Calamity compounded


By Jan Arden

On 25th July we commemorated the first anniversary of the wreckage of the MV Wakashio onto our south-east coral reefs off Pointe d’Esny. Whether it was loaded with undesirable cargo other than the reported 4000 tonnes of fuel oil we may never know, since both parts of the broken vessel have been sunk or sent to junk.

We trust the appointed Court of Investigation to fish out fact from fiction, but with its inherently limited mandate, we may never discover how, why and when this rather large vessel deviated from the maritime passage south of our shores to head straight to our reefs where it impaled itself. Neither may we find out whether the command and control centres of the NCG and our coastal radar surveillance systems were in paralysis from the moment of the course deviation to the ultimate break-up of the beached vessel in two parts, causing the worst oil spill in living memory in that pristine region. Nor whether the Mauritius Ports Authority was even aware that its hangars were full, it seems, of kms of oil-booms and a variety of contingency equipment to mitigate oil spill damages.

All while thousands of volunteers across the island, braving police interdicts and even barricades, were busy collecting and sewing rudimentary booms in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of oozing black muck. All while authorities were visibly missing in action for a full twelve days, leading in August an angry conscience of the population to march and call for government’s departure on grounds of incompetence, if not downright dereliction of duty.

But worse was to come with the tragic episodes surrounding the sinking of tug Sir Gaetan, sent out to haul l’Ami Constant barge back from Pointe d’Esny to Port-Louis harbour with deaths of three seamen and the disappearance at sea of its unfortunate skipper. We as yet do not know how the barge and the tug were dispatched to assist the Wakashio salvage operations by SMIT salvage on behalf of the Japanese ship-owners.

A second Court of Investigation is under way in parallel to fathom the circumstances and causes of this wretched second accident, some 30 miles north of the Wakashio wreck. But what has been transpiring day by day, as witnesses testify, is nothing short of a calamitous state of affairs at the Port Authority, in what used to position itself as a potential leader in Indian Ocean for security, efficiency and efficacy of operations.

Can we hope that this Court’s findings will assist the urgent sorting out required at the MPA and restore some of its waning credentials?

* * *

The gilded cage

Many of us who have not worked in the public or para-public sector will still have family, friends and relatives working as civil servants and most of us may encounter them in the course of their professional or social intercourse. Thousands of them are dedicated to their work and sense of contributing something more worthwhile than earning money or executing jobs in the private sector, with its own strictures. From teachers and educators to all grades of health personnel, police and fire services, front-liners during the pandemic, many were putting lives and families at risk going to work during the past eighteen months. Our comment here is not in any way therefore addressed at those conscientious personnel in their operational or administrative roles.

MK personnel and staff were not to be blamed when, well before the pandemic, higher echelons flew to Toulouse and chatted their way into buying two new Airbuses which, even before landing, had to be rushed off to SAA on lease and mired our national carrier in heavy seas which the pandemic contributed to send it into voluntary administration. Neither can the thousands of dedicated SBM staff be blamed when top echelons, with garrulous ease, shaved several billions off the bank’s profits through bungled loans to international sharks.

As for the port authorities or the NCG, there is no need to belabour the point when two separate Courts of Investigation are under way. On their side the police service top echelons have yet to explain satisfactorily their conduct of the inquiry into the murder of an MSM chief agent Soopramanien Kistnen, a high-profile case with political ramifications and where we understand the judicial inquiry will be re-opened this week. As for the STC and the fraudulent activities it has been associated with during the pandemic, we are still unaware where matters stand regarding any inquiries and sanctions.

Two weeks ago, I considered that this sense of impunity could have a debilitating impact on the country’s psyche. An experienced civil servant rejoined privately that while he concurred, he could see no way out of the administrative morass. Most higher echelons know the procedures inside out and have spent their lives cajoling ministers and political brass, towards a fulsome retirement. They pick the juiciest board postings, where their contribution is likely to be minimal, he continued. So, what do you replace defaulting SCEs and PS if not by his assistant at a lower rung and who will inevitably have to report to him?

I hope my friend is a tad cynical but he provides some insight about the business as usual atmosphere at highest echelons of our civil service. Kindly do not compare us to Singapore, Rwanda or even Seychelles for that matter unless we find a way to escape the gilded cage.

* * *

Get vaccinated!

The first contingent of Covishield gifted generously by India arrived here end January 2021. The Health ministry, which had previously given the impression of biding its time with vaccine orders, could do no less than get its vaccination act together. There were still problems to sort out: priorities between competing population segments to target, lengthy queues of the elderly to manage and the controversy surrounding the claim waiver form, but at least a semi-organised roll-out was under way from March onwards, depending on the arrival of lots from Covaxine, Covishield, Sinopharm and, now we hear, Sputnik.

That is a massive relief as we stand poised for the re-opening of frontiers with close to 50% of the population having or about to receive their second dose of whatever was on offer by authorities. Yet, what has been hogging the limelight throughout much of this month has been the sudden rise in local cases coupled with the explosive propagation for thousands of immigrants locked in quarantine “dortoirs”. True be it that some may have acted rashly and irresponsibly in organizing family events where sanitary protocols have been ignored, but the bare fact remains that this unchecked rise and a level of 100 new cases per day is taking place as every beach resort, tourism operator and economic management authorities would no doubt have wished for a far safer bubble-image to sell.

We should all wish that the overburdened and overstretched Health personnel succeed in bringing this disquieting new normal rapidly under control and we can contribute our share by getting vaccinated with a double dose at the earliest. When the balance of personal freedoms is up against such an alarming national threat, the sense of collective good, backed by scientific fact rather than speculation, should prevail over personal concerns and beliefs.

Get vaccinated and stick to sanitary protocols all the while, until our island is restored to the safe heaven that it should have remained since early this year. All the more so if we wish all quarantine restrictions imposed by authorities to be phased out at the earliest.

* Published in print edition on 27 July 2021

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