Friday, 30 September 2011

People In Glass Houses...

My island of Mauritius was back in the news last week.  The MedPoint scandal took an unprecedented twist as Pravind Jugnauth, leader of the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) and son of the President Aneerood, was arrested and subsequently charged under the Prevention of Corruption Act (POCA).  This followed the award of a £3.8m contract to MedPoint Limited while Finance Minister, a company his relative had a 29.59% interest in.
Mauritius has a chequered history of corruption, a number of which during the late 1990’s brought down the first tenure of current Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam.  The rainbow island has endured a cruel stigma as being a rogue state where people in authority are influenced by bribes and unsolicited gifts, part of which sadly is warranted, the rest of which possibly a lazy and ignorant stereotype of African countries in general which is totally unwarranted.
Jugnauth is not going down without a fight, and there are a number of fascinating sub-plots playing out with an increasing probability that an early election will be called.  This in turn introduces the intriguing prospect of Paul Berenger returning as Prime Minister.
What has been interesting to note as ever has been the attitudes of British based ex-pats, what you might describe as a condescending glance of disgust.  A resignation  that this is typical of Mauritius, that things will never change and they will always be that way.  A sad and incredibly damaging indictment it must be said.
Former colonial republics like Mauritius look to nations like Britain to set an example, and despite replacing the Queen as head of state nineteen years ago still have the Privy Council as the highest point of appeal within the Mauritian legal system.  Like several Commonwealth nations, it’s almost a reinforcement of the idea that even after independence, there is still a nod to the former colonial powerhouse as the figure of guidance when administering their own affairs.
It’s perhaps this status as a position of guidance that provides ex-pats with a confidence in Britain, an unquestionable faith that it can teach Mauritius a few lessons in responsible governance.  But we all know what happens to people in glass houses.
For all the criticisms of Mauritius, there must at the very least be an acknowledgement that it is a country which is attempting to address the problem of corruption.  It’s open to conjecture as to how much more it could be doing of course, and critics will rightly argue that there is a long way to go. 
That being said I’m deeply troubled when British based ex-pats feel assured enough to take the moral high ground over Mauritius, I feel it is essentially a flawed position.  Britain is far from perfect, from “Cash for Questions” to “Cash for Honours”, and lest we forget the military scandals involving the sales of weapons to Iraq and Sierra Leone.  The biggest police force in the UK is currently working hard to bury a corruption scandal that saw the two most senior officers resign earlier this year.  Central to the controversy was the figure of Andy Coulson, who having left the newspaper at the centre of the allegations, went on to become the Director of Communications for British Prime Minister David Cameron. 
As things stand nobody has ever been charged with any offence in Britain related to any of these scandals.  A few low level MP’s were successfully prosecuted following the expenses scandal, but all of the scandals involving senior figures have all followed the same tired pattern.  A scandal arises; people are hauled in for questioning which is later followed by more questioning.  The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will consider the case before reporting back several months later when the furore has evaporated and subsequently announce that there is a lack of evidence to proceed with any charges.
The next time somebody from Britain would like to lecture about the never ending web of corruption in Mauritius, try asking them this: whatever happened to “Lord Cashpoint”?