A Country In Disarray

Look around and most indicators in our society suggest that there is something going wrong

Unless most evidence deceives, Mauritian society seems to be in disarray. Look around and most indicators in our society suggest that there is something going wrong.

Now it is acknowledged that the country is awash with different kinds of illicit drugs. The situation is not under control in our schools as an officer has made it clear to the authorities. Road deaths are on the increase, and we rush to blame the roads and the cars but not those in the driving seats. Violence is rife in the home, on the streets and in other public places. Few would venture out of the home after sunset even in neighborhoods where they have lived their whole life, and even in their homes they no longer feel safe. Poverty, inequality and unemployment have wrecked the social fabric and the young believe they are facing a bleak future.

The elders in our society no longer have solutions to combat these various scourges. Our society is changing so fast that old solutions have become obsolete. Those of the younger generation who have the ideas and the resources to come up with solutions are given few opportunities to play an active part in working them out. The majority have become so individualistic that they cater only for their own families and do little to help society beyond expressing some concern.

They are not wholly to be blamed however, for they had been brought up in a particular historical situation when most parents were at work and they were mostly left on their own after school with parents too tired to cater for their social, cultural and recreational needs. Yet we would like to think that they could be relied upon to guide the next generations; one can imagine the disaster that awaits us in the future if something is not done to arrest this decline.

There is hope, however. Everything is not lost. There are a number of groups of young people, albeit too few in number, who are actively promoting some worthy causes to improve the welfare of society, and to them we owe a lot. They should be congratulated and supported in various ways when they take the initiative to protect our environment, our beaches or to help fight inequality and poverty in our society. There are also organizations as well as individuals who make it their duty to denounce in the media and to the authorities the infringement of our rights as citizens.

The recent imbroglio at the highest level of the state, and the more recent squabble at the heart of government concerning the orientation of the Metro Express project have intensified suspicion that all these issues are about something else. Over the last few years, little headway has been made in tackling the apparent rise of corruption, nepotism and authoritarianism, which are an ugly scar on the face of our country.

On the contrary, things have taken a turn for the worse with the recent unjustified increase in the prices of oil and of many other commodities. During the last four years, petrol prices have gone up on several occasions, and the latest rise comes as a further blow to consumers struggling to make ends meet. We are told that popular protest could result in some readjustment at a later stage, but even a reduction in the price of oil grudgingly conceded as a budgetary measure or some other adjustments will do little to bring down the prices of goods and services which have gone up in the wake of the oil price increase. In Mauritius, once prices go up, they rarely go down.

At a different level, the abdication of the state vis-à-vis the corporate sector is at the root of many of the country’s problems. Blindly following neo-liberal policies has never been in the interest of a democratic Mauritius. Privatizing important services, whether water or electricity, goes against the interest of the people. The privatization of Mauritius Telecom is an example never to be repeated. It ended with outdated equipment, and Mauritius Telecom’s expansion, progress and development outside Mauritius had been permanently blocked. It could not even expand to Madagascar. And all the money obtained had been used to plug holes in the government budget. An audit of the privatization of Mauritius Telecom over these years would have been an eye opener — and a suitable title for a Master’s dissertation. On the same note, one should be watchful that the rights of workers in the sugar sector are not trampled upon by the collusion of the state and the employers.

The 195 years of the sugar industry have taught us a lot about the various crises — real and imagined — of this industry. Over most of the time, their only strategy had been to either divert state funds to their benefit, lobby the state for financial concessions or simply and arbitrarily transfer the financial burden on workers through depressing wages, retrenchment or intensifying labour time.

This well-known strategy has made emulators in other sectors and not surprisingly other sectors too will be seen clamouring on rooftops about their debt burden. Already the tourism industry is claiming to be struggling with huge debts. Some of our economists or accountants from the business schools should come forward and enlighten the people about how debts can be fabricated and for what purposes. Meanwhile our self-proclaimed patriots will park their wealth in offshore tax havens and take the moral high ground on what the people should do or should not do.

With the people under siege from all quarters and our democratic choices being reduced to mere consumers in a capitalist society, we have to think of ways to get out of the current quandary. The solidarity and unity of the people are the sine qua non for the protection of both the middle and working classes from depredations of the state and its accomplices. Already the recent protests against the rise in petrol prices have shown that the state can only ignore these signals at its own peril. The environmental protests at Souillac show us what can be done and how protests can bring about some positive responses.

In legitimizing a social democratic framework, the people in this country have not turned their back to capitalist development. What they demand is fairness and social justice. It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that development is sustainable and fair to all. The capitalists are only concerned with their short-term interests, the state must safeguard the short-term but it must also keep in view the long-term interest of the nation. At present, the state has locked in the reward for the few and is ignoring the rest.

In the coming budget the people will be waiting to assess what is being done to alleviate poverty and inequality, what will be proposed for the protection of consumers and workers and in terms of support to small planters and small enterprises that create most of the jobs in the country. We also need some explanation about why economic growth continues to revolve around 3.9 and 4%, and why the delivery of some permits and licenses remind us of Johann Tetzel, Pope Leo X’s envoy who travelled throughout Germany selling indulgences on behalf of the Church, in exchange for money, thus sparking off Martin Luther’s protest and the Grand Reformation in 16th century Europe.

The failure to understand the nation and the attitude of not giving a damn to the people as a result of mentoring is well illustrated in the choice of Budget day. Not even the World Cup will anesthetize the people from any violence inflicted by the state on their person and their dignity. Any serious affront felt by the nation can be expected to create a greater backlash when the day of reckoning comes.

* Published in print edition on 1 June 2018

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