Budget 2018-19, Security & The Safe City Project

The Safe City project looks set to be a massively costly investment providing a very partial answer to the capital’s crime problems, while auguring a severely constrained ability to provide greater security to the population in other towns and villages around the country

Budget day 2018 has been chosen to coincide with a particular conjunction of spiritual and mundane events: the end of the holy month of Ramadan for practising Muslims in Mauritius and the world over and, secondly, the kick-off of the FIFA World Cup, which is eagerly awaited by a large majority of our countrymen.

The Eid-ul-fitr is regarded by most Islamic scholars as not only the community festivities marking the end of a testing month, not only an occasion to congratulate family and friends around specially prepared food, not only a day of prayers, for alms to the needy and for washing the sins and errors past but also an annual opportunity for personal spiritual renewal.

The very rigours endured, calls on devout Muslims for a re-dedication of their individual lives to the cause of humanity, which is the best way to demonstrate submission to the love and mysteries of God’s ways. A time, according to some of the learned men of that faith, to resolve that energies, in the coming year, “be directed towards strengthening a society based on mutual respect, brotherly love and universal understanding”. A time to share our best wishes with those who could and did submit to the fervour of Ramadan and rejoice in the Eid.

That triple precept so vital for our mixed and pluri-cultural environments are, in one manifested form or another, the substratum of all religious traditions and beliefs. The triple tenet of Good thoughts, Good words and Good deeds comes to mind. It forces us to condemn with equal vigour any acts of disrespect through the abuse of internet media just as we condemn the vandalism or profanation of all places of worship.

It equally forces us to tolerance and respect for the orientations of consenting lawful adult citizens in their private lives, where neither anyone of us nor society in the wider sense, can pass judgement, however strongly we may feel about the “naturality” of such expressions. Censure of human diversity and plurality in all its manifold forms are matters better left, for some, to the infinite wisdom of the Creator, for others, to some future Judgement day or, for still others, to the operation of the greater karmic wheel.

The demonstrations at Place d’Armes cannot be compatible with a society based on greater understanding, respect and solidarity, particularly with those who are not at fault for their genetic, psychological or emotional make-up. Neither can we be insensitive to incendiary posts one way or the other which are reported to clog the social media. The relevant regulatory bodies in their current disorganised state look obviously unfit for any meaningful role in curbing abuse of the internet through insensitive religious insults or to provide rapid response that guarantees the country’s fragile social fabric is not torn asunder.

That the incidents should have been foreseen, predicted and defused by the Police, by the political masters who hold daily and weekly briefings with them are matters of concern for ordinary citizens already flabbergasted by a pervasive feeling of insecurity, petty criminality and violence. If it is a much-needed wake-up call, let us hope it has been taken seriously.

Which brings us to one of the major proposals for public safety whereby the police force will roll out on a pilot basis and scale a web-cam or CCTV surveillance system so as to test its effectiveness. It is a measure emanating from last year’s budget speech:

 “Safe City Project

“The Safe City project will be implemented on a pilot basis with the installation of smart cameras in major public areas, along main roads and motorways, pedestrian walkways and principal traffic centres. These cameras will act as powerful and effective tools to combat crimes and drugs proliferation, assist in more effective traffic and road safety management.”


 

What has surprised the press, Opposition MPs and observers is the suddenness of the announcement and the scale of the implementation projected, with some 4000 CCTV cameras in Port-Louis, monitoring and obviously intruding into the private lives of law-abiding citizens and commuters who have no choice than to be in the capital for business or administrative purposes.

Many questions remain unanswered about the special terms of the Lease agreement brokered between Mauritius Telecom (a private entity), the Mauritius Police Force, Hua-Wei, the already selected supplier, the terms of China Exim bank’s involvement to seal the long-term deal and the Government guarantees provided over 15 or 20 years of lease duration.

From info obtained by l’express (5 June) initial project launch would cost the public purse $13 million while annual lease would be, curiously, on a staggered escalation scale from $19 million per year for first seven years and $24 million per year thereafter to year 20. It adds up indeed to a remarkable proposed outlay of between 15-20 billion Rupees (depending on $ exchange rate) from the public purse over 20 years when the current government’s mandate extends to next year only. The Opposition in 2014 would have been screaming its head off at such immense generosity concocted in less than desirable transparent conditions.

As a preventive or deterrent strategy element in public security, the CCTV system would require a dedicated cell of trained personnel manning the Big Brother, sited in a secure and confidential place, suitably linked to all police forces on the beat or in stations for rapid intervention where suspicious events are being identified. It is as yet unclear how it would also link with traffic and road safety management as initially proposed, and who will have unlimited access to the recorded activities of ordinary citizens in Port-Louis streets.

Could they also be used to cover activities and manifestations of NGOs, trade unions, disgruntled employees or political entities and to track down or harass opponents? Will that be more effective than having, say, more trained, more motivated and better equipped conscientious police officers on the beat remains to be seen.

With current information, the Safe City project looks set to be a massively costly investment providing a very partial answer to the capital’s crime problems, while auguring a severely constrained ability to provide greater security to the population in other towns and villages around the country. It must be recalled that the entire Police Force budget is only about Rs 8billion.

We do not know whether the project has been formulated as an outcome of intelligent strategic planning from our security forces or emerged from the priorities of higher political quarters. But we do trust by this budget day government will demonstrate and effectively sketch the strategies and resources required to tackle at national level the alarming growth of the twin plagues of criminality and drug trafficking.

 


* Published in print edition on 14 June 2018

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