It is a contest whose outcome is in doubt up to the very end. The MedPoint saga is proving to be a real cliffhanger. Mauritius being a country where politics is a national hobby, where everyone is an expert en la matière, it is no surprise then that we are hearing so many ‘expert opinions’ on the very able oral submissions made on both sides before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Whatever be the outcome of this telenovela, one thing is certain: public life as we know it until now, will never be the same again in Mauritius. Their Lordships have the daunting task of clearing the wool that politicians and public officials have been pulling over our eyes since time immemorial. We shall welcome their guidance and judgment which will undoubtedly send bells ringing in the ears of our politicians and public officials. They need to be told that there is a line which they should never cross lest they be sent to the gallows should they ever be tempted to cross it.
In that regard how can we not praise the sober yet powerful submissions of David Perry QC, a mammoth advocate in his own right. After a somewhat rough start, he bounced back to rebut Mrs Montgomery QC in what many are describing as the turning point in this major saga. His reply to Mrs Montgomery was lucid, logical and one which evidently had an impact on the Law Lords especially Lord Kerr, the presiding Lord.
It was music to the ear to hear Lord Kerr referring to the Prevention of Corruption Act (PoCA) as a Charter. This is no small thing. A Charter necessarily implies obligations which must be respected and observed scrupulously. David Perry QC was at his best when he set out what he considered to be the true purport of the PoCA. A legislation which came about in the aftermath of a report of a Select Committee which had been set up to report on the extent of corruption in Mauritius.
That Select Committee itself had recognised that corruption is extremely hard to prove and that there was a need to have offences such as Conflict of Interest (as in section 13 (2) of the PoCA) which imposed total prohibitions on public officials to take part in any proceedings relating to a decision in which they or their relatives may have a personal interest. Section 13 (2) does no more than drawing that line which should not be crossed. And it is so easy not to cross it unless you are either stupid or reckless. In either case it is no defence anyway.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council usually pays great deference to judgments of our Supreme Court and Mrs Montgomery QC knows this very well for she hammered this point a number of times urging their Lordships to defer to the judgment of the Supreme Court. With all due respect to her, one is more inclined to agree with David Perry QC that greater deference should be paid to the judgment of the Intermediate Court, which was the trial court which had seen and heard witnesses including the accused himself. So who was in a better position to assess the credibility of whatever evidence that was being put forward. Obviously the answer must be the Intermediate Court.
David Perry QC was absolutely right when he reminded everyone that the learned Magistrates had made important findings of fact, including the one where they disbelieved the accused when he said he did not know what he was signing, and those findings of fact were at the core of their decision and reasoning all throughout their judgment. So Mr Perry is right, if any deference should be paid, it is to the judgment of the learned Magistrates that it should be paid.
And what to say of the role of the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC), the institution that emanates from the PoCA, in this whole saga? An institution that was created to enforce, without fear or favour, the provisions of the PoCA, including section 13 (2). As if their already shady decision to abide by the decision of the Privy Council was not enough, it decided to play a surreptitious role at the eleventh hour, thus taking everyone by surprise (and I am sure that even poor Mrs Montgomery must have been shocked).
The least said the better. But what on earth was the head of that institution doing sitting in the courtroom when he could have watched the proceeding through live streaming like all of us communs des mortels? He knew that his institution had not been granted a right of audience so why did he go and sat himself there at our expense? If this is not like rubbing it in our face then I don’t know what is.
The shameful number of scandals and examples of outright nepotism of the past 10 to 15 years have pushed us to the very edge of the cliff. There is no indication that it will stop. On the contrary, while we are all dangling to a branch and praying that it doesn’t break and we all fall into the precipice, they are shamelessly clinging to their fortunes and enriching themselves even more perhaps in realisation that the day of reckoning is just round the corner. The judgment of the Privy Council may prove to be that parachute that will save us and bring us all safely back to ground in one piece.