The Emperor in the Ivory Tower

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There is only one explanation for the prime minister’s totally out-of-sync address to the nation on Tuesday, marketing a non-event about the Chagos archipelago as breaking news: He is totally cut-off from the feelings, mood and aspirations of ordinary people. Did he really not get the memos?

Memo 1: Over a million people have been cooped-up in their homes for over two months. While they fully supported the government’s lockdown decision for the first four weeks, finding themselves in the longest lockdown in the world when the spin doctors are shouting from all the rooftops that there is no virus on the island is rather disheartening. A few days before the end of the current lockdown, there is still no indication as to the future and therefore no possibility of planning for people and businesses.

Memo 2: A stunned population watched as repressive, dangerous and totalitarian laws were passed at the speed of light in parliament. Before we knew it, the rubber stamp president signed the bills into the constitution with the same dizzying speed and the prime minister grabbed more powers than those arrogated to an emperor. He can now decide on personal liberties, decree when people should go out and when they should live in their own prisons, when they should visit their sick mother or help their desperate neighbour… Basically, he alone decides on lives and livelihoods.

“People who play by the rules and are working their fingers to the bone are faced with the harsh reality of the inflated prices they have to pay for low-quality goods. Some of the food items have literally doubled in price.”

Memo 3: Citizens are looking glumly at the accrued powers invested in the police and the prospect that a mistake – or an act of revenge – may cost them their home: Rs500,000 or a term of five years’ imprisonment!

Memo 4: This week, the Bank of Mauritius – another institution so independent, in fact, that it had to specify that in its communiqué – printed banknotes and gave a Rs60 billion gift to the government to carry on with its populist, ruinous measures. Dollars immediately disappeared from the market and, very soon, importers will find it very hard to pay their bills. At the same time, a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) was set-up towering over an unspecified amount of money to be spent by the people who will be nominated by the prime minister. We know, from past experience, that SPVs are magical creatures allowed to fly below the radar and avoid the scrutiny of parliament.

Memo 5: People who play by the rules and are working their fingers to the bone are faced with the harsh reality of the inflated prices they have to pay for low-quality goods. Some of the food items have literally doubled in price. The thought that their families will have to eat less and less while ministers and MPs are still pocketing their full salaries and scrumptious allowances is not a very happy one.

Memo 6: People’s jobs and their livelihoods are being threatened and businesses they spent years building are crumbling down like sandcastles while the lockdown is being extended for no reason that they can understand.

Memo 7: Air Mauritius employees are apparently being harassed and investigated and keeping their job may allegedly depend on their allegiance rather than their competence or the time they joined the company.

Memo 8: While people were being ordered to stay at home, 57 squatters and their families were being evicted with immediate effect.

Memo 9: Right now, 4,000 of our compatriots are stuck in 70 countries and another 1,760 are trapped on 100 cruise ships docked at 40 harbours around the world. Some have been at sea for months and their families have no idea when they will see them again.

I doubt that the stale news of Chagos – on a map released in February by a toothless bulldog like the United Nations – is likely to lift their morale. They want to go back to their jobs. They want to be able to feed their children. They want to reunite with their families. They want to see some fairness, less injustice, oppression, nepotism, favouritism and other forms of corruption. And they don’t want their legacy to be a Mauritius bankrupted by greed, incompetence and irresponsibility. Please read the memos, Emperor!

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