A fait accompli

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Two experts from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) of the UNESCO, George Abungu and Nicholas Clarke, were in Mauritius last week to explain the ins and outs of the planning policy guidance (PPG 6) of the Aapravasi Ghat to the local authorities and land developers.

It is understood that their visit was motivated by the planned slavery museum in the former military hospital, just off the Aapravasi Ghat. Yet, they extended their focus to be the proposed Immigration Square urban terminal project and the Metro Express, both meant to significantly alter the buffer zones.

So far so good. UNESCO experts in Mauritius to explain the prerequisites of prospective infrastructural development within the buffer zones of a World Heritage site, that’s common sense. Well, it really isn’t. Think about it again. The Metro Express was pompously unveiled in March 2017, the design and construct contract awarded to Larsen and Toubro in July, the construction works were launched last January, the website and the logo unveiled last month, and it’s only now that UNESCO experts are dispatched to explain a PPG which has existed since 2011 and is freely available online in plain English. Administrative work is either really sluggish at the UNESCO or the government was not sharp enough to pre-empt the consequences of their flagship project on the Aapravasi Ghat.

The fact is that the UNESCO have been put before a fait accompli. Regardless of any recommendations the UNESCO make, the Metro Express is underway and will go ahead, the Immigration Square has already been announced as the terminus of the Curepipe-Port Louis line and the technical committee in charge of reviewing and approving infrastructure projects within the buffer zone has already been bypassed.

What would happen if the UNESCO deemed the Metro Express, and by extension the urban terminal, irreconcilable with the heritage authenticity and integrity of the buffer zones of the Aapravasi Ghat? The government is highly unlikely, in what would be a disastrous mea culpa, to have the Metro Express stop at the Victoria Station instead. What then? Persist with the Immigration Square as the final stop? In our 22 February edition, Vijaya Teelock, former chairperson of the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund, explicitly explained that the UNESCO could eventually strip the Aapravasi Ghat of its World Heritage status.

Minister Roopun’s alleging that the UNESCO had been consulted since September also contradicts the tergiversations of the Ministry of Public Infrastructure in the case of the request for proposals for the Immigration Square urban terminal. The initial deadline of the request, published in the press on 20 February, was first extended from 20 April to 7 May and then to 7 June. These deadline extensions are quite revealing of the pervasive confusion at the executive level.

The way the government is proceeding in regards to the Metro Express and the Aapravasi Ghat is indeed rather disturbing. It amounts to sheer amateurism at best or outright malice at worst.

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