Some of the most articulate and competent lawyers in the world pleaded at the Privy Council and tried to convince some of the most respected law lords of the validity of points of law. It was a great and entertaining event for the rest of us mortals to experience.
That was on Tuesday. Today, we have to be able to put things into perspective and question what this whole saga represents for us and for the country. Those who are talking of a victory or defeat for the prime minister perhaps may not have fully understood the role of the Privy Council. Whatever the outcome, there will be no victory and no defeat. As for us as a country, we have already lost. So there is no need to hold our breath.
The Privy Council’s role was not to re-try Pravind Jugnauth, or to take into account all the facts about the MedPoint case. That was done at the Intermediate Court where he was found guilty and received a 12-month sentence. And, ironically, if the law lords uphold the judgment of the Supreme Court, it will be thanks to the Intermediate Court itself. The non-application of Capital Gains Tax (only days before this was due to take effect) allowed the lucky sister and her husband to pocket an extra Rs7 million thanks to the record speed at which the cheque was signed by our now prime minister. This same zeal in signing the cheque also resulted in avoiding the risk of going back to parliament and calling for a new tender as the Procurement Act requires whenever an award is 25% above the initial budgeted amount. You will recall that the initial budget for a geriatric hospital was Rs100 million, that the MedPoint clinic was first evaluated at Rs75 million and then by some acrobatics went up to Rs144 million thanks to the good services of an evaluator who later lost his memory, was suspended, then recovered his job and finally received a promotion. But the above evidence was not adduced by the ICAC at the Intermediate Court or was not considered.
So what happened at the Privy Council is not a retrial. We have to get that very clear. The DPP’s lawyer was constrained by the evidence presented at the Intermediate Court and could not use any that had not been adduced or considered. So whatever the verdict for which we are holding our breath, it will not result in a victory or a defeat but in an interpretation of the law, based on the elements initially presented. Politically, a ‘defeat’ is not as important as opponents are making it sound. Even a reinstated 12-month conviction is unlikely to result in any resignation. It will be converted into community service and – since moralité na pa rempli vant – we might see a shameless continuation of business as usual. Or we might be treated to a good Bollywood movie where the prime minister asks for a vote of confidence in parliament and the Koalas, holding on to their fickle branch of power and privileges, give him their full confidence. There!
As far as the country is concerned – just in case anyone still cares – we lost a lot when a sitting prime minister, supported by the investigative agency supposed to fight corruption, is tried by the law lords for the whole world to see. Worse, the fact that he had ‘lied’ to the court was publicly highlighted and for hours the world heard that the then-minister of finance, on behalf of the government, digging into our threadbare pockets, bought his sister’s clinic when – as Lord Kerr said – “he should have stayed severely clear of the file”!
But the Privy Council is not concerned with any of that. It’s the law we are talking about, not justice.
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