The findings of the Commission of Inquiry on Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, chaired by Former Chief Justice Asraf Caunhye could inspire a Netflix show with several series. I will deal with the first episode today.
In this episode, and looking at the facts alone, the picture that transpires is not that of a naïve woman who was put in a position far above her ability and experience; it is not that of someone innocently caught up in a web of deceit, greed and corruption. No, Sir. The operation looks more like an organised joint venture where everyone played their part and nothing was left to chance.
At the forefront of the venture, our former president stood with a begging bowl in each hand. The first begging bowl was extended to leading companies, whose bosses were invited to a dinner at the State House and at our own expense, to canvass them to finance the Planet Earth Institute (PEI) of Alvaro Sobrinho. “The purpose of this letter is to invite you to partner with PEI Mauritius and contribute financially in our ongoing effort to promote the cause of science and development in Africa,” Gurib-Fakim says in letters signed by her with her title as president of the republic. The letter specified that cheques should be drawn to the order of “Le Réduit Appeal Fund” and should reach the Office of the President by the end of March 2016.” What one should bear in mind here is that the commission highlighted that “The Fund did not fall within the legal framework of public funds. It was not under the control of the Director of Audit and was not subject to government control. The Fund was managed and controlled by the Office of the President under the directives of the President of the Republic.” So money was being collected by our president, using the State House to coax bosses to fork it out and she can use it practically without any accountability.
But there is more: the other bowl started being extended to heads of African states as early as December 2015. Addressing each of them as “Excellency and Dear Brother”, she asks for funds to be urgently disbursed: “I am also pleased to announce that an Escrow Account has already been opened at Barclays International in Mauritius by the Planet Earth Institute and it is imperative now that the funds obligated are disbursed urgently for the launch of the pilot scheme this year. I would be glad if you would personally ensure that the necessary payments are made into the Escrow Account as a matter of priority.” She puts more pressure by adding, “The Africa Business Champions Group which has also mobilised an amount of USD l million for the Programme is awaiting the disbursement of funds by the participating States in order to release its own contribution.”
While the begging bowls were going around collecting money from Mauritian bosses and African heads of states, a serious trench war was going on to make sure these funds go nowhere but into the Barclays accounts. In charge of this task is Mauricio Fernandes. In an email to someone who appears to be contesting this arrangement, he writes the following self-explanatory message: “Let me start with the funding of the pilot PhD programme and the hosting of the $7m currently raised. Firstly, we have always agreed, since inception of the project, that the funds raised from Governments and the Business Champions must be held in the same account at the same organisation. […] Secondly, […] Her Excellency’s brief was clear – that there was much favourable discussion with HOS regarding hosting the funds in the PEl Escrow Account in Mauritius (at Barclays). At no point during these discussions […] was AAU mentioned in any regard.” There, that settles it.
Now, what happened to the PhD scholarships on the basis of which all this money was being collected? Oh, I nearly forgot: Here is what the former president wrote to the late prime minister on 27 October 2016: “I am glad that Mauritius, through my Office, has benefitted from 10 PhD scholarships costing over US $ l million for our local students. The scheme was successfully launched in July this year and the winners of the scholarships have already been nominated.”
Good! So 10 of our students are currently studying at the best universities in the world, aren’t they?
Not quite. Here is what Gurib-Fakim herself said to the commission: “All UK universities which had initially manifested interest in the programme […] asked us to stay action in view of the uncertainties with Brexit. Two candidates pulled out of the programme. The remaining eight students were proposed South African universities provided they could match their areas of research with those of the South African universities. A corporate sponsor, namely Bigen Africa, sponsored one of the students whose proposal matched its area of interest. […] The feedback from the universities was that the transcripts of the remaining seven students were not up to their level […] The students were given the option to register with the University of Mauritius.”
I rest my case and let you draw your own conclusions about where the money collected has gone, along with the hopes of the students used to collect it. And by the way, have you heard that the best UK universities have frozen up because of Brexit? Good to know so everyone registers at the University of Mauritius and tries to find a sponsor. This in itself could be another episode of the AGF show.