Mauritius: Reversal of fortunes?December 8, 2014
With the big rallies over this Sunday, the country is now waiting to head wednesday DEC 10, with the Sir Aneerood Jugnauth (SAJ) camp having never been that confident of a reversal of fortunes in Mauritius!
The tiny Republic of Mauritius is living in historic times, with a 2nd Republic on its way that could consolidate outgoing Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam’s leadership, or the nation could see a reversal of fortunes that could catapult former PM Sir Aneerood Jugnauth (SAJ) to power.
In between, there is former Prime Minister Paul Raymond Berenger, who is apparently facing a backlash for concluding a gambit political alliance with Ramgoolam in the wake of the Dec 10th elections.Berenger, of European descent became the first non-Hindu PM in Mauritius in 2003, in a deal brokered with the party of SAJ, the Movement Socialist Militant (MSM) in the year 2000.
Now, Berenger is aiming at the PM’s seat once again, with a deal thrown at Navin – and one that he could not refuse – as it offers the prospects of becoming the most powerful President the country has ever had. And in all this confusion, it is the Mauritian voters who came out more divided on party allegiances, with a promise that these elections would be one of the most contested in the nation’s history.
The Movement Militant Mauricien (MMM) of Paul Berenger, which was tipped to win the next general elections if it contested alone against the Labour Party of Ramgoolam and the Movement Socialist Militant (MSM) of SAJ, is probably heading for a surprise in the December polls.
The basis of the MMM-Labour alliance – which resides on a proposed constitutional change that would shift the political powers into the hands of a powerful President – is facing an unexpected backlash, with the party paying the price.
Ramgoolam has seen his electoral base erode, with the Hindu majority flocking back to the MSM according to latest poll readings in Mauritius. The Labour party also saw a number of its prominent faces, including cabinet Ministers, dropped from the electoral roll of the alliance, while the MMM seems to have secured a better deal on nomination day.
The idea of the 2nd republic, which will strip the Parliament of its current powers, came from Berenger, who forced SAj from the country’s Presidency in 2012 only to conclude a deal with Ramgoolam. Feeling betrayed by Berenger, SAJ has rallied the Party Mauricien Social Democrat (PMSD) of Xavier Luc Duval and the Movement Liberateur (ML) of former MMM stalwart Steve Obeegadoo in an alliance of the people (Alliance Lepep), that is promising one thing: getting rid of Ramgoolam and his corrupt ways for good.
In the run up to the elections, SAj and his alliance has gained traction, focusing his campaign on perceived corrupt practices under Ramgoolam and the dangers that the 2nd republic represents to democracy in Mauritius. Recently, the Weekend newspaper unleashed a campaign against the Labour party and Navin Ramgoolam, exposing what it called a string of ‘nepotism’.
It took to task the nomination of former MSM MP who jumped to the Labour party, Pratibha Bholah, as Parliamentary Secretary and whose husband is the director of the National Development Unit. The latter, it is said, saw their two children posted in the ‘Events’ section of the PM office in Port Louis and at the national television agency, the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation.
Ramgoolam is also accused of assuring a slim majority in the Parliament last year, with the nomination of yet another turncoat Jim Seetaram who would have seen two of his family projects getting executed at lightning speed. These were the projects known as Sarako and a cable car project at Sept-Cascades, Henrietta in which the State Investment Corporation might have been a major investor. Sarako PVP Co Ltd is about the production of electricity from photovoltaic panels, which received 80 acres of state land from the government and is bound to start production soon.
There is a long list of cronies who benefited openly from the Labour party’s rule since 2005. They include Heman Bangaleea, a driver of the Mauritius Telecoms arrested in Europe with RM300 million in his possession, and accused of fraud worth Singapore dollar 3.8 million. Singapore and European Interpol took an interest in the affair, but this has since then remained an unresolved issue.
A Labour activist and diehard, Jayraj Woochit are making the headlines in the local papers and blogs, installing a boathouse in the vicinity of the coast guard center at Trou-aux-Biches. Now, he has imposed his total control and an access fee to the l’îlot Gabriel, which was since his occupation of the Islet a public area. This has caused outrage among the public and it is such circumstantial cases that is playing out against the Labour in particular, but also against the MMM for tolerating what the general public sees as abuses.
On June 7th last year, Ramgoolam had a working session with at the Clarisse House – the PM’s official residence – with Mark Thompson, chief investigator at the Proceeds of Crime Division of Serious Fraud Office in Great Britain. The aim was to lure the public to believe the government was serious in putting an end to a series of ponzi scams, and other fraudulent practices that had hit the Island under Ramgoolam’s rule.
However, the biggest play makers in the corridors of power under Ramgoolam were the large corporations on the Island, which included companies linked to the vice-PM Rashid Beebeejaun’s political camp. The brother-in-law of Beebeejaun is Dawood Rawat who leads the influential British American Investment Co. (Mtius) Ltd (BAI), a company said to be close to the PM’s office.
The BAI is an investment holding company with more than US$1 billion of assets in the Mauritian economy, making it the second largest investment group on the Island.
It saw a fabulous rise since 2007 when it obtained a license to operate a bank in Mauritius, It also runs state-of-art, 200-bed Apollo Bramwell Hospital. The hospital is a joint venture with the Apollo Hospitals Group, which is the largest healthcare group in Asia.
BAI claims it has US$500 million in turnover.
With such a load, any financial group would have its feet anchored in the corridors of power in a country like Mauritius, certainly under Navin Ramgoolam and Beebeejaun claims Labour critics.
The opposition is not as clean, as they claim to be, with names like Xavier Duval of the prominent Gaetan Duval dynasty and Pravind Jugnauth, the son of Aneerood Jugnauth is as tainted as many other political figures in the country.
Xavier, who was until recently the number 3 most powerful man in the Labour-PMSD government, is accused of giving a high post at the State Property Development Company to his adopted brother Richard Duval, and the presidency of the Tourism Welfare Fund to Gaetan Duval’s surviving sister Ghislaine Henry. Gaetan Duval was a controversial political leader in Mauritius, having opposed independence in 1967 but enjoyed a princely life in the country afterwards as one of the most sought deputy PM ever. Both Richard and Ghislaine are have left their posts since then.
A new face in the opposition to the Labour party is Vasant Kumar Bunwaree, former Minister of Education in office since 2008 but had a fallout with his party and his leader Ramgoolam over the 2nd Republic and the Labour alliance with Berenger’s MMM. The former Minister, who’s daughter Rhena Bunwaree was the press attachée to Rajest Jeetah, and his son who is at the Enterprise Mauritius, has openly invited Ramgoolam to divulge any information on his purported corruption.
The PM has secretly, it is said, gathered documents and evidence against the Labour members and ministers who did not get a ticket for the upcoming elections. Bunwaree, adamant that the PM will not be able to explain his ‘purge’ from the party list said the MMM has duped the Labour into an alliance that will destroy the oldest political formation in the country.
Bunwaree is questioning the absolute powers a newly elected President will have, under the French styled 2nd Republic proposal by the Labour-MMM alliance. Under the project, the President can be elected by the national suffrage for as many times as he wants, and will hold office for a 7 year tenure each time he or she is elected. The president will have absolute immunity, will have the right to preside over the cabinet of ministers whom he will nominate, will have powers to dissolve the legislative assembly and will nominate candidates in para-statal and other government bodies. Ramgoolam is tipped to take on the role of the President, with Berenger holds the post of Prime Minister in the event of a massive Labour-MMM victory this December.
The MSM is campaigning on the dangers of such a division of power would represent to Mauritius, calling it a ship with two captains, since the powers will be shared in a new political system that would demand three quarter majority for the Ramgoolam-Berenger tandem in the current Parliament. The MSM campaign is biting in the public, particularly among the less fortunate people but also among the Vaish Hndu majority in Mauritius, who believe their political domination in a country where they represent a mere 50% of the population would be further eroded under the 2nd Republic.
But then there is the MedPoint affair, in which the son of SAJ is facing a lawsuit, which started right after he and his party the MSM was forced out of the coalition government with the Labour party in 2011. The MedPoint is a clinic owned by a group close to the Jugnauth family, and it was purchased at lightning speed by the government during Pravind’s tenure as deputy Prime Minister in 2010 for RM144 million, which is a steep price for a private clinic. The bid went through the Bid Evaluation Committee and the Central Procurement Board of Mauritius, but was later contested by the Prime Minister Ramgoolam who threw the Jugnauth’s out of his regime.