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Ram Seegobin Looks Back at the Past Fortnight’s news


[Each fortnight, LALIT central committee members, in turn, look back at the fortnight that has passed. Ram Seegobin’s review of the events of the fortnight is reproduced below, in English translation.]

 The last two weeks have been marked by the disappearance from the “radar” of the press of some of their high profile dossiers. For example, Mr. Alvaro Sobrinho was not to be seen or heard of. The “imminent arrest” of lawyer Rex Stephen has also disappeared from the Press and radio.

 At the same time, with the Budget looming for this next Thursday, the focus of the mainstream media has, for once, stayed on economic issues, instead of on “scandals”.

1.   18 Billion in Credit from India

There has been a lot about the Rs 18 billion of credit from India. The credit is at 1.8% interest, but in hard currency. There is a 4-year moratorium on interest, and a 7-year moratorium on the capital. It seems the moratoria mean the interest is just added on at the end, and the capital repayments are just postponed.

One important thing is that the Indian and Mauritian governments have concocted a strange mechanism to arrange the loan without it adding to Mauritius’ public debt. It is the same kind of operation that ex-Minister Badhain was cooking up for his Heritage City funding. Instead of the lending government (Dubai or India) lending the money, they get redeemable shares in the things that are done with the money. In the case of the Indian loan, the Mauritian Government will receive the money through a private company set up by the State Bank a couple of days before Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth left for India. So, it was clearly a prepared scenario.

 The Indian Government has also taken the precaution of doing the deal through the EXIM Bank, which will transfer the money to the company set up by the SBM, and EXIM get shares in the said company.  

Then the Mauritian Government will set up different companies, e.g. Metro Express, and borrow from this said company.

 I go into all this because it is a maneuver to allow the Government to act behind the back of the National Assembly. It is a way to get around democratic control of the money. It prevents public oversight. It does away with Parliamentary Questions.

It is a maneuver that also allows the Government to get around the Procurement Board that is a sort-of check on tender allocation. This way, the Government can give contracts as it sees fit.

 But, then the question remains: what is India getting out of the loan of $500,000 to Mauritius. It seems clear to everyone that it means India can make some sort of use of Agalega for military purposes. While he was in India, Pravind Jugnauth signed an agreement with India on Indian Ocean security, and an agreement whereby India is to construct a long runway on Agalega as well as a dockside, an agreement that had already been discussed. So, while the Prime Minister maintains that “sovereignty” will remain intact, his answers to questions about the military are somewhat suspect. He says, Well it will be on a case-by-case basis; just as now the US, France the UK ask to use our Port Louis or Plaisance facilities, so it will be in the future.

 LALIT, like the MMM and others, call for the Treaties and Agreements to be made public.

 It is clear that India now, with its growing economic clout, is developing geo-political interests and ambitions way beyond what it used to have. The same can be said for China, which continues its Silk Road development, that we commented on in October last year on our site.

 2.   FSC Enquiry into the Sale of NMH Shares

The Financial Services Commission has people on its Board like Dev Manraj, ex officio on it. Dhiren Dabee, the Solicitor General, so the head of the Parquet, was on it. So, when there is the question of the irregularity in the sale of shares in the New Mauritius Hotels, and when the FSC has already said there are no irregularities, then as well as being an almighty fight between different sectors of capital in Mauritius, it becomes difficult for Dhiren Dabee, as Solicitor General, to stay on in the FSC, when its role with him in it, is being questioned. And Robin Mardaymootoo, a big businessman with ties with high-flyers from abroad, in a company called Sunny Starts is questioning the FSC findings.

 The FSC had named one Kriti Taukoordass (an accountant in a global firm called Mazars) who was already suing his ex-partner in the firm for Rs 32 million. His ex-partner is none other than the Minister of Financial services, Sudhir Sesungkur. Mr. Taukoordass apparently submitted his report without ever having met the Espitalier Noels or Rogers, all of whom are implicated. The Report has many irregularities. That there should be irregularities in the deal and in the Report is not strange. It concerns ENL, Rogers, Swan and NMH; Rivalland is director of all four, while one Espitalier Noel is director of 3, and another of 2 of these firms. It is bound to be confused when they sell shares when such is the state of the capital concerned.

 Nobody knows or is even daring to guess what the repercussions might be.

 The first one might be the resignation of Dhiren Dabee from the FSC. His reason for resigning is not clear. Now, the FSC has taken a private lawyer, Bassett.

 Another strange phenomenon. Rezistans ek Alternativ was one of the main voices raised against the illegality of the sale of shares. Their pretext for taking this stand was slightly tendentious – sometimes small shareholders’ interests, other times workers’ pension fund interests – but then we guessed why when Robin Mardaymootoo, who is their attorney for Privy Council cases and so on, showed his hand. Anyway, when RA were called to give evidence before the Commission set up by the FSC to enquire into the matter, they said they would, for some reason, only give evidence “under protest”.

 3.   Fall-out from the BAI Disaster continues

And the fall-out from the BAI”s Ponzi-like empire, which the Government collapsed before it imploded, continues. There was the hunger strike by the investors in Super Cash Back Gold and Bramer Assets Management following the Government announcement that it did not have money to pay them as planned at the end of June. Jugnauth agreed to meet leaders of the hunger strike, and told them he was going to India, and when he got back he would make a proposal. Once he got back, Jugnauth said he had already had his plan before he went to India, it had nothing to do with India, but he would only disclose his proposals later. How and why the State should reimburse people who have invested in these schemes is somewhat perplexing. Anyway, the Government has now said, somewhat late it would seem, that they have taken on the firm Kroll to trace all the Rawat fortunes all over the world. Apparently, a recording exists of a meeting in Paris between Dawood Rawat and Sattar Abdulla and Mr. Taher, who ran the BAI enterprises. The latter two made, it is said, some proposal to Mr. Rawat. It seems a bit far-fetched, but who knows?

 Meanwhile, the Government has set up another enquiry, with former Judge Domah and the same Mr. Sattur Abdulla. They are in charge of finding out what happened to the Kenya assets of Rawat that were sold. When he was Minister, Roshi Badhain had said they would fetch Rs 4.5 billion via a South African company, but when it came to selling the shares, the Kenyan Government apparently did not agree with a South African company, so eventually they were sold to a Kenyan company for Rs 2.5 billion. People recall the Mentor Minister, Sir Aneerood Jugnauth, threatening, when he got him, to “kulut”, Badhain.

 Political Front

On the more political front, there is the expectancy of the budget creating a kind of vacuum that is accentuated by the National Assembly having been suddenly shut down 3 weeks ago. So, while fights have continued through Press Conferences and so on, the mainstream political parties have not been in view fighting in parliament itself.

 In the Labour Party there is the on-going instability of the Leader not having been elected to Parliament, and the senior-most in Parliament, Shakeel Mohamed wanting to be recognized as Leader of Labour – in Parliament at least. But, Navin Ramgoolam, not one for magnanimity, will not agree to this. Arvin Boolell, another potential leader, is writing in the papers – anything to get a bit of visibility. While Anil Baichoo has made something of a comeback, commenting on education.

 In the MMM, there is some confusion about constituencies for the next General Elections, which the MMM always claims (for the past 30 years) are due in the next few weeks. Madun Dulloo, not very visible, has come back to No. 6, while Vinay Sobrun has been moved from there to No. 12. Meanwhile, Jeeha has also been moved.

 As for Badhain camp, he is threatening to resign from the National Assembly to provoke a by-election in Belle-Rose-Quatre-Bornes. He wants to force the by-election agenda to be the issue of the Metro Express going through Q. Bornes or not. He does not agree. And, of course, there is massive funding from different sections of the bourgeoisie – car importers, tyre importers, tar importers, bus companies – to finance any campaign, spot-on or misguided, against the Metro Express.

 The education sector is also unstable, the Minister having provoked two mini-crises. The first is that exam fees for SC and HSC, for the past two years, are subsidized by Government only if students are present 90% of school days. Though Government ended up paying the fees, they are only giving certificates on payment. The sum is very high for a majority of working class families to be able to afford. The second mini-crisis is about changing the rules back to having to have 5 credits at SC, in order to sit for HSC exams, instead of 3. This means less students will be in HSC classes, and it also means result seem better. It also means the new polytechnics will get students.

 On the Health Ministry side, there are also problems. While H1N1 flu comes around every year, this time there has been a psychosis built up. But it is true that there have been deaths, and some have been fairly young people. At the same time as the panic about flu, the Government has announced taking on 300 new doctors. To do this all in one go seems ambitious. Thirdly, there are problems around the Medical Council. Amongst the doctors on it who are not elected by other doctors, but appointed by the Minister of Health, Minister Husnoo has removed the 5 or 6 nominated by ex-Minister Gayan. This may or may not be a continuation of the past conflict between the two Ministers, but it is unstable. Add to this the fact that some doctors who have trained and become specialists in Europe and the States, like a neuro-surgeon, are expected to re-sit basic medical exams, and do 18 month pre-registration work, before their qualifications are recognized here. 

 Amicale Case lost at Privy Council

The Privy Council has finally not quashed the guilty verdict on the Amicale case. So, the men found guilty will have to serve what is left of their sentences (after remission). It also means that Judge Lam Shang Leen, now heading the Commission of Enquiry into Drugs, has not been pulled up on his summing up, which the appellants deemed harmful to the accused in the original case. In LALIT, from the very time of the case, we were convinced, and still are, that the people responsible were not those put on trial and found guilty. We believe the men should be released from Jail.

 Drugs Commission

The Commission of Enquiry into Drugs is acting more and more like some kind of an Inquisition. The Commission calls in people – prison guards, police officers, now about to start with advocates and is already in possession of all sorts of information on them, from telephone calls to bank accounts of their family members. Even journalist Sedley Assonne was called in about a mobile phone sim-card he bought years ago having been used to contact an inmate of a prison. He had to come and say how he had bought a mobile phone for a girl he knew – not uncommon behavior – but there is no assumption that he is innocent. Which is why we use the harsh term “inquisition”. Now, a barrister, Jenny Mooteealoo accompanying her client to the Commission, when called upon to introduce herself to the Judge, he says, “I have you on my radar!”  LALIT thinks it an outrageous way to treat her. She is quite right to go to the Bar Council.  

 Meanwhile, as if putting the cart before the horse, Government is deciding on a new drugs strategy – before the Commission even finishes its hearings. As if its strategy and the Commission are in no way related!

 International Front

There are very important developments. The USA a few days ago withdrew from the Paris accord on the environment, in particular on carbon emissions reductions. This, in turn, is causing a justified wave of criticism of Donald Trump. His spokesmen are unable to say whether or not he still believes that climate change is a “hoax” as he said again and again in his campaign. Meanwhile, Europe and China are taking up the environment issue, leaving Trump sidelined, as the USA declines in terms of its economic muscle.

 At the same time, a series of enquiries continue against the Russia connection of the Trump Campaign. This week (on Thursday, like the Mauritian Budget and the UK general elections) James Comey former FBI director sacked by Trump is due to testify before the Senate Committee on Russian interference in the US Presidential Elections. It is not known yet whether Trump intends to plead “executive privilege” in the case. There are also the Mueller enquiry and the Enquiry at the House of Representatives. A sign of how serious things have got, the Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced lst week that from now onwards any questions on this must be addressed to the private lawyer that Trump has taken. Does it means the Department of Justice is not defending Trump anymore? Nor even the Legal Counsel of the White House? Anyway, don’t ask Sean Spicer! There is increasing talk in Washington of impeachment.

 Trump visited Saudi Arabia and gathered around him those very dictatorship leaders, who have actually fostered terrorism (financed and armed ISIS) in a cabal against Iran, an Iran, which – of all ironies – was holding a presidential election on the same day, an Iran which does not finance these groups.

 So, the world is becoming more and more unstable and irrational. Is the Trump administration increasingly acting according to the agenda of Israel? Or is it a rudderless ship?

 In Britain, Theresa May, who was wanting to increase her majority in Parliament may be set to do the exact opposite. Predictions that the Conservatives would win massively with over 20% lead in the polls, have evaporated, and the election may even be close. If Labour and the Scottish National Party continue to strengthen, it means Theresa May may just get a hung parliament.

 The two recent terror attacks, first in Manchester and then in London, have not had the usual effect – as seen in France, Belgium and the US – where they fan the anti-immigrant rhetoric. The effect seems to be the opposite, especially after the Manchester bombing. It is as though the working class suddenly got the strength to come forward and make its voice heard, calling for unity, and constructive thinking about the problem of terrorism. The Mayor of London, Sidiq Khan has also responded in a measured way, and has pushed aside Donald Trump’s childish tweet provocation.

 What continues to be truly shocking is the western media’s inability to see that the Kabul terror attack, carried out by the same forces, also killed people of equal “value” to those in the UK. The attack took place between the Manchester and London attacks, killing more than the two in UK put together, but getting peremptory coverage in comparison. When people are killed in Turkey, it is the same low key coverage, compared with events that take place in France, Germany or the USA.