Celebrating Ethnic Diversity

Matters of the Moment
Let us hope that the powerful message of unity and stellar achievement through synergic diversity from the French World Cup champions carry beyond France across Europe and in the world to foster stronger bonds of humanity and people to people solidarity in the global village

The French are the 2018 World Cup champions. Their victory is a gust of fresh air in so many respects. The French triumph is yet again a compelling vindication of the positive contribution of descendants of migrants in their country of adoption and the potent synergies of ethnic diversity at a time when under the pressure of populist parties and a rabid xenophobic rhetoric fortress Europe is raising its drawbridges on immigration. About a month ago the Aquarius, a boat run by a French rescue organization operating in the Mediterranean carrying 629 migrants saved off the coast of Libya was denied access to Malta and Italy by the country’s new populist government before being allowed to berth in Spain. France accepted to take some of the migrants. The growing radicalization of Europe’s posturing against migrants is deplorable and above all contrary to the fundamental values of solidarity, respect of human dignity and human rights championed by Europe which every country of the European Union must adhere to before becoming a member.

15 of the 23 players of the French World Cup team are of African descent. Their families came from Guinea, Cameroon, Senegal, Mali, Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Morocco and Algeria, countries which are mostly ex French colonies. The World Cup victory is therefore also a success story of integration through sports and showcases the pride of French players of diverse ethnic origin to victoriously carry the colours of the national team. It must be said that winning such an important and difficult tournament as the World Cup is a tough task. Each round of the tournament is a big challenge. It was only made possible because the French players gelled as a team, synergized their diverse individual and collective skills, their solidarity, mental strength as a unit to produce an incisive football and determinant actions to successfully pass every round of the tournament till the final victory.

The French goal scorers in the win in the final game against Croatia were all of immigrant descent. Antoine Greizmann’s father emigrated from Germany and his mother is of Portuguese descent whereas Paul Pogba’s parents are from Guinea. Kylian Mbappe, voted the young player of the World Cup, is of Cameroonian and Algerian descent. These were the players who were enthusiastically celebrated by hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen in their rich diversity on the Champs-Élysées and across France. There was no narrow mindedness or xenophobia in those jubilant national celebrations. The unifying force of sports was particularly epitomized by the Croatian President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who wearing her country’s team jersey in the pouring rain hugged every player from both teams as the players were given their medals.

Let us hope that this powerful message of unity and stellar achievement through synergic diversity from the French World Cup champions mirrored in the joyful national celebrations carry beyond France across Europe and in the world to foster stronger bonds of humanity and people to people solidarity in the global village. Will the momentum be potent enough to deter jingoism or extreme nationalism and stem the growing xenophobia thriving in Europe and elsewhere in the world?

* * *

The Mess is Getting Messier

The World Cup frenzy over the past month spared us from the angst of the galling reality in the country. There is a growing and pervasive perception that the messy situation in the country is getting messier over time. Despite government endless tom-tomming and MBC-TV daily blitzkrieg to paint a rosy picture, each week seems to bring its load of turmoil and disarray. It simply does not stop.

The latest developments relate to the threats to the repute of our financial jurisdiction and the important global business sector. According to reports, adverse assessments of our financial jurisdiction by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG) which is a regional peer review structure of measures in place to protect the country against money laundering risk jeopardizing the repute of the global business sector. Both India and Africa are of key importance to the sector.

It must be said that it is the lack of rigour and proper due diligence exercises by the regulatory authorities in the approval of operating permits to controversial investors such as Alvaro Sobrinho, Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais accused of misuse of Angola’s sovereign-wealth fund and others flagged in the Panama and Paradise Papers which have tainted the repute of our financial services sector. Such condemnable decisions are tantamount to a hara-kiri of the sector. The patent procrastination and delayed response of government to take swift corrective measures and reports of the alleged involvement of operators in the financial services sector in the case of the $1.8 billion fraud by an Indian jeweller, Nirav Modi, uncovered in February 2018 may have been contributory factors in the reservations of the ESAAMLG and the SEBI. The regulators must make sure that potential investors as well as India and Africa do not have the perception that Mauritius is a tax haven for despoiled funds.

The repute of a financial sector is very sensitive. It takes painstaking effort to build but it can be ruined by the slightest element of doubt or controversy. It is obvious that the way forward necessarily means that the regulatory framework and the rigour of due diligence screening of applicants as well as the competence of those entrusted to regulate and manage this key sector must be significantly strengthened and benchmarked on the highest norms of the best financial jurisdictions of the world.

* * *

 Actions versus rhetoric

 After more than three and a half years in power, government actions to address the many systemic problems afflicting the country have far from matched its rhetoric. Whether these actions relate to inter alia the rising death toll in the rising number of road accidents, resolutely putting an end to the scourge of drug trafficking in the country, significantly improving standards of governance, promoting inclusiveness, bridging widening inequality or bringing bad apples in government to book, etc., government responses have not been cogent, lacked resolve and been largely ineffective.

The cases against three ex-Ministers and others who have had to step down for various wrongdoings are yet to be brought to trial. One has benefitted from an out-of-court handsome settlement from state funds on an earlier case of litigation. The son of another ex-Minister has been allowed to transfer at a substantial premium the lease he held on a beachfront state land property on Pas Géométriques in Grand-Bay by government in 2016.

Despite the government professed determination to rid the country of drug trafficking, its kingpins and their stranglehold over the country, the deadly trade thrives and continues unabated as evidenced by the plethora of consignments of diverse drugs entering the country through different conduits such as by air, sea, post being seized by the authorities almost every month. A convicted drug kingpin even made the galling boast while deponing in front of the Commission of Inquiry on drug trafficking that his drug business was prospering while he is serving time in prison and that he had stashed a personal fortune of Rs 650 million abroad.

The recent organized furlough of a drug trafficker from detention with the alleged connivance of policemen, the unexplained discrepancy of 16 kgs of heroin in a record consignment of 135 kgs seized in the port in March 2017, the proliferation and sale of synthetic drugs among the youth as well as the inability of the anti drug authorities to quash the drug trade measure the scale of the serious challenges posed by drug trafficking in the country.

The country and the people are therefore eagerly awaiting the report and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking which is expected to be submitted soon, three years after it was set up. In the light of the seriousness of the drug trafficking problem in the country and the adverse impact on the youth, the people expect the recommendations to include an arsenal of harsher laws and penal sanctions akin to those in force in Singapore which would act as a potent and effective deterrent to drug trafficking in the country.

It is no longer time for half measures. The harsher laws must signal to drug barons and peddlers who trade in deadly drugs which kill addicts and thrive on addiction to enrich themselves that they do so at their own risk and peril. Will government finally take the required urgent and bold actions to crush and eradicate this evil from our society and the country?

* * *

 Too much Unfinished Business

When a government is unable to efficiently address a host of fundamental issues affecting the people and the country but still feels that it is doing a great job, it is time for change

 So many things are amiss in the country. The government cannot be regularly hyping our Africa Strategy but be largely absent from or properly represented at meetings of the African Union (AU) and other African regional inter-governmental organizations we are members of. This will not do. We above all need to engage Africa as real and proactive partners as anyone who has attended AU or African Ministerial meetings can vouch that there is tremendous goodwill towards Mauritius and that an innovative and meaningful south-south partnership with Africa which benefits both parties is bound to succeed.

The higher penalties imposed on traffic violations and stricter rules introduced by government as well as the multiplicity of covert speed traps set up presently by the police will certainly boost government revenue, but will they stem the death toll and the rising number of road accidents? In any case covert speed traps are highly decried internationally as a money minting mechanism and are contrary to norms of international practice protecting drivers’ rights.

The government has all the data mining information on road accidents for a more targeted response. It is evident to all of us who drive in the country that one of the main causes of accidents is reckless speed driving by some drivers in wanton violation of the traffic code, encountered almost daily while driving. Cameras and speed checks may catch some of them but not all of them. These irresponsible drivers represent a risk for themselves and for others.

Apart from continuously educating all drivers on the urgent need of strictly abiding by traffic laws in the interest of all, the police must above all regularly and diligently patrol the main highways and roads of the country in unmarked cars to spot and nab these dangerous drivers.

At a time when the profits of commercial banks are reaching record levels, it is flabbergasting that the unfinished business of ‘culling’ and significantly reducing the exorbitant and excessive bank charges and fees charged by commercial banks is yet to be addressed by government and the Bank of Mauritius (BOM) four years after the BOM report entitled ‘Banking Your Future: Towards a Fair & Inclusive Banking Sector’ mapping the ‘Unfair Terms and Conditions in banking contracts’ was released in June 2014.

Despite the positive response obtained from the public in the survey carried out on the recommendations of the BOM report, the government is yet to act on such an iniquitous state of affairs adversely affecting economic operators, entrepreneurs and the larger banking public.

It is therefore high time to overhaul an archaic and ‘usurious’ system which has endured for too long and align it with what is the norm in the banking sector in advanced countries like the UK where pursuant to protests by consumer lobbies banking charges and fees are either inexistent on a host of banking transactions or minimal. In the same vein, urgent steps must also be taken to regulate and benchmark interest rate spreads and currency conversion rate spreads on best practice norms prevailing in advanced economies.

A democracy cannot function if the sittings of the National Assembly are marred almost every week by expulsions and walkouts of MPs of the Opposition and abject shenanigans used to avoid answering embarrassing questions asked by elected representatives of the people. This sorry state of affairs contrasts sharply with the standard of debate, fairness and tenor of responses of the UK Prime Minister, currently beleaguered by dissent and divisions on Brexit, during the PM’s Question Time in the UK Parliament.

It is clear that too many things are awry in the country. When a government is unable to efficiently address a host of fundamental issues affecting the people and the country but still feels that it is doing a great job, it is time for change. Social housing cannot be the yardstick of government success. It basically condemns large swathes of low income earners unable to make both ends meet to dependence on state support and assistance in a country aspiring to become a high income economy.

The thrust of government action must be to move people away from dependence through higher standards of living delivered by an innovative and inclusive model of development which creates the opportunities and level playing field to enable them and the multitude to pursue their dreams of happiness through their hard work and enterprise. Not to do so opens the door for the people’s sanction.


* Published in print edition on 20 July 2018

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