Yatin Varma

After three years of continuous and relentless work, the Commission of Inquiry on drug trafficking chaired by former Puisne Judge Paul Lam Shang Leen finally submitted its report to the Acting President of the Republic, and Government subsequently decided to make it public on 27 July 2018. The report had an unexpected boomerang effect, with Sanjeev Teeluckdharry and Roubina Jadoo-Jaunbocus, Deputy Speaker and Minister respectively from the ruling Mouvement Socialiste Militant(MSM), as casualties. Thereafter in a press statement, the Prime Minister stated that they had voluntarily submitted their resignations. One would wonder whether both had the same conscience call or were they simply forced down that road to avoid further collateral damage. The present Government has been lurching from crisis to crisis since it took office in December 2014. One is more and more convinced that the Prime Minister is making up as he goes along, a vacillating pole which zigzags depending on who is pushing him at any given time. On the day the report was made public, the Prime Minister held a press conference where he made few tangential observations and announced with great pomp the setting up of an inter ministerial committee under his chairmanship, to look into the recommendations of the report and to elaborate on the strategy as regards its implementation.

To the surprise of one and all, on 16 August 2018, the Prime Minister set up a task force, out of the blue, to be chaired by the Director General of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, having as members the Director General of the Mauritius Revenue Authority, the director of the Financial Intelligence Unit, the Commissioner of Police, the Deputy Solicitor General and the director of the Integrity Reporting Services Agency. First and foremost, the name ‘task force’ does not augur well.  Locally, the term ‘task force’ is used for an ad hoc committee set up for the organization of major religious festivals. Nevertheless, it was stated that the task force was to enquire on all the names mentioned in the report and render more efficient the inquiries that will be carried out. It was also mentioned that the inquiries would be carried out in all transparency without political interference. There remain many unanswered questions: What has happened to the inter ministerial committee?, What are the recommendations of that committee?, Did the committee recommend the setting up of a task force? , If so, when?, Has the inter ministerial committee, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, given way to a task force?, What is the rationale of setting up such a task force?

The report of the Commission of Inquiry already makes findings and requests the relevant authorities to inquire further. It will not, undoubtedly, be an herculean task to send the relevant parts of the report to the concerned authorities for further investigation. The chairperson of the commission of inquiry or any other retired judge could have been entrusted with the responsibility for implementing the recommendations of the report. The chairperson and members of the task force, each head an organization that could be requested to inquire further into the findings of the commission. Assuming the setting up of the task force is justified, it would have clearly been more appropriate to have an independent chairperson who could liaise with the relevant authorities as and when required. This would have been more appropriate given the fact that the present chairperson and most members of the task force are political nominees. All the more appalling, is the Commissioner of Police who has agreed to be subservient to a political nominee. He seems to forget that he holds a constitutional post by virtue of section 71 of the Constitution which states inter alia…the Commissioner shall not, in the exercise of his responsibilities and powers with respect to the use and operational control of the force, be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority.

The Government is clearly buying time and avoiding sending the report directly to the relevant authorities for further investigation. Had the report been sent directly to the police to take necessary actions in the light of the recommendations, this would inevitably have warranted calling people close to power like Raouf Gulbul and MSM parliamentarians Teeluckdharry and Jadoo-Jaunbocus for the purposes of questioning. It goes without saying that should the police follow the normal practice, these persons would face a real risk of being arrested and provisionally charged. Such an eventuality would be disastrous to the Government. The Government is also undoubtedly comforted with the setting up of the task force, using it as a veil so as not to answer parliamentary questions on the implementation of the report.

The report recommended the dismantling of the Anti Drug and Smuggling Unit(ADSU) but the Prime Minister lost no time in stating that this measure will not be implemented. Has the decision for non implementation of that specific recommendation been studied by the inter ministerial committee or has it been a personal decision of the Prime Minister? If the Prime Minister can himself decide what parts of the report will be implemented and what parts will not, what is the use of setting up an inter ministerial committee and a task force.

Prior to the publication of the report, Sanjeev Teeluckdharry and Roubina Jadoo-Jaunbocus were made to resign. That resonated with a lot of sound and fury but there was a calm after the storm. Teeluckdharry and Jadoo-Jaunbocus should be naïve not to understand that they have been used as scapegoats. The setting up of the task force is more of a political move and a face-saving device for the Government. To set up an inter ministerial committee followed by a task force shows that Government is dilly dallying to gain time so as to prevent a further political backlash prior to the 2019 general elections.