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DPP: The Importance of Maintaining the Independence of the Office

04.03.2015

When, following the Mackay Report and the Law Reform Commission proposals, the last Government in 2009 made the Director of Public Prosecution’s office separate from and independent of the Attorney General, or Minister of Justice, this was certainly an important step. For a start a number of cases of conflict of interest were eliminated. But, more importantly, the decision to prosecute or not was not only completely independent of the Executive Branch of Government of the day, but it was seen to be. The incumbent, Satyajit Boolell, once independent was free to, and did, begin, for the first time in Mauritian history, make public his argumentation for charges being laid or not in cases, especially high profile cases. He publishes communiqués informing the public of the rationale behind his decision, and regular newsletters raising important issues, such as the dangers of immunity from prosecution of a President with power, as proposed by the PT-MMM Alliance. This made for a freer society, freedom being very closely linked to limiting the power of the Executive Branch.

If at any time a decision was taken to bring the DPP’s office back under the Minister of Justice (the only non-elected Minister, constitutionally speaking), it would be retrograde. And the decision is clearly one that needs to be reversed. But, the timing makes it more than retrograde, and positively suspicious. The Cabinet’s last Friday decision, coming when the ex-Prime Minister is due to be charged perhaps with conspiracy or money-laundering or both or neither, the DPP must be independent from the Executive and be seen to be in order to give credibility, especially in the case that there are charges laid.

So, LALIT is against the decision to bring the DPP under the Attorney General’s control, even if we take at face value what Minister of Justice Yerrigadoo says about it being a mere administrative measure, which in no way limits the independence of the DPP.

We also note, in LALIT, that some of the members of the Government Parties are using the reining in of the DPP’s office under the Executive, in order to attack the present DPP, in person, implying that the change in politics is “ad hominem”, i.e. because of the particular man occupying the post. Even a Minister, Ivan Collendavelloo, has accused the DPP of being a political nominee, a “petit prince”, of acting politically, while using the fact that his brother is the Labour Party spokesman as the apparent proof of this. Others have even openly spoken on radio of “bribery” in the Office, and it would seem that the political aims of the parties in power may include the aim of forcing the DPP to step down. This kind of pressure is simply outrageous.

When it comes to moving the Assets Recovery Unit from the DPP, this is less serious, and indeed the DPP has publicly clarified in a communiqué,saying he has no objection that the Assets Recovery Unit no longer be under his control, provided it be under the control of an independent body.

However, in LALIT we can think of no other institution that is in a better position to judge whose assets to seize and whose not to, than the DPP’s office. The argument used in the early stages of the debate on who should control the Assets Recovery Unit, i.e. that the DPP’s office has allegedly used these powers for “fishing expeditions” in the country’s Banks against potential “accused” when the DPP does not have firm evidence, if it turns out to be true, should be resolved, if necessary, by tightening up the kinds of questions that Banks can be asked. But other departments that might take over the Assets Recovery Unit from the DPP’s Office are, once again, often under the direct control of the Executive Branch. Already, newly under the Financial Intelligence Unit, this is the case. And the FIU may soon lose this function altogether anyway, as there will be new legislation on assets recovery.