The Previous government had big plans in mind that would have bled the country white. Not only did they, through incompetence and irresponsibility, drive the country on the verge of bankruptcy but, what is much worse, they eroded in the Mauritian psyche the love of hard work and just rewards.
Characteristic of the mediocrity of Labour ministers were the non-starters such as Jin Fei and Highlands City. They seemed to have excelled in juggling with public funds for their own private benefit. Hardworking people in this country know how difficult it has been to acquire a portion of land and build a house thereon. Some are still indebted to the Mauritius Housing Corporation and will be for many years to come. Others with a gargantuan appetite have grabbed the spoils that come with unlimited and uncontrolled power. When, as is the case nowadays, unscrupulous people are in power, no institution is free from their corrupt influence. The Air Mauritius scandal is a case in point. It remains an indelible blot on the dwindling reputation of Alliance Lepep. The justifications have not convinced and will continue to haunt the conspirators who hatched this plot to save their skin.
Some highly placed people acquire mansions in posh areas without spending a single cent of their own money. We have witnessed the show of so much largesse at no private costs that we are in danger of becoming blasé. We are the children of slaves and indentured labourers who have toiled and moiled to reach where we are. It is not surprising that the sight of billions drives us mad and that some are prepared to engage in corrupt practices to enrich themselves at the expense of our countrymen and our small country.
Our supposed saviours in Lepep have proved disastrous. Instead of wasting good money (soft loans and taxpayer’s money) on prestigious projects where the opportunities of backscratching are many and which ultimately backfire, I make bold to suggest that the government should concentrate on some minor projects that will inure to its benefit and bring it political mileage. Otherwise, the electorate will make no difference between the former alliance and the present one. Just like the former, the latter will be booted out with the same force.
The government must be aware, although some of its members have started playing la politique de l’autruche, that its popularity has waned so that throughout the country people do not hesitate to express their dissatisfaction in crude terms in public places, at the restaurants, at the tailor’s and barber’s shops, indeed everywhere where one can feel the pulse of the electorate. The media, in particular private radio stations, sometimes find it difficult to control the angry flows of words and pent-up exasperation of people who have become highly critical of the government and their unfulfilled promises.
Our patience is wearing thin and we appeal to the government to launch realistic and modest projects that will enhance the quality of life in Mauritius. Look at the sad state of the roads in our towns’ suburbs and villages. An example of the first is Belle-Rose and of the second is Bel-Air in the district of Flacq. Some ill-mannered people have decided to transform both sides of the roads or streets into parking spaces so that it is very difficult to circulate without being insulted or molested. Meanwhile, the government is building ‘Smart Cities’.
Driving on such roads in towns and villages is fraught with security risks. Never dare reproach a driver, of a private vehicle or taxi, for his bad driving if you don’t want to be aggressed with a cutter or a sabre.
Meanwhile, VVIP, preceded by police riders, travel at breakneck speed and never realise how they make driving in Mauritius painful and hazardous for others. Every so often VVIPs abandon their vehicles for new ones. The Prime Minister, who, to all appearances, will vacate his post soon, seems to have arranged for the acquisition, at public costs, of a luxurious and fully-armoured car to take him places in tiny Mauritius when he has retired from public life. And some people continue to drive at breakneck speeds, encouraged by the authorities to go up to 110 km/h.
Meanwhile, the police, in the comfort of their barracks, continue to offer advice and administer warnings against dangerous and reckless driving, on TV. Fatal accidents continue as in the past. Why does the police not patrol the roads more often and book defaulters? Would it not bring more funds for development? And I would suggest that fines are left to the discretion of our courts. The quantum would, as far as possible, vary depending on the means of the guilty.
Another area which needs the rapid intervention of the government is the sprouting of houses in flagrant disregard of local housing regulations. The local authorities are rarely effective. Yes, they are… with law-abiding citizens who apply for a building permit and submit the relevant building plans, but, as regards the majority of buildings which go unnoticed in the villages, I suspect the local authorities, whose inspectors seldom leave their office to carry out serious inspections, are not even aware of their existence. It would be interesting if the government could wake up from its lethargy and demand from district councils a complete report on houses within their jurisdiction.
Another matter which requires the urgent intervention of the central government is the existence of waste lands in many towns and villages, which have gradually turned into dumping grounds, where water and damp breed mosquitoes and other pests and nuisances. If not rogues and vagabonds, and other drugs addicts, ready to pounce on innocent girls. It serves no good to visit the blame on “decentralized structures”, without any semblance of autonomy. What with the existence of the PPSs, the Citizens Advice Bureaus and the highly politicized local institutions, nothing meaningful can be achieved at the level of the local government beyond the traditional duties under the Local Government Act.
Watch ministers relishing the many inaugurations of sometimes insignificant projects. The government has a lot of institutional restructure to carry out, so that decentralization is no more a myth and government allows our democratically elected local councillors to do the job, as is the case at present in Rodrigues. There, the Rodrigues Regional Assembly (RRA) does not brook any interference with its duties under the RRA Act. This it does with the limited funds at its disposal.
Instead of allowing precious funds to go to waste like champagne gurgling in the gutters, our politicians should remember that, through their election, they have been made trustees of the common wealth. Like trustees, they have a duty uberrimae fidei and a fiduciary relationship with the ultimate beneficiaries of the trusts. Corrupt politicians, if convicted by the court, should be made to forfeit their ill-gotten gains.
Unfortunately, our British- based adversarial system of law, with its obsession with procedure, evidence and the accused rights such as the right of silence, allows many accused to go scot free in the absence of sufficient evidence against them. The inquisitorial system on the European continent shifts the burden of proof on the accused. In the Anglo-Saxon legal system, the wording of the sentence gives us some comfort and should leave us in no doubt: the court does not declare the person “innocent” but “not guilty”. The intelligent person should not confuse the “not guilty” with “innocent”.
The government, which has reached the nadir of its unpopularity, can reverse the trends by a judicious choice of measures which will improve the quality of life of the people. There is still a possibility of some of the good politicians on both sides of the House being re-elected in the next electoral bout. But the time has come for them to insist on having a more important role in their party and in Parliament.
More democracy is needed, more praxis that rhetoric. If anybody wants to test the degree of outreach and democracy in a party, he should attend any of its meetings with a stopwatch and see who are those who monopolise the “talking” and pretend throughout that they are the greatest democrats. They will continue to do so as long as they are surrounded by yes-men and idolaters.