CHETAN RAMCHURN

The much hyped report on drug trafficking has been made public for over a week now. While the yes-men in parliament and the zealous advocates in the media have hyped it as a great achievement, no bold move has been made as of yet. Even more alarmingly, the wide coverage of the alleged misdeeds of some lawyers has shadowed key aspects of this enquiry: the necessity for a more humane State in the rehabilitation of prisoners as well as in protecting the ‘enfants de rue’ in vulnerable areas, the importance of proper recruitment in police and prison bodies, the laissez-aller attitude of a number of institutions and the need for greater inspection of port areas amongst others.

The easy way out

Talks of demonetisation have been thrown as if patented dealers will not find a way to circumvent it. Now that they have ample time to get rid of their dirty money, they are not likely to wait for the government to act. Introduced in 2016 in India, again borrowing a page from Modi’s book after the litter-picking expedition, its introduction, unless properly planned, will not leave a huge dent on the traffickers’ operations.

Raghuram Rajan, former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, explains;

« Demonetisation I think was not a well-planned, well thought-out useful exercise. And I told the government that when the idea was first mooted. It seemed to me that people would find their way around.[1] »

An excuse to do nothing?

The setting up of the Commission of Enquiry had previously allowed this Government to postpone any concrete action in prisons, the police and the port until its publication. And now that it has been published, will it retort when prompted for action that an inter-ministerial committee has been set up? It is known that prisons are havens for incarcerated drug barons that ‘now have their registered business office within the precincts of our prisons and business is as usual with the use of modern communication system’. Would it not make sense to follow the recommendations made by the Commission on crucial areas immediately? Do we actually have to wait for the committee to meet to ratify same?

Prisons with benefits

The commission brings to light that high incarceration levels adversely affect the rehabilitation of the prisoners. While ‘a semblance of treatment’ is being applied, meagre success should have prompted authorities to rethink their method. The lack of psychological support and follow up offered to drug abusers has been emphasised in the effort to prevent their relapsing into the aptly termed ‘drug spiral’. Still, nothing concrete has been announced and despite the festering state of prisons with mobile phones circulating freely and prison officers acting as intermediaries, the Premier has not shown any urgency to tackle matters so far.

So as to curb this dearth of follow up of convicts, the commission recommends the setting up of a system of « juge d’application des peines », « whose responsibility is to review the parole system, the granting of licenses, applying disciplinary sanction against the prisoners, monitoring the detainees in the various regimes to be set up by the administration to evaluate their attitude and progress and to encourage detainees to comply with the in-house regulations of the prisons and also to control visits in prisons amongst others ».

The level of moral decay of some prison officers was in full show when the ‘highly poisonous ‘Lannate’ (was) handed over by a convicted drug trafficker to the Commission to show how porous the prison is despite the alleged high security and searches undertaken’. Still, no firm action undertaken, no strong stance adopted, not even the acknowledgement that we are in state of advanced rot by Junior Jugnauth. Nothing, only that some members mentioned in the report have submitted their resignation.

Drug Enforcement Agencies

The report highlights that the unhealthy competition between drug enforcement agencies is working to the advantage of the drug barons.  The lack of information sharing between these different agencies and the fact that resources are not being pooled in the fight against drugs pose a serious issue in removing this drug bane from our country. Despite the criticisms levelled in the report against the ADSU, the Premier oddly lauded its work. The Commission stresses that ‘despite the fact that the ADSU was fully aware of the use of smartphone by the drug barons from the prisons to communicate with their accomplices in the country and abroad in order to pursue their deadly lucrative trade, not much had been done to really combat the new methods used by the traffickers’. Further in the report, the Commission ascertains that ‘because of sleazy officers within the prison precints’, ‘the lack of proper equipment, mainly electronic, through lack of fund’, solutions applied have not worked.

 The fact that ‘drugs can still get through the various entry points when the Drug Enforcement Agencies know the tricks used and are allegedly vigilant. The only conclusion reached by the Commission is that either the Drug Enforcement Agencies are incompetent, underequipped or they are corrupt. The Commission, from the evidence before it, believes that there is a combination of all three.’

Parents gone missing

The Commission underlines the fundamentals of a healthy society: ‘the government, the private sector and the civil society’. It further stresses that the proper route to a responsible population ‘is through education, poverty alleviation, family solidarity and a change in the mindset of population’. The Commission observes that many parents have relinquished their roles and that ‘teachers are also parents and they take over a responsibility when the parents entrust their children to them.’ Furthermore, the lack of respect for teachers on behalf of parents would weaken the authority of educators.

The Commission also advises that the State should be more present in poor areas so as to salvage the destinies of the ‘enfants de rue’, that bereft of financial means become easy prey for mob bosses. Used as sentinels informing drug barons of the presence of the police in the region, these children are swayed by the lure of easy money. The Report also draws attention to extracurricular activities and proposes that students be allowed to stay for such activities up to 18:00.

Port Area

The low percentage of containers scanned (only one of 20 for a mere 5%) was noted by the Commission which found the reason for such a low level of scanning not compelling (namely that ‘there were too many containers which were disembarked and destined for the local market’). The Commission, having assisted the scanning of a long haul container found that it did not take more than 5 minutes. The Commission expressed shock upon being informed that there had been no search of reconditioned cars left in a car park not far from the terminal. This is deemed ‘a potential loophole which must be attended to in view of the ingenuity of drug traffickers and their capability of corrupting people’.

A casual attitude

Having harped for months and years on the commission’s enquiry, the population expects prompt action to address the pressing issues such as the ones at the Tourism Authority or the fisheries authorities.  Some government intervention is required to ensure that some form of control on the licensees is exercised. Pertaining to the Tourism Authority, it was found that ‘no positive action was taken by the authority to review the conditions for the granting of permits until the deposition of the responsible officer when it suddenly dawned upon him that there is an urgent need to reconsider the granting of licenses, their subsequent monitoring and control besides the routine check of whether the skipper had complied with all the conditions laid down in the permit’.

 A number of recommendations that have been made by the Commission are deserving of our time and attention. The need for sniffer dogs at arrival halls of airports, involving the SMF in body searches and the transportation of prisoners to court, the installation of body scanners in prisons are but some of same. To learn through this document, that police dogs ‘were not trained to identify the ever increasing variety of synthetic drugs unlike the Customs’ sounds awkward. Proper control of pharmacies, 60% of which are owned by non-pharmacists was also recommended by the Commission.

 While the unsolicited visits of some have grabbed the headlines, there is so much to be written on other aspects of this system, one that thrives on authorities that do not know their exact roles, on the inaction of the government to tackle the many woes that allow the drug plague to thrive. The need for the State to regulate through transparent and efficient bodies is evident but seems to have been relinquished under several regimes.

 Unless acted upon, the colossal work of the Commission will be rendered impotent.