This article is being written as the Cabinet is meeting to decide whether the President should be removed, and if so how, and on the basis of what particulars? LALIT believes she should have resigned a year ago when she was first exposed as being part of Alvaro Sobrinho’s benevolent work, the Planet Earth Foundation, and at the same time helping him in his “demarches” to find ways to “place” his fortunes in Mauritius’ financial sector. (See our web article from 3 March 2017 pasted below.) A President cannot remain in Office when caught by someone as powerful and shady as Alvaro Sobrinho in a scissors-action between the blades of his philanthropy and his money laundering operations.
Violation of Constitution? Serious act of misconduct?
Other than Parliament amending the Constitution so as to remove her, the ordinary way to impeach a President is by what the Constitution provides: a Tribunal consisting of judges set up by a 2/3 vote of Parliament. The Tribunal then reports back to Parliament if there is evidence of her “violation of the Constitution” or of a “serious act of misconduct”. Then, Parliament votes to remove her on a simple majority.
What acts of breach of the Constitution or of misconduct will the Cabinet choose as the particulars for such a Tribunal, assuming they intend to set one up? It seems they are spoilt for choice.
Under the heading “violation of the Constitution”, she could be accused of receiving any number of “emoluments” in the sense the Mauritius Revenue Authority uses the word, which would include air flights and expenses paid when the Constitution prohibits her from receiving such emoluments. And it would seem that she may even be able to be accused of having “exercise[d]” a “calling” by accepting to be Vice-President and Trustee of PEI – exercising a calling also being prohibited for a President – in a British-based NGO.
The Denial and Cover-Up
And, as is usual in such cases, and notorious in the Watergate case, it is her attempts to deny and cover-up that will probably be the cause of her downfall. She has now possibly infringed other sections, like Section 64, which says, (1) “In the exercise of his or her functions under this Constitution or any other law, the President shall act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet” except where the Constitution defines otherwise. She has not, in emitting her letter of refusal to resign, acted on the advice of the Cabinet, but against its advice. This obligation to act on the advice of Cabinet is reinforced by Section 121 of the Constitution, which appears to make the President the only person who can be obliged to act upon advice when called upon to do so by law.
In addition, she has clearly strained the Constitutional relationship between the Cabinet and the Presidency. She, as an institution, informed the Prime Minister, in a formal meeting that she requested with him, and held on 8th March of her intention to resign. Then in another meeting on 9th March a date was fixed for her resignation to take place, i.e. 15 March, that is to say after the end of the formal celebrations of 50th Independence anniversary, when all the guests would be safely out of view. Such resignation was in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet, expressed to her previously, in a formal meeting, on 6 March by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, and at which she had not agreed to resign. The Prime Minister, once she had undertaken to resign, duly announced her intention to resign as of 15 March.
She then brought out a communiqué to the contrary on 14 March. She announced that she “rejects any prospect of resignation”. This may have gone quite far towards violating the Constitution – for a Presidency that is supposed to act on the advice of the Cabinet. She has actually acted against their advice and then misled the Cabinet to the effect that she intends to act on their advice. And the question arises as to whose advice exactly is she acting on? History would seem to teach us that, in such cases, there are always strange Rasputin-like figures like Mr Sultangos, who has no formal role and is yet, it would seem, an adviser and self-appointed, media-confirmed, spokesperson of the President.
In passing, it is worth noting how little advice she has. Talk about a Presidency in “debandad”. The two versions, one English, one French are not the same. Both have official seals of the President. To give a couple of examples of significant differences: the French version, when talking about the Press publishing her bank statements for the Platinum card “without proof”, includes the following phrase not in the English version at all: “Son Excellence Mme Ameenah Gurib-Fakim n’est pas invitée a s’exprime ou a donner son point de vue sur l’affaire par ce quotidien.” Is it true? L’Express has published details of their attempts to get a statement from her. And then in the English communiqué, there is an entry absent from the French version: “March 13: The Planet Earth Institute issues an official statement denying any wrongdoing from Her Excellency Mrs. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim and confirming that she refunded all expenses made with the payment card made available to her”. By the way, the PEI obviously did not want to stick their neck out referring to her having “apparently inadvertently” (our italics) used the Platinum Card (www. http://planetearthinstitute.org.uk/). And for a cherry on top of the gato madriye, she spent US$ 26,000 in one language and US$ 27,000 in the other! Lordy! This money was spent inadvertently on a number of occasions in Mauritius and in Duty Free in Dubai – on jewels, clothing and the like.
But, leaving aside the two different versions of an official communiqué, which are probably no more than a symbol of the total disarray of the Presidency, all the other points above are important only from a somewhat legalistic point of view.
Political and moral standing of the President
The point is the President has, over the Alvaro Sobrinho affair, acted outrageously. It is as though she does not know what “the state” is, nor what the “President” is. She said she would not be a “vazafler”. Would that she had been.
Politically and morally, she has acted badly.
The Mauritian Presidency was given great dignity and rectitude by former President Cassam Uteem. All Ms Gurib-Fakim had to do was to take his advice, follow in his footsteps, until she learnt the ropes. But her political ignorance and heightened ambition have led to her downfall as a figure for respect.
It is worth noting that Cassam Uteem has publicly said, in reply to a journalist’s question, that he never accepted for anyone but the State to pay for his visits anywhere, for example.
And in defending herself after the initial blow up a year ago on the PEI dossier, she changes her story as she goes along. She says in her communiqué that she was issued with a Platinum Card by the Planet Earth Institute, Mr Sobrinho’s benevolent outfit. She says she did use it. But she had previously, when this appeared in the press, given an ultimatum of 24 hours for L’Express to “prove its authenticity”. She implied it was forgery of some kind. Nothing came of her ultimatum. Now she says she did get the Card. And she is suing Barclays for 500 millions rupees, the press reports, because they gave away her banking secrets. She now says not only did she have the card, but she also used it, too, as the statements show. But, she “rigorously and immediately reimbursed by bank transfer these specific expenses, but also [sic] all other expenses incurred by the PEI for her mission”. So, she paid back the money spent on jewellery and so on, she now says. And fearing having received emoluments would be a problem, she paid back the non-private expenses, too! This is almost an admission of guilt. And she adds that, having another such card of her own, it was “inadvertently” that she used the PEI card. So, it was not misjudgement, which would be “serious misconduct” but a mistake, which would be pure scattiness. But, then again, she used the dratted card “inadvertently” again and again, advertently each time, and even in different countries, still “inadvertently”. She paid it back, it should be noted, when the scandal broke. So the clumsy phrasing of “rigorously and immediately reimbursed” is to cover this, we assume. One is reminded of the Marlène Jobert comedy where she acts a silly, young blonde caught red-handed by police with the loot in a bag on her lap and so she just chucks the bag out the window of the moving car!
Politically speaking, getting to the nitty-gritty, the Lalyans Lepep Government in power is one short of a 2/3 majority. The Muvman Liberater Leader Ivan Collendavelloo, who is constitutional Vice Prime Minister, has in the final instance stood squarely with Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, although Ms Gurib-Fakim was chosen by his party.
It is likely that the divided Parliamentary Opposition will seek to grab at all sorts of petty gains, so completely weak are they. They will flay their hands about in the air, then grab at political points that might fall. Much of the Press will follow the pantomiming, no doubt.
The PMSD Leader of the Opposition team has already started by saying that, while it will vote for the Tribunal, which needs a 2/3 majority, it may not vote for the suspension from office of the President in the meantime. The Constitution seems to imply that this does not need a 2/3 majority anyway. After the PMSD not getting its deposit money back in the by-election in December, after re-integrating Mamade Khodabaccus after his outrageous sexually violent verbal attacks on the Speaker, the party is still struggling to know what to do in order to get a partner for the next general elections.
The Labour Party is in the weird position of having one of its eminence grise, Yousouf Mohamed, heading the President’s legal defence team. It, like the PMSD, called vociferously for the President to step down, and is now looking for what it can pick from what the parties in Government are obliged to let fall from their table in their conflict with the Presidency. Because she was the Government’s President, of course. Labour’s blatant opportunism will be more visible than ever.
The MMM seems to be acting on principle, to support the vote for a Tribunal and concomitant suspension of the President, but “principle” does, for now, coincide with their interests in getting the MSM as a future electoral ally.
Alan Ganoo can be expected to sit on the fence as often as is useful to him.
President must go
It is time for the President to go. She should step down. If not, she must be removed. It is not feasible for a Prime Minister to be in a position where he cannot just dissolve Parliament and call general elections where the power goes back to the people, inasmuch as it ever does under the limited democracy of the bourgeois state. It is too risky to do that with someone like her as President.
Government must be held to account, too
As LALIT has maintained since 3 March 2017, there are also elected people who must be held to account in the Alvaro Sobrinho affair (read below), too. But the President cannot blame them for her actions. And when some of the Opposition Parties try to make this conditional on their support for removing the President, it is pure opportunism.
Imperialist Interests in Destabilizing Mauritian State?
People like the Prime Ministers and the Presidents of the Mauritian Republic need to act with integrity all the time. But this is particularly important, and clearly useful as well, when taking on the British (and the US) State, as the Mauritian State is doing before the ICJ this very year. The President may have been pulled into these shenanigans in the first place. Who is to know? And there is the timing of the Barclays Bank documents being leaked to the press; it may not be pure chance. Just as the timing of Ramgoolam’s photograph with his Rolls Royce in London landing at a newspaper, when he is in the middle of taking the British State to the UNCLOS tribunal over Chagos, or when a video of him dancing with his mistress appears in another newspaper. The British State has centuries of practice in destabilizing its opponents. This is a message of caution that elected and appointed officers of the State have the high moral ground to maintain for reasons of principle, and also for eminently practical political reasons.
Below is LALIT’s article from a year ago on the subject of the President and the PEI. It is clear from the content that the President should already have resigned, one year before the Platinum Card business came to the notice of the public. The Platinum Card is just the proverbial “last straw”. Here is our article:
The Alvaro Sobrinho affair: President and P.M. entrapped
The Angolan billionaire banker, Alvaro Sobrinho, who fell from grace after billions of dollars in loans could not be justified at the Banco Espirito Santo of Angola that he had headed, and who had seemed to clear his name in 2015 when charges against him were finally dropped, seems now to have caught an ambitious Mauritian President and an opportunist Finance Minister now also Prime Minister, in his plans to make a come-back into finance capital. His come-back was through the double-barrelled strategy of “philanthropy” plus “investment banking” in Mauritius. As all this becomes public, it is, rightly, causing a political storm in Mauritius.
In fact, the political consequences for Mauritius might be long-lasting.
Prosecutor who dropped charges, himself charged
All the scandal surrounding Alvaro Sobrinho is coming to the surface right now with the change in Portugal to a left-wing Government at the end of 2015. Corruption at high levels between Angola, the ex-colony of Portugal, that has been ruined by corruption around its oil and diamonds, and the metropolis at Lisbon, through which a great deal of the corruption is funnelled, is all gradually being exposed. In particular, the Vice President of Angola, and former CEO of an oil company, Manuel Vicente, is being charged with bribing the Prosecutor to drop charges in cases in Portugal including the one that involves Alvaro Sobrinho and the Bank of the Holy Spirit he was in charge of.
Microsoft puts Billions in Mauritian President’s Hands
The first thing that ordinary people in Mauritius knew about the man Alvaro Sobrinho and, at the same time, about his link with the Mauritian President Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was the publication in all the Press of a paid ad on 26 November, 2016 with a photo of each of them as its centre-piece. The ad came in response, it seemed, to a series of criticisms of the President for going abroad on trips too often. The President had first replied that people should look instead at how much money she brought the country. And then the curious ad, showing just how much, popped up.
Linux plan abandoned
At the time in LALIT, when the Government had veered from leaning towards Linux systems [that is, free open source softwear] to end up with Microsoft for all Primary Schools, we were stupefied to see that someone in the honorific role of President of the Republic should be accepting to ladle out oodles of dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whose money comes from the private company, Microsoft.
The paid add read as follows, under the pictures of Sobrinho and Gurib-Fakim, and under the written heading Planet Earth Scientific Independence for Africa and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We will quote the entire text: “PLANET EARTH INSTITUTE WINS THE BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION GRANT TO SUPPORT PRESIDENT AMEENAH GURIB-FAKIM TO CHAMPION THE CAUSE FOR AFRICAN SCIENCE. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world and announced this year a commitment to spend $5 billion USD on the African continent in the next five years, with a focus on scientific research. The new grant will specifically support the participation of the Planet Earth Institute in major international events alongside global leaders for the next three years. President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim will spearhead this initiative.
“The Partnership will allow the Planet Earth Institute (PEI) to increase efforts to bring new scientific and technological investments to Mauritius and to Africa, in areas such as healthcare, agriculture and renewable energy. PEI will support investments in these fields through the construction of a dedicated building and support business incubators in Ebene. This project has recently been approved by the authorities concerned in Mauritius.” At the bottom is a slogan “We’re building a movement for science in Africa. JOIN US.”
But, now there are many more questions than the issue, important as it is, of conflict-of-interest in a President of Mauritius being in charge of Microsoft’s billions.
A President in Trouble
Should she ever even fly around the globe, paid for by anything other than State funds, or her own savings?
Why, instead of talking about science and knowledge, does she always have a discourse on science and business entrepreneurship?
There is the question of why the President did not know that Sobrinho had been inculpated in the Banking scandal in Angola and Portugal before going into an NGO partnership with him. Or, if she did know, was her judgment faulty?
And is it possible that Planet Earth Institute on its website has a huge reproduction of the Republic of Mauritius coat-of-arms? As though it is part of the State of Mauritius?
There is also the question of Sobrinho’s double-barrelled attack – getting the President of the Republic on board in apparent philanthropy, and simultaneously getting his own private business companies registered, in the financial services sector here.
A Prime Minister in Trouble, too
And it is here that we come to the question being posed concerning the new Prime Minister, Pravind Jugnauth. When he was Finance Minister and not yet also Prime Minister, he brought in new legislation which everyone found curious. It was to permit the licensing of “investment banks” through the Financial Services Commission, thus circumventing the Bank of Mauritius. In fact, the Bank of Mauritius seems to have refused Alvaro Sobrinho a banking license. So, in August 2016 there is a new legal framework permitting an investment bank to get around this veto. And his company registers soon afterwards with the FSC. Now, the Bank of Mauritius has given a statement to the Police that an entity not registered with it as a Bank is due to operate as a Bank. The total incoherence of this Government is symbolized in this strange state of Affairs. In fact, three or four of Sobrinho’s companies, get registered. At the time, it was the former Good Governance Minister, Roshi Bhadain, who was in charge of the FSC. Why did the FSC give the license? Who was responsible for the pressure to change the law?
The Way Finance Capitalists Operate
How do all these business interests impinge on the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister? The Press is somewhat obsessed with who drives the seven Jaguars and Land Rovers that Alvaro Sobrinho imports. And this is perhaps relevant as an indicator of the way in which Alvaro Sobrinho operates. Where he needs influence, he operates on three levels: He uses philanthropy and NGOs to dangle money before the eyes of some people, offers of FDI to dangle before the eyes of “the country” (for “the country” read “the bourgeoisie”) and hopefully all in it, and sheer riches to dangle in the eyes of yet others, in particular those who make laws and take decisions.