As we approach another general election, while alliances have shifted, one thing remains stubbornly the same. We still have no rules to counter the habitual opacity of political parties when it comes to revealing the sources and beneficiaries of their funds. The Electoral Commission has failed to provide a binding code of conduct, and organisations like Transparency Mauritius have been unsuccessful in demanding one. It has now been revealed that the out-going Government could have improved the situation with a small amendment to a single law. By failing to do so have they shot themselves in the foot?
The potentially embarrassing missed opportunity results from a loop-hole created by two seemingly incompatible pieces of legislation. The First Schedule of the Constitution of Mauritius reads as follows:
2. Registration of parties
(1) Every political party in Mauritius, being a lawful association, may, within 14 days before the day appointed for the nomination of candidates for election at any general election of members of the Assembly, be registered as a party for the purposes of that general election…
The key phrase is lawful association. The Registration of Associations Act states the following:
5 Registration of associations
(1) Subject to section 17(2), every association other than a foreign association shall:
(a) give notice of its formation to the Registrar within 14 days; and
(b) apply to the Registrar for registration within 3 months,
of its formation.
The key phrase is every association. The Act goes on to say that associations must submit audited annual accounts that can be viewed by the public. However, it also states that the term association does not include political parties. Therefore, as the law currently stands, it appears that political parties are in a catch-22 situation. They cannot be registered as legal associations but without this they cannot be registered as political parties for the current elections. Apparently, this was pointed out to the main parties at a workshop organised by Transparency Mauritius two months ago. At the time, they acknowledged that the law would have to be changed. Therefore, politicians only have themselves to blame for allowing parliament to be dissolved before the Act was amended.
If the above is correct, then all candidates at this election will have to stand independently, rather than under the banner of a political party or alliance. While this may infuriate party leaders and political agents, there may be at least one positive benefit. The electorate will have to vote for the candidates whom they believe will best represent them in parliament rather than choose between parties that represent the interests of those who secretly fund them. Since this is the principle on which representative democracy is based, it may be no bad thing.