An Eyewash Programme

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By Peter Ibbotson

Four weeks ago, I dealt with the published aims of the Parti Mauricien (PM). This week it is the turn of the programme the Parti to come under the microscope. I rely upon the programme as published in Le Mauricien on December 9 last.

‘Le Parti Mauricien soutient que seule la représentation proportionnelle peut.. faire disparaitre le communalisme à l’île Maurice,’ declares the first section of the programme. Several elections have shown that the people do not want Proportional Representation (PR); and the only reason the PM is backing it is because they see in it their only hope of retaining even a vestige of their political power. As for PR putting an end to communalism, I thought it had become abundantly clear during the campaign ‘Down with PR!’ that PR would aggravate, not ameliorate, communalism.

As Dr Burton Benedicit’s recent article in the British Journal of Sociology has shown (see the MT of January 17), social and political differences do not necessarily rest upon communal differences; yet PR will tend to make race, religion and language important matters at elections. The development of multi-racial political parties (the Labour Party is this already) will kill communalism; PR will only increase it.

The PM is interested in electoral reforms. This is a fascinating aspect of their policy; was it not the Keith Lucas Commission which discovered the frauds at the last-but-one municipal elections when the Labour Party was defeated and the Daily Express — in a hysterical article by Sefton Delmer — exculted to the skies? But the Labour Party was defeated only by fraud; how funny now to see the PM calling for electoral reform!

By the way, would the PM’s reforms include legislation to compel the publication of accurate statements of expenditure at elections by all parties interested in securing the election of such lame horses as the PM has to date seen fit to back? And how about compulsory publication of the complete balance sheets and income and expenditure accounts of all political parties? Is the PM in favour?

We read of plans to relieve unemployment. Sugar production is to be increased. Secondary industries are to be developed. Planned emigration is contemplated. Public works (creation des nouvelles routes) are adumbrated. A bigger share of CD & W funds is to be sought. Not one word of this programme is new; it is all eyewash. Public works and the development of secondary industries are already part of the island’s plan. The recently published five-year plan shows the volume of work which the Government contemplates undertaking in the next five years; the PM has nothing to add thereto.

As for development of the sugar industry and sugar production, the supporters of the PM can do this without putting it in the Parti’s political programme. (The veiled suggestion is that sugar production would be developed under a PM-dominated government but not under a Labour government — which doesn’t say much for the patriotism of the supporters of the PM).

Where would intensification de la production sucrière lead? It would lead to the sugar barons getting richer; and the états-majors living in even more opulence than they do now. The workers would continue to get the bones left from the feasts; to have the crumbs from the rich men’s tables.

Far from wishing to end unemployment, there are many supporters of the PM who would like unemployment to be as severe as possible. Widespread unemployment could be used to break the morals of the workers, to smash the trade unions, to break the power of the organized labourers and to break the back of the working-class political, trade union and co-operative movements. Wages could be depressed in an era of chronic unemployment; and the social provisions of the Labour Code and wages agreements could be flouted with impunity. The PM, in its heart of hearts, would dearly love to see a return to nineteenth-century colonialism, with cheap and abundant labour and low wages; the colonialism which made the Few rich out of the labour and sweat of the Many. (Sir Virgile Naz and Dr Ommanney have both commented on this aspect of the economics of 19th century Mauritius).

Other aspects of the policy statement which are already covered by government plans include the provision of workers’ houses, the development of the health department and more hospitals, and the provision of a social security system. In all the three aspects of policy the PM is trying to make capital out of existing government policy; is trying to arrogate unto itself policies which are already in existence. All three of these aspects of the policy statement are again an eyewash.

As regards instruction publique, the PM is very surprisingly in favour of compulsory primary schooling as soon as possible. This is an extravagant claim to win electoral support. The PM has no interest in education for the workers’ children. What the PM is interested is compelling all schoolchildren in a British colony (!) to learn French. It is also interested in getting for its toadies free scholarships to the secondary schools for children who have attended not primary schools but the fee-paying junior departments of those selfsame secondary schools. No love for workers’ educational facilities beats in the breast of Parti Mauricien and its supporters; they are out to benefit themselves and no one else. In the Royal Navy there is a saying, used of the selfish sailor, “Hard luck, Jack, I’m all right” (only sailors, not being mealy-mouthed, don’t say “Hard luck”). This might well serve as the motto of the Parti Mauricien; its French equivalent, politely put, might be rendered as “Nous nous moquons de vous, car nous allons bien.”

And as far as the desirability of un niveau plus élévé d’instruction secondaire is concerned, the PM is at fault. There is need for better secondary education facilities, it is true, but primary education must be tackled first and the level of primary education must be improved. Reforms are necessary in the secondary education field, of course; French as a compulsory subject at the Scholarship Examination should be abandoned, and fees in government and aided secondary schools should be abolished, with all entrants selected for their ability to profit from the secondary school course, not by their parents’ ability to pay fees. But it won’t be the PM which puts into effect such overdue reforms.

There are tendentious references to nationalisation which might well be the subject of an article on its own. There is, however, a section of policy regarding Income Tax. Paying lip service to the need for income tax, the PM nonetheless makes criticism of detail from which one can be forgiven for inferring that the PM — the sugar industry’s political front — would like to do away with the higher rates of tax so far as to leave more profits in the hands of the barons and the shareholders. But Mauritius needs capital for development, and the vast majority of the people are too poor to provide any — except through customs and excise duties. So, the sugar barons must provide much of the money — after all, it is by the sweat of the people, the poor, underpaid people, that the barons wax fat, so that it is only fair that they should be compelled to give up a large slice of their profits in order that the people might benefit for a change.

5th Year – No 183
Mauritius Times – Friday 7th February, 1958

* Published in print edition on 11 February 2022

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