Blog: The Boomerang Effect of PNQs
Since the date of the Local Government elections has been announced the Opposition has been quite prolific with parliamentary questions. The Leader of the Opposition has made full use of his right to address Private Notice Questions (PNQs) on a number of subjects.
It is the legitimate right of the Leader of the Opposition to ask PNQs. To that end Rule 23 of the Standing Orders prescribes:
(1) The Leader of the Opposition, who never puts a question on the Order Paper for oral answer, is allowed to ask it by private notice.
(2) A question by private notice cannot anticipate a question for oral answer of which notice has been given and which appears on the Order Paper.
(3) Notices of private notice questions shall be given to the Clerk not later than 9 o’clock in the morning on any sitting day, subject to Standing Orders 10(11) and 24 (3).
(4) The time allotted to a private notice question shall be as prescribed in Standing Order 22 (2) (a).
Under Rule 22 (2) (a) not more than one subject shall be referred to in any one question and the Speaker shall have power to reject any question which he considers to be of excessive length.
The matters on which the PNQs of the Leader of the Opposition, Paul Berenger have hinged are related to the land scam investigation involving two Mauritian nationals who have allegedly swindled foreigners of millions of rupees; the illegal importation of Bois de Rose from Madagascar and the suspected arms deal.
In relation to the Bois de Rose scandal the Leader of the Opposition wanted to know if the inquiry carried out was now complete both at the level of the Police and ICAC; if the arrest of a Mauritian in Antananarivo was linked to the inquiry; if the World Bank had appointed a forensic team to investigate; if the Mauritian Embassy in Antananarivo was involved in any way in the visit of one Mr. J. V. of the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation in connection with the inquiry and if Mauritian Parliamentarians had visited Madagascar and Malagasy Parliamentarians had visited Mauritius in 2011 and since January 2012. A call made on 27 May 2011 by a former minister on his official phone was also traced and mentioned by the Prime Minister caught the Opposition unawares and stunned them in cold silence.
In his answer the Prime Minster gave a comprehensive account of the stages of the investigation and emphasised that no stone will be left unturned to bring the culprits to justice. The Prime Minister also explained the request made to the World Bank on the appointment of forensic experts and the answer obtained from that institution. Everything has been explained in a clear and transparent way. On the issue who visited Madagascar in 201 and 2012 the moment the name of Parliamentarian Li Kwong Wing who went to Madagascar on 19 February 2012 was mentioned there were interruptions. The impression was that the Opposition was getting jittery. Why should the Opposition have acted in that manner?
In regard to the Mauritian national who was arrested in Madagascar one Mr. L.R.L he was born in China on 4 December 1955 and was a resident of Hong Kong. He came to Mauritius on 5 December 1982. He first applied for a Certificate of Naturalisation on 18 July 1985. The application was turned down on 24 June 1986 given that he did not meet the residence criteria under the Mauritius Citizenship Act. At that time, the then Solicitor General had even advised that this was a fit case for deportation. Yet in spite of that advice on deportation he filed another application for Naturalisation on 18 June 1987. On 14 August 1987, his application was approved under discretionary powers by the then Prime Minister following recommendation by the then Minister of Finance. Who was prime minister then one may ask? Was it not Sir Anerood Jugnauth? Who was Minister of Finance at that time? Was it not Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo? The two of them have joined the MMM bandwagon and are set to clean the country. What a joke!
On the land scam the Leader of the Opposition wanted to be informed if (a) inquiries have been carried out by the Police, the Independent Commission against Corruption, the Bank of Mauritius and the Mauritius Revenue Authority respectively, indicating if any Minister, notary, lawyer, officers of the Board of Investment and of the Municipal Council of Quatre Bornes were involved; and (b) authority for the transfer of the Pas Géométriques leases was obtained?
The Prime Minister gave the names of companies that were trying to get round the existing regulations, namely:
(i) Le Cerisier Ltd at Mon Choisy;
(ii) Salt Rock Ltd at Pointe aux Piments ;
(iii) Le Jardin du Cap at Bain Bœuf;
(iv) White Oaks at Pointe aux Piments, and
(v) Oasis at Pereybère.
In 2009 the Labour Government amended the Non-Citizens (Property Restriction) Act and the Registration Duty Act to prevent non-citizens or Mauritian individuals/companies from taking advantage of the loopholes. When we compare to what obtained when the IRS legislation was being prepared by the MMM/MSM government the then Prime Minister, Sir Anerood Jugnauth and his deputy Paul Berenger bypassed an advice of the Solicitor General to go and seek private advice in order to have the legal authority to waive millions in duty on transfer of lands.
The Prime Minister has also stated that the investigation is complex and ongoing. This is what he said: “In view of the complexities of the alleged illegal transactions by various companies involved in the property development, the Police have set up a dedicated team, supported by Financial Analysts and Accountants conversant with audit trailing to assist them to get to the bottom of this whole matter”. However we should not overlook one important aspect of the answer namely that there may be a Commission of Inquiry involving all companies set up since 2000, and involving alleged land and property scam cases. The year 2000 was the year that the MMM/MSM came to power. This no doubt caused the Opposition to shudder so much so that Sir Anerood Jugnauth in a statement said a police inquiry would be more appropriate. Why? One bank also was scrutinized and has to comply with the directives of the Central Bank.
In relation to the alleged attempt by Mr. Andrei Kosolapov and Mr Sergei Denisenko to use Mauritius for arms trafficking, Paul Berenger wanted to know, whether the Commissioner of Police, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Bank of Mauritius and the Financial Intelligence Unit information had completed their inquiries, and, if so, the outcome thereof; obtain information as to where matters stand concerning the case of forgery entered by Mr. Kosolapov against Mr. Teddy Harrison and state if Ms. Kathi Lynn Austin has now been invited to Mauritius. According to the answer given by the Prime Minister on 20 July 2012, ICAC, on its own initiative, opened an enquiry following a press article which appeared in Le Défi dated 19 July 2012. Between August and November a series of emails were exchanged between the ICAC Director and Ms. Austin with a view to get her assistance in the investigation. The Prime Minister has given all assurances that if ever she travels to Mauritius Ms. Austin will be given all the necessary security and protection needed.
In terms of section 43 of the Banking Act 2004, a special examination was conducted at seven banks, to investigate into the accounts held by some individuals/companies in respect of an alleged case of arms trafficking. The investigations have so far revealed that at least three banks have not complied with prudential norms. As for Mr. Harrison he has been provisionally charged with swindling.
In all of these cases the Opposition wanted to score points. Whenever there is an alleged illegal act the Opposition would simply politicise the issue and cry on the roof top that there will be a cover up. This is cheap demagoguery.
How can there be cover up in our system if an investigation is ongoing? After the investigation the files will be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions who alone and in an independent manner will decide on the course of action. The Opposition has been hoisted by its own petard. In each of the cases where Paul Berenger sought to embarrass the government he has received limpid answers on the nature of the investigation and the stage it has reached in each case. What cover up will they talk about now?
The Opposition should know that PNQs can also have a boomerang effect.