The trust deficit

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Crime and security are the most important problems of our people after unemployment and poverty, according to the most recent Afrobarometer survey, released on Tuesday. Who is surprised?

Open any newspaper and be prepared to be shocked by the mental pictures of violence and more and more heinous crimes. Hard-working citizens being mugged, robbed, attacked with cutters and other weapons, and at times, even killed. Others are taking the law into their own hands: two brothers killing a burglar; a horde of bikers, in a saturnalia of savagery, assaulting a law-abiding motorist going for his usual prayer because he was involved in an accident they were not happy about. And the impotence or apathy of police officers helps to deliver the country to the shame of anarchy and near lawlessness. 

Who is responsible for this situation?

First, you must have noticed that the primary purpose of our police force seems to be to protect politicians and other dignitaries from the rest of us. Look at the number of policemen assigned to the protection of Her Excellency – a non-politician who is not at the decision-making table – and compare that with the number of bodyguards of her predecessors. The same applies to the prime minister, deputy-prime minister, minister mentor, ordinary ministers and even those who are no longer ministers like Showkutally Soodhun! Some ministers’ wives seem to specify they would like their safety to be ensured by female police officers… so that they can double up as babysitters! Who cares about crime as long as those in power are safe and their children are looked after?

Secondly, remember the inordinate amount of time the police spend arresting, detaining and sending innocent people to court just to punish them for their proximity with the previous regime. Just about every case heard in court has been dismissed. In the meantime, our police officers were denied the opportunity to target real crime and organised banditry. 

In the debate about law and order, one cannot lose sight of the ramifications of drugs. In this area too, we have failed lamentably. While we commend the minister mentor for having instituted a commission of enquiry on drugs, we deplore the fact that the message sent to its president and assessors is insulting. And it is the subtle hints being sent which are coming back to haunt us. The hints that the law does not apply to everyone equally, that those who are connected can get away with murder and that the police are at the beck and call of politicians. Once the population has internalised the constant messages being sent by government, puffing up one’s chest, grasping one’s lapel and declaiming in a foghorn voice about being tough on drug trafficking and law and order in general is absolutely useless. People are very good at discerning between honest comments and those uttered for the gallery. 

The appointment of Roubina Jadoo-Jaunbocus as minister, for example, while the commission of enquiry had uncovered some very shady dealings with the drug traffickers is surely a wrong message. Putting the deputy-speaker back in his position after having subtly discarded him for a couple of weeks when the commission of enquiry started probing into his visits to convicted drug traffickers is very worrying. 

The message is that it’s okay to go and visit drug traffickers in prison when they are not even your clients, it’s okay to have your bank account furnished by them and it’s alright to help their business prosper as long as you are on the right side of the government. And it doesn’t take long for the message to get out there and give those who are so inclined, a sense of impunity. 

Is it any wonder then that the findings of the Afrobarometer are that “Mauritians express sharply declining trust in their main public institutions and leaders. Political bodies and leaders earn the lowest levels of popular trust, and all experienced double-digit declines since 2014.” I don’t think so!

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