By Matthew Minor
Africa’s sole female leader resigned in the wake of a scandal over improper use of an NGO’s credit card. President Ameenah Gurib-Fakhim of Mauritius said she would leave office on March 23, saying she would resign “for the good of the country”, according to CNN.
President Gurib-Fakhim faced criticism over her use of a credit card from the London-based charity Planet Earth Institute (PEI) for personal expenses. According to PEI, the organization gave a credit card to her for expenses that the president, originally an award-winning biologist, would incur while traveling around Africa to promote scientific and technological innovation. However, in 2016, Gurib-Fakhim allegedly spent $26,000 dollars on jewelry and clothing from the charity, whose founder, Alvaro Sobrinho, has business interests in Mauritus. According to Al Jazeera, the Angolan businessman has tried repeatedly to set up an investment bank in Mauritius. In 2017, the government allowed Sobrinho to set up a bank in Mauritius, a move that caused the government’s critics to accuse the government of favoritism. At the time Gurib-Fakhim’s involvement with PEI and its founder caused a greater stir than the alleged improper use of funds. Before Gurib-Fakhim announced her resignation, PEI rushed to defend the president. A statement from PEI said, “Her Excellency Ameenah Gurib-Fakim has never received any gifts, salary or favors from the Planet Earth Institute. She is very surprised to be the subject of these cruel and violent attacks one year later.”
President Gurib-Fakhim’s actual resignation comes after a tense political standoff during which she said she would resign, but then refused to do so. On March 2, The Independent reported that Gurib-Fakhim would step down after the opposition Labour party leda vote of no confidence in the president. On March 13, Mauritius’ Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said that Gurib-Fakhim would resign and step down after ceremonies to mark the island country’s independence from Britain, according to the Seattle Times.
The next day, however, Gurib-Fakhim contradicted the prime minister she would not resign, the BBC reported. The president’s office said that the expenses for which she used the card were accidental and had been paid back, releasing a statement that “Her Excellency Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, having nothing to feel guilty about and able to provide corroborating evidence, rejects any idea of resigning.” President Gurib-Fakhim addedthat the vote of no confidence and calls for her resignation were part of a smear campaign.
Gurib-Fakhim’s colleagues in government quickly criticized her refusal to resign. Prime Minister Jugnauth said he would take up the matter with the country’s cabinet, stating “I hope that it will be settled very quickly in the interests of the country,” to local paper L’Express. Africa News reported that soon after cabinet ministers met to discuss the scandal, they decided to dismiss Gurib-Fakhim.
Had the president not resigned, the issue of Gurib-Fakhim’s dismissal wouldnow move to Mauritius’ parliament. The prime minister must initiate the proceedings for impeachment by investigation of a tribunal and articulate the reason for impeachment. To set up a tribunal, the assembly must approve the prime minister’s motion by a two-thirds vote. If successful, the parliament will set up a tribunal comprising a chairperson and two to four members appointed by the Chief Justice. If the tribunal finds the president guilty, the prime minister may motion for the removal of the president.