Mauritius ministers quit in protest

Port Louis - All six ministers from the finance minister's party quit the cabinet in Mauritius on Tuesday in protest against the arrest of the health minister by an anti-corruption watchdog.

Finance minister and leader of the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM), Pravind Jugnauth, said his colleague Santi Bai Hanoomanjee was innocent of charges that she had inflated a government tender to acquire a private hospital.

The health minister, who was arrested last week, was one of the six who resigned.

"We have decided to resign from cabinet to show our solidarity with our colleague, the minister of health, who, according to us, is innocent," Jugnauth told a news conference.

Jugnauth said his party would remain in the ruling alliance with the Labour Party.

He was appointed finance minister after a parliamentary election in May 2010, in which MSM and the ruling Labour Party ran as an alliance. It won 41 out of 62 seats, handing Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam a second term.

Ramgoolam is in London. He told local newspaper Le Mauricien on Tuesday that Jugnauth had informed him of the decision to resign on Tuesday morning.

He said he would be returning to the Indian Ocean island at the weekend.

Dubious deal

"I had asked the minister of health to resign before I left the country, but she resisted," Ramgoolam told the newspaper.

Jugnauth also served as finance minister from 2003-2005 in a coalition government under now opposition leader Paul Berenger. He has pledged to diversify the Indian Ocean island's economy and strengthen the welfare state.

The arrest, the first high-profile one of its kind in the last few years, followed a seven-month inquiry by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

The ICAC said the private hospital was initially valued at $2.7m and then revalued at $5.1m.

Hanoomanjee was released on bail but is still being questioned by the ICAC.

Mauritius is widely regarded as one of the most stable African economies and generally has a better reputation on fighting corruption than other African countries.

The Labour Party has been in power since 2005 and has overseen sustained economic growth, cutting red tape to lure foreign investors and weathering the global financial crisis better than expected thanks to policies praised by donors.

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