[Blog] Housing Minister Showkutally Soodhun is doing a good job but he cannot hold his tongue!

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In the case of the alleged 90% reserved housing for one community, Soodhun is setting one community above everyone else and discriminating against the other communities in the process. Soodhun was merely making a political statement but he should have known that the former 50% reserved places in certain schools was declared discriminatory and illegal. However, at no time is Soodhun inciting racial hatred. Soodhun is speaking in his own name and not in the name of any community. He does not represent any community.

VPM and Minister for Housing Showkutally Soodhun, since the MSM/ML came to power in December 2014, can be said to be doing a good job in reclaiming the lands 'gifted' by the previous Ramgoolam regime and in implementing the government's promise to build affordable housing for those who are unable to step on the property ladder.

However, VPM Soodhun seems to have problems choosing his words, which have and are  causing disquiet amongst Mauritians and government alike, making himself a target and dragging the government with him even though the PM Pravind Jugnauth cannot be held responsible for what his Ministers say when they open their mouths. However, as a PM he can and should bring his Ministers and other MPs to order based on concrete evidence and not based on what opposition politicians and elements in the press want.

'Maruthamutu v. Soodhun'

There are certain attacks made against Soodhun which are not justified, such as, in September 2017, when Soodhun invited a lady (Nirmala Maruthamutu) who was disrupting his workshop to leave because she was more concerned about defending Ramgoolam when Soodhun said that his department and government, in initiating the building of 10,000 affordable housing units, is doing what Ramgoolam never did for Mauritians. This does not mean that Soodhun 'insulted women' and there was no need for the likes of Ms Aurore Perraud of the PMSD to attack Soodhun the way she did and even brought in the Lady Speaker Maya Hanoomanjee and even the Lady President Ameenah-Gurib Fakim into her hyped, insanely bias and political interpretation of the removal of Nirmala Maruthamutu from the housing development workshop. Aurore Perraud and so-called women organisations all wrongly demanded the resignation of Soodhun.

Yet when Xavier-Luc Duval, leader of the opposition, told the Lady Speaker Maya Hanoomanjee that he has « no respect » for her and was suspended from Parliament, the likes of Aurore Perraud and the so-called women organisations did not find this insulting towards women and did not demand the resignation of XLD.

The PM is not a puppet and just sacks his Ministers simply because Ms Aurore Perraud or Paul Bérenger or elements in the press are making such demands. The Minister must act on credible evidence based on unbias reports and must assess if the ministerial code has been seriously breached.  If a crime is suspected, this is a matter for the Police and not the PM. Then again, there is the presumption of innocence. So, one has do divorce politics from what has been said and in the context in which it has been said.

'XLD v. Soodhun'

Earlier, in July 2017, Soodhun complained that XLD accused him of being a [...] apparently in the corridors of Parliament. Unfortunately, the only way Soodhun knew how do defend himself when faced with such alleged accusation emanating from XLD was to say, at a public gathering in Flaq, that IF his bodyguard had given him (Soodhun) his gun he would have shot XLD in Parliament.

A reasonable person would agree that this was not the way Soodhun should have gone about it. however, there was no specific threat made against XLD, who complained to the Police, as the threat was conditional upon Soodhun's body guard giving him his gun. This probably explains that Soodhun was only charged with « OUTRAGE » under Article 156(1) of the Criminal Code which states :

« Any outrage committed publicly, in any manner, whether against one or more members of the Cabinet or of the Assembly, or against a tribunal or court or one or more Magistrates, or a public functionary, or a minister of a religion recognised in Mauritius provided such outrage is committed against any of the aforesaid, whilst acting in the exercise of their functions, or on account of such functions, shall be punished by imprisonment, and by a fine not exceeding 10,000 rupees. »

Yet, when, in what is referred to as the Sobrino Affair, Paul Bérenger, leader of the MMM, effectively accused the Hon. President Ameenah-Gurib Fakim of wrongdoing and said that she had « disqualified » herself as President, there was no outrage.

When, in the aftermath of the disguised industrial action taken by some Air Mauritius pilots, two of whom were suspended, the same Paul Bérenger accused the constitution of the Board of Air Mauritius as a « crime », there was no such outrage.

Let us wait and see the interpretation of the courts of what constitutes outrage.

Soodhun and reserve of 90% housing for a particular community

In line with the housing project, Housing Minister Soodhun apparently had a small meeting in his office in July 2017 with a few inhabitants of Bassin, many of whom wanted the location moved. Soodhun was not prepared to do that. He assured the few present that 90% of the houses are reserved for a particular community, presumably the majority in that area, and the remaining 10% for the remaining communities. [...]But Soodhun's explanations were secretly taped and the video disseminated to the public. The Police should rather concentrate on those who secretly recorded the small meeting in July 2017 and disseminated it to the public four months later in the context of a by-election campaign for Belle Rose Quatre Bornes. VPM Ivan Collendavelloo, Leader of Mouvement Libérateur, made precisely this point in his press interview on 10 November 2017.

Clearly, Soodhun's choice of words are wrong as he is setting one community above everyone else and discriminating against the other communities in the process. Soodhun was merely making a political statement but he should have known that the former 50% reserved places in certain schools was declared discriminatory and illegal. However, at no time is Soodhun inciting racial hatred. Yet he is being so accused by opposition politicians and elements in the press alike and the matter has been referred to the police for investigation. The PM is right to await the police report before taking any decision. Soodhun is speaking in his own name and not in the name of any community. He does not represent any community.

Unfortunately, Soodhun is the sort of guy who is always putting his foot in it and he does not seem to learn. He is too impulsive. He may be doing a good job but Soodhun himself should resign to avoid the government further embarrassment. Or, Soodhun should make a formal apology to the communities he offended through his communatarianism. But, as Ivan Collendavelloo said, the person who secretly filmed that small meeting and disseminated the video to the world has done much more harm than Soodhun who was speaking in the confines of his office before a very few.

M Rafic Soormally

London

10 November 2017