Bad news disguised as bad news

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While you were busy worrying about your job, your relatives’ health or where your next meal is coming from; while you were perhaps shattered because you lost everything when torrential rains swept through your house, the Non-Citizens (Property Restriction) bill surreptitiously made its way into our legislation. And, like all the bills that restrain your freedoms and put us at the mercy of the prime minister, it was given a certificate of urgency and passed the same day.

Remember if you please, that the Non-Citizens Act now allows the prime minister to decide whether the person you want to marry is good enough for you or not and whether your spouse has the right to live in your own country or not. And remember, if you please, how that law that gave the prime minister all those powers was sneaked into our statute book, making it impossible for you to challenge his decision in court. And many of our compatriots have not forgotten the tragic story of the Hoffmans, who were forced to leave the country and how one of our own citizens died far away from her country and family, courtesy of that very repressive law. A law that prevents us from loving and living with the person we want where we want. You will also recall how such a dangerous law was passed in parliament the same day the bill was introduced.

The Non-Citizens (Property Restriction Amendment) Act came into effect on Tuesday with the same certificate of urgency. It was brandished as a law that was going to protect Mauritian citizens. There was however no new protection of Mauritians that was not already included in the Non-Citizens Act passed in 1975! Instead, it attempts to regulate the sale by a foreigner of immovable property to a Mauritian citizen! In plain terms, if a foreigner who owns property wants to sell it to a Mauritian citizen, he now requires the permission of the prime minister. Yes, you understood well: the prime minister can deny a Mauritian citizen the right to buy property from a foreigner. Ask yourself the very simple question: who stands to gain from such a law? Certainly not the foreigner who may decide to go and buy property in other parts of the world, making our foreign direct investment even thinner at a time when we need it most. The beneficiary is not the Mauritian citizen who may not be in the good books of the prime minister. And certainly not the country, which will sink deeper and deeper into autocracy! Imagine, on the other hand, all the unspeakable possibilities for influence peddling, graft, corruption and favouritism this single law opens up.

What should be particularly worrying for us is the fact that we are giving one single individual more and more powers without batting an eyelid. We are thus becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of being an autocracy. Other than curtailing our freedoms, economically, the bill will cause a lot of harm at a time that we can least afford it.

In 2019, Rs16bn out of Rs21bn of FDI came from sales of property to foreign buyers. We may or may not like it but we have no choice at this point in time: our reserves are being fast depleted by a profligate government, our borders are closed, our rupee is sliding into the abyss by the day and we are therefore in dire need of precious forex while. By asking property owners to let the prime minister decide who they can sell the property they bought with their own money to, the already thin queues of buyers will vanish overnight. The law that has just been enacted is therefore bad news wrapped up as bad news! Except for the prime minister and his advisors!

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