Saturday 18 May, Ram Seegobin, in his overview of the political situation showed how the past fortnight had seen political events that point in all sorts of different directions at once, making it difficult to predict the general movement. He said that, for example, political battles have been reduced to a number of Ministers who find themselves encircled individually. And he said that the Ministers are not encircled on political issues, but on issues so far from political or economic reality that it makes it even more difficult to see the main trends. This is true even as the economic situation, by contrast, is stark: the increasing problems in the Euro zone are impacting heavily on the Mauritian economy, dependent as it is. And no doubt it is this impending economic crisis that is powering the endless mini-crises of Ministers at all sorts of levels.
This write-up of Ram Seegobin’s analysis also includes some of the discussion that followed the presentation of his paper.
But, first, who are the Ministers? What are the issues?
Let’s start with Varma’s accident and Aimee’s incident.
Justice Minister and Attorney General Varma’s car accident has put him in a pickle. The young man who pranged into his car at a crossroads in suburbia accuses the Minister of beating him up. The Minister denies this, but there are other witnesses who saw the incident. And after the Prime Minister’s appeal for witnesses not to be afraid, there are even more witnesses come forward. The Justice Minister’s broken hand seems to implicate him, although he says that it is an injury sustained during the prang. In LALIT, we think that if he lost his temper, he should have tendered his resignation immediately, but he has, instead, got himself into deeper and deeper difficulty. And the police, after arresting Opposition MP Barbier on allegations of beating someone up, took one week to take a statement from the Minister, thus making the “regne” of Ramgoolam more and more discredited as a whole. Minister Varma is the only Minister who Ramgoolam can replace without having to face the political danger of losing a by-election.
Minister Aimee’s incident arose during a dispute with relatives who are also neighbours, apparently about a dog. The incident then took the turn that is typical in the village of Bambous, Ram Seegobin said, he coming from the same village as Minister Herve Aimee. Whoever gets to give a statement to the police first, it is a firm belief in the village, wins. So, true to the usual pattern, the Minister’s niece and her husband went straight to the Police Station to give a statement to the effect that the Minister had injured his niece during a fight. The Police then sent them off to the hospital first to have her neck looked after, and said they would take her and her husband’s statements afterwards. While they went to the hospital, the Minister quickly got in and gave his statement. When the niece and her husband returned to give their statements, the husband was arrested for having threatened the Minister. Once again, a relatively ordinary incident, just like a not unusual accident, becomes the very symbol of a Government under siege.
Minister of Education Bunwaree is also in deep water. At the Mauritius Institute for Training and Development, instead of following the usual procedure of reporting to the Child Development Unit and the Police, he took the unusual step of setting up a “fact-finding committee” after there were allegations against a gym instructor, a Mr. Chedumbrum, for sex with an under-age pupil. LALIT believes he and his officers were legally bound to report the case to the CDU and the Police. But instead, he set up this “committee”. The committee found that there was no case against the instructor; the girl had retracted her accusations and her mother had by then denied having counter-signed the psychologist’s report, on which her signature seemed to appear.
Then, instead of everything staying put, a series of what look like reprisals began. A senior employee of the MITD went to the Police, and the teacher, Ms Sudha Singh, and the psychologist, Ms. Pascale Bodet, were both arrested and charged with conspiracy and forgery. The trade unionist Mr. Madhow, who had been suspended over the same incident and then re-instated, was re-suspended and also called in by the police. These reprisals are in the face of MSM MP Pravind Jugnauth having got hold of thousands of SMSs and mobile calls between the instructor and his pupil, as well as calls between the instructor and the Minister. The case is one of those where the instructor’s wife, embattled in a sex-war during divorce from him, is providing information and proof to the whistle-blowers. The entire Government is again embattled. And this when the issue is “sex with a minor” by a junior employee of an Institute that falls under a Ministry. This would seem to have nothing to do with politics. This amazing situation is possible because the instructor so clearly being given support happens to be brother of a young woman employee who was transferred from Minister Bunwaree’s previous ministry, Labour, to Education, when he became Minister of Education, and there have been press articles making insinuations about his relationship with her. The Minister’s handling of this affair has put his future into jeopardy. Everyone now knows that it is a duty to listen, to take it seriously, and to report the matter, when a young person mentions sexual abuse of any kind. This is what the teacher and psychologist seem to have done. Whether the child in question was telling the truth, taking them for a ride, or even just plain inventing, must obviously also be borne in mind, when dealing with such cases.
Fourthly, Minister of Higher Education, Jeetah, following an official Conference delegation going abroad, was asked a supplementary Parliamentary Question as to whether any member of his family was part of the official delegation. He said his father was an entrepeneur in higher education and alleged that Steve Obeegadoo had something against his family. He said his father was 83 years old, and had 60 years experience in higher education. But he clearly did not reply to the question, a question that implies nepotism.
Fifthly, Minister of Public Infrastructure, Anil Baichoo, is the Minister responsible for the heavy death tolls after the floods in Port Louis, and after the CNT bus accident at Soreze. The Opposition is running a poster campaign for his resignation. In this case, it is not so much what the press notoriously calls “faits divers” that has become the centre of a political maelstrom, nor is it allegations of nepotism, but the effects of negligence in public infrastructure projects, for the flooding, and in CNT bus acquisition and upkeep, for the accident. In many countries a Minister would have resigned for either of these, not because he is personally responsible, but so that he takes the blame that would otherwise be on an entire government, on to himself. In fact, in all the cases mentioned, it is the whole government that is shaken. At the same time, the right wingers are running a campaign not to overhaul CNT and against any organized, rational national transport system that makes sense, but instead to privatize or close down the CNT.
Sixthly, there is Minister of Health, Lormesh Bundhoo. With the private sector and much of the Press baying for privatization of health care and for personal insurance, any negligence in hospitals makes Ministers pay a very heavy price. This is true especially when the present Government has in fact introduced private insurance schemes for health, as an alternative to public insurance, and public health care. The death of a new-born premature baby after its hand was burnt in an incubator, necessitating an operation, and finally causing the death of the baby, puts Minister Bundhoo into a weak position. In his favour, he not only presented condolences to the family but asked for their forgiveness, which implies accepting some individual responsibility.
The last two Ministers in this fortnight’s batch of “symptoms of fin de regne” are two of the “tranfuges”, Martin and Seetaram, who both recently crossed the floor from the MSM. MPs who have crossed the floor are always a liability to a Government. In the case of Martin, she is paying the price for the privatization of social welfare, whereby the State rightly remains responsible for children, while private organizations over which the State has little control, actually provide the services. The Namaste homes have all closed down following the withdrawal of their Place of Safety designation, after allegations of sex abuse on children by some of those in charge. This has, in turn, led to the “hunger strike” in the Company Gardens (however disorganized the movement is) of employees of the homes, again putting pressure on the Government for its inability to resolve problems without creating further problems. We do not even know what has happened to the children who were in the Namaste Homes, in terms of whether they are in suitable care.
Floor-crosser Jim Seetaram is open to even more damaging criticism because a close relative has been granted State Land in Bambous in order to be able to set up a project for energy production. The allegation quite reasonably implies that this kind of favour is what had lured Mr. Seetaram to cross the floor from the MSM to Labour.
All this, 8 Ministers with the jitters, explains the strange but distinctive sniff in the air of “fin de regne” as the French put it. Prime Minister Ramgoolam holds himself aloof, but also loses credibility.
Opposition also suffering “fin de regne” symptoms
Considering that the Opposition forms part of the State, we note that having to rely totally for political opposition on such non-political events as allegations of sex with a minor by an instructor or fisticuffs after a car prang, tragedies like sexual abuse at a home, bus accidents, neo-natal deaths or floods, is a clear sign of its own “fin de regne” state.
Opening up possibilities for a Labour-MMM alliance?
With each of these Ministers in a position where he or she can be ejected without causing too much political support to be gathered around them, it begins to become clearer what is on the horizon.
Paul Berenger on Saturday morning said, in the face of all this scandal, that Navin Ramgoolam is “surrounded by people” who are causing him problems. This implies he is OK. And he is really very nice, once he gets rid of “these people”.
The MSM-MMM Re-make has never been the wild success that Berenger dreamed it might be. The Medpoint scandal was blown up far too much against the MSM by the MMM for that to have worked. So, the MMM is in difficulty. Paul Berenger’s health is still of concern, while Alan Ganoo is a rather mediocre Leader of the Opposition. And the Labour Party continues to criticize only the MSM and the Jugnauths in particular, leaving Berenger without a word of criticism. The Labour spokespeople even say that the Jugnauths and their 2% support are bringing ruin on poor Berenger, just as Berenger has more recently said poor Navin is surrounded by people that are doing him no good.
We also know that there will be a Government White Paper on Electoral Reform (the MMM’s absolute desire for electoral reform is well known) due in July, and this will no doubt necessitate more “koz-koze” between the MMM and Labour.
And this time around, Navin Ramgoolam will potentially have enough space in a re-arranged Cabinet for a possible pre-electoral alliance with the MMM. 8 places is more than enough.
What then about the PMSD which is in Government, and which the MMM will not like to share Government with? The PMSD is also in a weak position. Minister Sik Yuen is in a Labour-PMSD Government without being in the PMSD anymore. And economic problems are about to drown PMSD Vice-Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Xavier Duval. So, perhaps his days, too, are numbered.
All this to say that the representatives of the capitalist system in Mauritius, the Labour Party, the PMSD, the MMM and the MSM, are all in disarray, as is the system they so devoutly believe in. And also to say that the massive crises hitting the world capitalist system over the past 3 or 4 years are clearly finally affecting Mauritius and producing endless political crises on the Mauritian political scene.
It is, therefore, a time when LALIT’s politics for an alternative economy altogether are definitely on the agenda.