This week, all our ministers and MSM MPs – young, experienced, women, those who are supposedly doing politics differently – stood up and were immortalised in a photo that has brought shame to this country. The IBA Amendment bill became an act of parliament.
In 2015, hot on the heels of their massive electoral victory, one of the first decisions taken by the MSM government was to knock the legs out from their main rival. So they went for the pocketbooks of those who were perceived to be funding the party.
Bramer Bank was closed down – after three main party figures first surreptitiously withdrew their money – and the British American Investment conglomerate came tumbling down. To make sure there is no possible recovery, the Insurance Amendment Act was raced through parliament with a certificate of urgency, right in the middle of the legal battle! The act took away the powers that the commercial courts had under the Insolvency Act and handed them over to the minister of good governance, through the special administrator! The point here is not about Ponzi, semi Ponzi or no Ponzi. Rather, it is the blow the government dealt to the separation of powers just to make sure the enemy has no recourse to justice! The recently released report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Britam sale describes this amendment as “an aberration”.
Another measure was sneaked into the 2015-2016 budget, banning all the scratch cards, supposedly to put an end to the nasyon zougader (gambling nation). Lottotech – at the time perceived to be close to the opposition – saw its profits decrease by Rs200 million overnight as its shares dropped from Rs9.50 to around Rs5.
In the same year, to tackle the Rs220 million found in Navin Ramgoolam’s safe, the Good Governance and Integrity Reporting Act 2015 was passed in parliament with an emergency certificate – again! This resulted in the setting up of the high sounding Integrity Reporting Service Agency, an institution which promised to rid the country of corruption and take back ill-gotten wealth. How much money did the respected agency manage to get back from all the drugs flooding the country and the money laundering activities? Rs12 miserly millions for a yearly budget of Rs44 million shared between political nominees and a couple of lucky lawyers! When pushed for answers, the agency director, Paul Keyton, according to our colleague Narain Jasodanand, simply blocked our journalists on WatsApp. So there!
More recently, a former Air Mauritius pilot, Patrick Hofman, while talking to a friend, qualified the prime minister as mad. The latter got to know and, in a political meeting, promised to deal with the impertinent guy. Which he did, in the only way he knows: by introducing a law that would teach him a good lesson. So, in April 2019, the Immigration Amendment Act was passed with extreme haste and, lo and behold, Patrick Hofman, was made the first prohibited immigrant in Mauritius. You will recall that even when Hofman got married to his long-term girlfriend Isabelle l’Olive, he was still not allowed to live here. So the couple had to go to Belgium, where Isabelle died far from her relatives and loved ones!
This week, the government used this same pattern of enacting laws targeting specific individuals and companies – either for revenge or to benefit cronies – to strike our private radios, particularly Top FM. So the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act was passed – yet again – with extreme haste. The law in a nutshell sounds the death knell for Top FM and is a Damocles Sword hanging over the other independent private radios.
From the BAI to the IBA, the modus operandi has been the same. And this is just a dress rehearsal. Expect more targeted laws to dart into our statute book. Expect a constitution that no longer completely guarantees our freedoms. Expect the proliferation of ‘independent’ institutions costing the country an arm and a leg, filled with chatwas tripping over themselves to reap the benefits. And of course, we will have an elected prime minister who has more powers than the emperors did and a population frightened out of its wits.
It’s a great plan. The only element missing is the silence of the population!