans to enrich themselves in all opacity. The juicy carrots of the Declaration of Assets Act and the Freedom of Information Act which they had dangled in front of us to woo voters have since been put in the fridge, perhaps to be taken out again at the next election. The truth is that even the freedoms we had are being curtailed.
So we did not expect much in terms of democracy and we have been served generous helpings of dictatorship and repression. What is particularly disconcerting is the celerity with which our acting president, Barlen Vyapoory, rubberstamped two highly controversial decisions: the appointment of a friend of the prime minister, Ammanah Saya Ragavoodoo, onto two electoral commissions that require the utmost independence and the highly dictatorial Judicial and Legal Provisions Act.
Congratulations, Sir, you have so much to be proud of! Your career as interim president has started really well. In such a short time, you are already right up there with your predecessor! Now you can sit and watch your ‘bloody annoying’ compatriots being dragged to the Line Barracks for having ‘annoyed’ someone who is so self-important that it takes little to annoy them. You can also at the same time relish watching the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation having free rein in its mission of promoting ribbon cutting and the lionisation of the supreme leader. I am sure you will not find that annoying, will you?
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