SOS!

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When we dial the emergency number, we cannot always expect the authorities to pick up, can we? Not if they have better things to do. Not if it’s a public holiday, for Christ’s sake. Granted, we couldn’t all go to the beach, the spa and for sundowners on Cavadee. There had to be some people manning the police stations, the hospitals and – needless to say, we thought – the emergency number operator service. But wait a minute. We didn’t honestly expect those few brave souls who had to clock in at work to actually work, did we? Come on. Get robbed or raped on a different day, people! Show some respect.

Last Thursday, however, a tourist in the north didn’t allow that logic to prevail. She was attacked by a stranger on the street – and says that her friend’s phone calls to both emergency numbers – 999 and 112 – remained unanswered.

It only takes one negative experience for doubts to creep into the minds of all of us. If you needed help urgently today, would the authorities provide it? To find out, we did a little experiment. We dialed 999 on Monday evening, at 7.53 p.m. We received an error message saying that the call could not be put through. At 7.54 p.m., the call could be placed… but there was no reply. Shortly afterwards, we tried the other emergency number, 112. The result? No reply. If we had really been in the middle of a heart attack or a robbery, this is when we’d start panicking.

Luckily, the tourist who needed help last Thursday was not seriously injured. She happened to know a local who helped her get in touch with the police (although not through the emergency number). The police, according to the local, would only vaguely commit to a promise that someone would get in contact with the tourist eventually – a promise she said that was not fulfilled. It was only when the local specifically asked for a phone number to the Police du Tourisme that the tourist got help.

The tourist in question was not in urgent need of assistance, but she will be leaving this country with a negative image of the Mauritian police. The fact that she would have been left in limbo, desperately making unanswered calls to the emergency number if she not happen to know a local who knew about the existence of the tourism police, ought to give us stomach ache.

Every day, we listen to stories about communication failure in public hospitals, ministries and other authorities that Mauritians seek help from on a daily basis. The flaw is an insult to the entire population but when the person at the receiving end is a visitor, unanswered calls for help and poor communication skills become downright dangerous. Outsiders don’t necessarily know what door to knock on if the first one is closed. If ever a tourist got seriously injured and the calls to 999 and 112 remained unanswered, we could kiss an entire industry goodbye. It would be a kiss of death. 

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