HORSE RACING – COMMISSION OF INQUIRY – SETTING UP

Navin Ramgoolam, Nita Deerpalsing et Rajesh Bhagwan

(No. IB/2) Ms K. R. Deerpalsing (Third Member for Belle Rose & Quatre Bornes) asked the Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, Home Affairs and External Communications, Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Minister for Rodrigues whether, in regard to gambling, he will state if consideration will be given for the setting up of a committee to look into the concerns thereof, in particular, with regard to the recent allegations concerning horse racing.
The Prime Minister: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, with your permission, I will reply to PQs
No. IB/2 and IB/7 together as they relate to the same matter.
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, Government views with great concern the wide-ranging allegations about the organisation and management of horse-racing in Mauritius. Government is equally concerned about criticism levelled at agencies dealing with horse-racing and betting activities related thereto.
It is very obvious that public confidence in the integrity of the horse-racing industry has been severely dented. This state of affairs warrants what the French would say: “Un veritable remède de cheval”.
It is only thus that confidence could be restored in an industry that still attracts thousands of Mauritians at each meeting.
I have, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, after careful consideration, after having talked to some people who know, who have made suggestions to me, have given opinion of what is happening, after careful consideration, I have decided to set up a Commission of Inquiry to look into all aspects of horse-racing in Mauritius. The Commission will also consider the advisability of setting up a Turf Authority for overseeing the organisation of races in Mauritius.
I would also like to add that the Commission of Inquiry will be assisted in its work by forensic auditors and other experts from overseas.
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I have also noticed of late that a clearly crafted campaign of disinformation has been orchestrated with a view to giving a political twist to any incident taking place in Mauritius, in particular, at the Mauritius Turf Club.
It seems that certain people at the Mauritius Turf Club itself with the complicity of some in the media, I must say, have become experts at name-dropping. They would drop names of important personalities to justify their despicable acts, including my name. I have asked the Commissioner of Police to act in a most rigorous manner against such characters, and also to act promptly in all cases referred by the Mauritius Turf Club.
Meanwhile, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, Government has decided as follows -
(i) henceforth, no foreign jockeys will be permitted to ride in Mauritius for normal
race meetings, unless such a jockey comes from a country with which Mauritius has an extradition agreement;
(ii) the Gambling Regulatory Authority will be requested to ensure that no jockey whose services have been terminated with one stable be permitted to reside in Mauritius and ride for another stable during the same annual racing season. In other words, the musical chair of jockeys from one stable to another within the same racing season will not be allowed anymore;
(iii) the Mauritius Turf Club should immediately inform the relevant authorities, including the Gambling Regulatory Authority and the Mauritius Revenue Authority, of whatever sanctions it has decided against any jockey;
(iv) under no circumstances will a stable be allowed to field more than two horses in a particular race;
(v) no single horse race should have less than six horses participating therein, and
(vi) the departure of any jockey from Mauritius will require now the prior clearance of the Mauritius Revenue Authority and the Police.
Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to reassure the House and the Nation at large that I will take all the necessary measures to ensure that the Mauritius Turf Club does not turn out to be a den of sin and impropriety.
Mr Bérenger: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, we go all the way for a Commission of Inquiry to be set up. But can I ask the hon. Prime Minister whether he has already given thought to who is going to chair that? That is the key question. Who is going to chair that Commission of Inquiry? I hope it is not some former this and that that will do a cover-up job. The choice is vital, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir. But, at the same time that I approve of fully a full-fledged Commission of Inquiry, will the hon. Prime Minister agree with me that, in the meantime, what is required is not just un remède de cheval, il y a beaucoup de rotins et de balais, not just at the Mauritius Turf Club, but at the Gaming Authority, which the hon. Prime Minister has referred to? The balai must reach there also, and the Police des Jeux. The Commissioner of Police has been asked to act. He should start by acting there. Will the hon. Prime Minister agree with me?
The Prime Minister: In fact, all three propositions is what we intend to do, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir. It will have to be, as the hon. Leader of the Opposition says, un balai to all those concerned, because there has been clearly…
(Interruptions)
I am not satisfied with the things that have been running, and this is why we want to do this; and also the Police des Jeux, I totally agree. In fact, we are relooking at this with the Commissioner of Police.
Ms Deerpalsing: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, the hon. Prime Minister has talked about “remède de cheval”, and the Leader of the Opposition has talked about balai. May I say that it is a case of cleaning up the Augean stables. I thank the hon. Prime Minister for this Commission of Inquiry, which I think is a great idea. Can the hon. Prime Minister say whether the terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry will be rather wide, so that they look into the demarcation lines which are really blurred between all kinds of institutions, including the Bar Council? There are lawyers who have prête-noms, they have their own horses, and then they are members of the MTC and they go and defend jockeys in Court cases. All these demarcation lines are so blurred. I would like to know whether the Commission of Inquiry will look at the role of the GRA, the MRA, the Police and so on.
The Prime Minister: In fact, the hon. Member is right. There is a conflict of interest; it is obvious in certain cases. That will have to stop. They will look at that. We have wideranging terms. And to answer the hon. Leader of the Opposition, I am also giving very careful thought on who will chair the Commission. It is essential that we get to the bottom of this, and it must not be somebody who has some kind of connections with anyone in the Turf Authority. Not easy to find, but I am sure we will find the right person.
Mr Bhagwan: I am sure that all “turfistes” will welcome this suggestion of the hon. Prime Minister; the decision to appoint a Commission of Inquiry, with somebody very firm at the top. But, pending the work of the Commission of Inquiry - we all know the mafia operating on a dayto-day, if I can say minute by minute, at the Champ de Mars - can the hon. Prime Minister, at least, request - and he is the Minister of Finance - the Mauritius Revenue Authority to conduct an immediate inquiry with regard to those who own horses, into their sources of revenue, and also the GRA with regard to the connection of the servers? There must be a main server connected to all the bookmakers. I think there are lots of problems happening, and Government is losing, I think, more than Rs800 m. yearly on this.
The Prime Minister: In fact, I have been told that this is probably the case. I must say that - I did not want to give details - the MRA will be requested, with the help of foreign auditors, and also about the server. It appears that there is not enough - I do not know whether they do not have enough knowledge to be able to look at this properly. I am also requesting a foreign Government to help us with this.
Mr Jugnauth: A few years ago, the hon. Prime Minister set up a High-Powered Committee to look at all the issues with regard to gambling. May I know if that Committee has come up with a report, and if that report can be tabled in the National Assembly?
The Prime Minister: The Committee has come up with a report. We have started action on the measures, and I have no difficulty in tabling the report on the Table of the National Assembly.
Ms Deerpalsing: The hon. Prime Minister has mentioned about what the MRA is going to do, and I agree with hon. Bhagwan. Could the MRA look into also – I do not know whether this would come probably under the Serious Fraud Office the Prime Minister has talked about – people who use prête-noms to have horses and to have interests in bookmaking business?
The Prime Minister: That is so, as hon. Bhagwan also said. The MRA should have had inquired how do people suddenly come to own horses. Yesterday, they were not extremely rich or whatever, and suddenly they have horses all over the place! Why the MRA has not investigated in this, I do not know, but this will be looked into in detail.
Mr Bhagwan: The Prime Minister has stated, rightly, that his name has been used; dropped by people. Can I ask the hon. Prime Minister whether he will give strict instructions to high-level officers working in Government - at the highest level, although we all know that people may like horse racing and so on - at least to make sure that their presence at the Champ de Mars does not hinder the proper running of the Police Force, of the other services of Government, just by their presence there and their connection with all the mafia at the Champ de Mars?
The Prime Minister: I totally agree with hon. Bhagwan, and I have already told the people concerned that they have no business. I know they have a private life, they can do whatever they want, but in those circumstances I do not think it is right, and they are not going to be allowed to do this any further. I think the hon. Member is totally right to say this.
Mr Jhugroo: Being given that there is one bookmaker, Mr Paul Fook Yune, who has been given a licence as owner of a stable, would the hon. Prime Minister agree with me that there is a conflict of interest and the source of many problems which are happening actually?
The Prime Minister: I totally agree with the hon. Member. I have talked to the Mauritius Turf Club about this also, and I requested them that action has to be taken.
Ms Deerpalsing: Can I ask the hon. Prime Minister whether, in the meantime of the Commission of Inquiry, Government will push on to the MTC to totally professionalise themselves, and not be a gentlemen’s club stuck in time, and take best practices and benchmarks from, for example, the Hong Kong Jockey Club? Could Government bring somebody here to just advise the MTC to professionalise themselves, instead of being stuck in time like a gentlemen’s club?
The Prime Minister: I am sure that is a good suggestion. As I said, I am in touch with foreign countries to help us, both the UK and France, and maybe I could push that too as a suggestion.
Mr Uteem: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, bookmakers are already under legal obligation, under the law, to ascertain the identity of people betting with them, even prête-noms, and also the source of funds. Obviously, this is not being done at this point in time. So, may I ask the hon. Prime Minister, now that he is the Minister responsible of the Financial Intelligence Unit, to press onto the FIU to carry out whatever investigation that needs to be carried out with the bookmakers to see whether they have records? Because they are required by law to keep records of all those who bet with them, and maybe the Commission of Inquiry can have that as a term of reference to see how we can combat money laundering for those who use horse betting to money launders.
The Prime Minister: My understanding is that this is not so easy to do because some people go and bet a few thousand rupees or whatever privately and it is not possible to control this bit, but for the big bets certainly. I would enlarge the terms of reference of the Commission of Enquiry to include this.
Mr Bhagwan: In the same line, the hon. Prime Minister has stated that he will enlarge the scope of the Commission of Enquiry. Can I ask the hon. Prime Minister if it would be possible, at least, to enlarge the scope of the Commission of Enquiry to see into the activities of these agencies like Bet On Line, Tote or all these On Lines...
(Interruptions)
…where there are people who are now exiled in UK...
(Interruptions)
SMS Pariaz Ltd. exiled in UK, where there are lots of illegal activities going on on a daily basis?
The Prime Minister: I must say I agree with the hon. Member that this is actually an unsupportable affair that we have to look into in detail. That is why I would enlarge the terms of reference. I will make sure that the terms of reference cover all this.
Ms Deerpalsing: The hon. Prime Minister mentioned the High-Powered Committee and the report. There was a question on all the bookmakers given the ravages that gambling everywhere in the nooks and corners of the country is causing. Would the hon. Prime Minister say whether the Report has mentioned that all bookmakers would be repatriated in Champ de Mars?
The Prime Minister: Yes, in fact, the report does make reference to this. It is one of the worries that we have discussed even among ourselves. They have suggested that, because there are contracts involved, it can only be done in a phased manner. They have already started with it, no new bookmakers are being given licences, but in a phased manner they are being told now that they will have to move.
Mr Bodha: In view of the gravity of the situation and the fact that we have illegal betting around the island, can I ask the hon. Prime Minister whether strict measures cannot be taken now to see to it that illegal betting in all the corners of Mauritius should stop? We have cases of hundreds of millions of rupees in this betting every Saturday. So, can I ask whether the hon. Prime Minister could consider strict measures to be taken to address this problem?
The Prime Minister: I must say, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, one of the reasons why a policy decision was taken is because there were lots of illegal betting being done before and one of the reasons Government decided on this policy was, in fact, to prevent illegal betting. But, I tend to agree - I believe - that illegal betting is still taking place and we will have to find ways and means of curtailing it.
Mr Lesjongard: Pending the Commission of Enquiry as stated by the hon. Prime Minister, can he request the GRA to look into a case of direct conflict of interest where the relatives of a Stable Manager are major shareholders of a betting company which to me is a direct conflict of interest?
The Prime Minister: All this is being looked into and will be in the Commission of Enquiry. I have already talked to some people in the know-how and we are looking into this very carefully, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir.
The Deputy Speaker: Last question, hon. Ms. Deerpalsing!
Ms Deerpalsing: Can I ask the hon. Prime Minister now that he has the Finance portfolio, various different Ministers of Finance have hesitated to tackle the GRA because...
(Interruptions)
It is true! And we are here because the GRA has completely failed in its responsibility to regulate. Can I ask the hon. Prime Minister whether, pending the Commission of Enquiry, there will be a complete overhaul of the GRA immediately?
The Prime Minister: I would not say that it has failed completely, but there have obviously been some loopholes that have to be closed. I am looking at all this in the meantime and this is why I have taken some of the immediate decisions that I have taken.