The suspense is over and the curtain has arguably fallen on the act of the war between the Mauritius Turf Club (MTC) and different arms of the government. As its former president, Jean Michel Giraud, bows out, drawing little applause, it is perhaps opportune not to lose sight of the bigger picture.
The bigger picture is not about Jean Michel Giraud who has been let go of by a club he has spent a big chunk of his life serving. It is not about his political affinity or his obstinacy. It is not about how valiantly he fought so that the Horse Racing Division of the Gambling Regulatory Authority (GRA) does not take over the MTC’s race card and the use of some of its equipment without compensation, in exchange for granting them a licence to operate. It is not even about the horseracing industry – an industry that I must confess I know – and wish to know – little about.
The big picture really is about how easy it has become for the different branches of government – with most institutions – to gang up to make any form of escape impossible. When everything else fails, laws are legislated, bills are presented and read the same day and are morphed into Acts of Law before the target they are intended to hit can blink. It is about the amount of power one man has accumulated with the help of doormat institutions.
Admittedly, Giraud is not in the good books of the government. Apart from having a big mouth, he is known for his affinity with the MMM, an opposition party. Two deadly sins these days. The prime minister mentions this in the national assembly in derogatory terms. The message was clear and immediately decoded. And that’s all it took for hell to break loose. So the GRA refuses to grant Giraud – a president democratically elected by the members of the MTC – a Personal Management Licence. The Municipality of Port Louis imposes conditions on the MTC in exchange for granting the licence to organise the races. Giraud refuses those conditions. The Municipality denies him the licence and the GRA steps in by refusing to grant the MTC an operating licence. The threat of a horseracing course in Côte d’Or is brandished and the hints to have Giraud out for the threat not to materialise become less subtle.
Human nature being what it is, the rest follows automatically and Giraud is asked by the same people who voted him in to “step aside”. His resignation signals the end of Scene 1, Act n. The same act that was played in the case of the British American Investment, in the case of Betamax, in the case of Patrick Hofman, in the case of Slovakian Peter Uricek and perhaps later his lawyer. Notice the question planted in the National Assembly about Uricek’s lawyer specifically asking if he had not been paid in drug-tinted money! Remember also the Insurance Act, enacted during the legal battle between Dawood Rawat and the state of Mauritius and how this Act put an end to any recourse the aggrieved may have had under our laws. A similar situation obtains with Patrick Hofman with the Amendment to the Immigration Act, otherwise known as the Hofman Law!
Jean Michel Giraud is now gone, sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. This may, however, not be the end of the MTC’s woes or indeed ours. What this highlights is just how vulnerable those of us who are not close to the government are. The divide between nou ban and banla has never been so sharp. Every time the curtain falls; every time the bell tolls, it tolls for one of us. We just don’t know it until it happens to us.