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The Bourgeois State in a Mess about Compulsory Fingerprinting


In times of crisis, contradictions become glaring. Look at these two instances of the bourgeois State getting itself tied in knots over the State’s position on biometric data on citizens being extracted and then stored and shared around.

State Law Office abandons Ms. Madhub
Yesterday, the State Law Office, at the last moment, withdrew Government lawyers representing the Data Protection Commissioner, Ms. Madhub, leaving her stranded. Her decision against compulsory fingerprinting at work for attendance purposes is being challenged by the bosses at two enterprises, Alteo sugar estate and Clavis Primary School. LALIT denounces this abandonment of the Commissioner, who will now presumably have to apply for the authority and funding for a private lawyer to represent her interests. Initially, the State Law Office did not represent her, then they did, and as of yesterday, they don’t anymore.

This case is one of the absurd and infernal, yet logical, results of the autocratic process of “Presidentialization” of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) under Navin Ramgoolam. Even without his dreaded “Second Republic” that he is cooking up with Opposition Leader Paul Bérenger, his grabbing of more and more powers into the PMO itself, is finally producing indomitable conflicts. At the same time, the State Law Office has to defend the Prime Minister’s Office and the MNIC (Mauritius National Identity Card) which falls under the PMO, and which is putting duress on citizens to give fingerprints for ID cards, while also having to defend the Data Protection Commissioner, who is both “independent” and in the PMO, and who has found the compulsory fingerprinting of employees “illegal” and asked the Police to act against the bosses in two private enterprises.

How Constitutional Cases “drag [their] feet” and speed up simultaneously?
LALIT in calling on the DPP to take a stand on whether he would prosecute citizens after 15 September for not having ID cards if the matter was still in the Courts, and in his candid reply that this is “unlikely”, have forced the State to face up to yet another reality. The State is being pulled in two directions at the same time: to delay and to speed up the cases.

The State has been blatantly using delaying tactics in the three Constitutional Cases, arguing that there was no urgency for an injunction but a whole year, questioning locus standi and asking literally hundreds of questions for those challenging the biometrics of the new ID card. But now they have found out that this tactic may not be such a good idea. The question is, if the cases are endlessly delayed in the Supreme Court and only then going to the Privy Council, will the provisions of the law be able to be applied, in the meantime or not?

On the criminal proceedings issue, here is what the DPP replied when LALIT asked if he intended prosecuting for citizens not having a new biometric ID Cards after 15 September, while legal challenges continue: “Let me thank LALIT for its letter, the contents of which have been noted. It is a fact that until there is a final pronouncement on theconstitutionality of the relevant provisions of the Act, it would be unlikely for me as DPP to exercise my powers under Section 72 of th Constitution of Mauritius to initiate criminal proceedings against those persons who have failed without reasonable excuse to apply for the new identity card”.

This means what it says.

The DPP covered himself by adding, what is evidently also true, that “at the same time it would constitute agross dereliction of my duty as Director and an abuse of my powers were I to undertake that a crime yet to be committed would not lead to prosecution.”

LALIT’s letter and the DPP’s reaction began to be published in the Press and on Radio from Thursday afternoon, 26 June through the weekend.

By Monday morning, 30 June, Chief Justice Keshoe Parsad Matadeen was in Court, presiding the hearing in the Pravind Jugnauth and Dr. Madewoo cases that have been languishing in the Courts for 9 months, calling for judgement in at least two of the three Constitutional challenges within 30 days.

For the 3rd case it would have been difficult to apply this kind of guillotine because so many questions had so recently been demanded of the Rama Valayden and Neelkant Dulloo team, whose case was lodged 6 months ago.

We do not claim a causal relationship between the DPP’s reaction and the Chief Justice’s intervention to speed things up.

Indeed it is also true that the Supreme Court has dithered all this time until Mr. Rao Rama has raked in, if his claims are true, some three-quarters of all citizens’ biometric data. Some three-quarters, he says, of citizens have already been roped in for compulsory fingerprinting for a compulsory ID card, to be presented obligatorarily to officers calling for it, and to be housed in a centralized data-base to which the Police and the politicians in power have direct access, and the CIA indirect access – before the Courts have handed down a judgment in an evidently urgent Constitutional issue.