Smile, you’re in safe hands

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This week, Mauritius Telecom’s CEO Sherry Singh bragged about the ‘record profits’ MT had made under his leadership and the greatness of the Safe City project he is chaperoning.  I will not dwell on the imaginary ‘unprecedented’ profits as it took just one Google search for our colleagues from l’express to find out that, far from the declared record profits, MT – in spite of being a quasi-monopoly – is in fact, underperforming in comparison with the previous managements. What I would like to concentrate on is the Rs19 billion project supposed to magically turn this country into a safe haven – a project which, in my opinion, is one of the biggest calamities in waiting.

First the cost. I am absolutely flabbergasted by the dizzying amount to be spent over the next 20 years. Look at the state in which many of our compatriots live. Look at the uphill battle they have to go through just to have water in their taps. Look at those who have to live with excrement flooding their homes whenever there are heavy rains. Consider those who, every time it rains, stand and watch all their belongings being washed away. Go and visit our shelters and see the appalling conditions in which children are piled up one on top of the other. Now, explain to me how a country that cannot give its citizens drinking water sometimes for weeks, that has no decent housing for the poor, no proper drains to avoid floods and sewerage water invading homes and whose most vulnerable children live in the most abject conditions can afford a Rs19 billion Safe City? What kind of upside down thinking is this? First, you let your people wallow in abject poverty, a breeding ground for crime, then you try to have us believe that salvation will come from 4,000 cameras! Please!

Now, assuming you are OK with the cost and the public debt that has increased by Rs100 billion since the government took over in spite of the ‘creative accounting’, please do me a favour and look around at what is happening in the rest of the world. Or allow me to save you a bit of time: The UK has one of the largest CCTV networks in the world. But, following an independent report set up by Police and Crime Commissioner Christopher Salmon, police have started to cut funding to monitor CCTV. The report found that “the removal of Powys Country Council CCTV did not result in a significant rise in crime or anti-social behaviour and there is little evidence that CCTV deters violent or alcohol-related crime.” Instead, the police will direct funds where the public want them, with “more bobbies on the beat”. This is not an isolated case. Many areas are following suit or at least scaling back. Cornwall was one of the first local authorities to cut their CCTV budget by £350,000. Denbighshire Council stopped their funding and made a saving of £200,000 for 2016-17.

“First, you let your people wallow in abject poverty, a breeding ground for crime, then you try to have us believe that salvation will come from 4,000 cameras! Please!” 

“Britain’s crime rate is not significantly lower than comparable countries that do not have such vast surveillance,” says Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch.

A study entitled the Effects of Closed Circuit Television Surveillance on Crime (2008) found that CCTV schemes had little effect on crime deterrence, other than car crime.

Another report, for the College of Policing in 2013, entitled What Works Briefing: The Effects of CCTV on Crime said that while CCTV “reduces theft of and from vehicles, it has no impact on levels of violent crime”.

And it’s not just in the UK that there is a total disillusion with safety cameras. Legislators in San Francisco have just voted to ban the use of facial recognition by the police and other agencies on the grounds that the technology as it exists today is “unreliable and represents an unnecessary infringement on people’s privacy and liberty”.

But of course, our leaders are smarter than the whole world and are not interested in the findings of research or the experience of other countries. And of course they are only concerned with our safety. And naturally, with our very independent police force, our most private details are in safe hands. Who would ever doubt that? So smile and keep smiling. They are watching you all the time!

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