The fact that the Government has, 40 days into lockdown, still not given WAPs to Members of the National Assembly is a clear indicator of the precipitous fall of the power of the elected “Parliament” relative to the tout-puissant executive, headed by the Prime Minister. It is dangerous.
Ministers and PPS’s get to get out during confinement. MPs, no. But we voted for MPs, not Ministers. MPs are the ones who represent Parliamentary democracy. The MPs must be the ones with power, not the executive. They must have the right to circulate. When people in the South-East are suffering floods, after the Wakashio, their houses full of mud and the sea they live off full of mud, it is MPs they usually turn to. And this is how it should be.
In the face of this drift from the little democracy Mauritius ever had, it is not good enough to have a program that calls for some law that could ban “dynasties” or “limit mandates” – as all the new “citizens’ parties” do, vacillating as they do from catastrophism to minimalism.
We need to overhaul democracy. We need laws that give the elected Parliament proper power over the nominated executive. This involves thinking things through. The National Assembly needs more members who together need to have control over decisions made by the executive. How? By MPs having to vote for the Prime Minister. It is the power to elect that is important. Once MPs have elected a new Prime Minister (after electing a new Speaker after General Election results) then, he appoints his Cabinet and MPs ratify it. MPs need the constant right to recall Ministers, including the Prime Minister by a simple majority. Parliament, being the elected body, needs power over policy and appointments, e.g. through permanent Parliamentary Committees that oversee these decisions. The Cabinet can be smaller – say 12 from amongst the elected MPs. At the same time, we, as electors, must get control over the MPs for our constituency e.g. by the formal right of recall – via an electoral petition signed by half the electors of the constituency. This would, at least, expand Parliamentary democracy – even within the hideous class inequality under capitalism.
As it is, the movement is in the opposite direction, accelerated by the health emergency. Gradually the autocracy of the executive, in particular the power of the Prime Minister, has increased. We gave proof of this in a 2018 article on our website that you can read (Go to www.lalitmauritius.org and, in the site’s search engine, type the words “government web site”.) We showed how insignificant the National Assembly is on the Republic of Mauritius website. The site has been redone since then, and the National Assembly remains as insignificant as ever. In a little square made of four coloured bars on the home page, there are the words “Government Directory.” Click on that. You get four headings to choose from. One is “Ministries”. I checked, it’s not there. The second is “Parastatal” (sic). I checked. It is not that. I was left with “Departments” and “Hotline”. I thought, it can’t very well be “hotline”, so it must be “Departments” or they have forgotten the National Assembly even exists – not counting an icon in “News” for when Parliament is sitting when you can watch live (although with the present Speaker, and the growing autocracy, it is not a pleasant thing to do).
Anyway, I clicked on “Departments” and found that, in alphabetical order, it is number 45. There it is “Mauritius National Assembly”. That gives an idea of its waning importance. It is, by alphabetical order, number 45. It is squashed between two things:
“Life Plus” and “Meteorogical Services.”
I was not sure what “Life Plus” was, so I looked it up. It is a government department aimed at reducing suicide. So, the National Assembly is in a niche between a hot-line and Meteo Services in times of climate change.
So, when ICTA threatens to censor social media platforms, it is worrying. ICTA has already been amended so “anyone” who feels “annoyance” can put in a complaint to the Police against any post on line. The police (part of the executive) get to decide which “anyone” is important enough to take their “annoyance” seriously. Clearly Ministers are and big bosses are. So, in the sea of verbal abuse and cruelty that, inter alia, Facebook publishes, one woman, Aruna Gungoosingh, is singled out for locking up pre-trial for four days. It is truly outrageous.
The Government would do better to join the world-wide movement to make social networks, themselves, accountable in terms of acting more like a “publisher” and not like a mere “postman”. Jugnauth could follow the New Zealand Prime Minister’s lead on this. Or more profoundly, we could make it our program to return to the days when it was illegal – as it was – to do anything for profit on the internet. That would bring more democracy. The social networks today make a profit by selling our personal data behind our backs, by making us work as their slaves without us even knowing it, and by appealing, dangerously, to our worst instincts as they herd us into little bubbles, separate from others, e.g. the extreme right’s and anti-vax bubbles. And they make us forget about those human beings, who cannot afford a device at all, who do not have the Wifi at all, who do not have a house at all, or who do not have the time after work and looking after children and the aged, to mess about with a device.
All this to say we need more democracy, not less. More equality not less. We need more freedom, not less.