Changing Skyline

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By Somduth Bhuckory

History has been made under our very eyes again. Four ministers have been elected to sit on the Executive Council which will henceforth function as a ministry. But is the page that has been added to our history glorious or ignominious? The future alone will tell.

As everybody knows, the Executive Council will be composed of four elected members, five nominated and three officials. His Excellency the Governor must have finished consulting all concerned about those he intends nominating but up to now what he proposes to do is top secret.

By electing two members of the Labour Party, Dr Ramgoolam and Dr Millien, and two nominees, Hon Sauzier and Hon Osman, the Legislative Council must have put Sir Robert in a very embarrassing position. What can he do to make the Executive Council reflect the composition of the Legislative Council? The nominees, although styled Independent lately, cannot be said to have any political colour. What must be done then to bring in the Parti Mauricien element? Nominate elected members when nominees have been elected?

We think that Hon Mohamed may soon be a problem – both to Government and the Parti Mauricien. How can Government discard him when he was elected last time to the Executive Council if Government wants a representative of the Parti Mauricien? If, on the other hand, Hon Mohamed is not made to sit on the Executive Council, he will lose faith in the Parti Mauricien. And he and his supporters will start thinking that last time everything was done to make him succeed in order to make him forget his defeat at the Municipal Elections.

There has been some irony in the election of the four ministers. People were thinking that P.R., the single transferable vote system, was as dead as the dodo in Mauritius. After all what we have been hearing against it, one would not have expected it to be still alive and kicking. But Fate or the Colonial Office or British humour would not have it otherwise. It was that very form of P.R. that kicked the four members up. It is hard to understand why it had to raise its ugly head just once more before dropping dead.

Mr John Profumo, the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, was here to watch our history in the making. The London Agreement was largely his achievement. We presume that Mr Profumo, while sitting in our Council, must have had the same feeling on finding part of the agreement being implemented as a dramatist has on a first night on finding the children of his brain strutting on the stage.

As soon as news was released that Mr Profumo would be coming on the 17th, the first thought that crossed everybody’s mind was that he was coming in connection with the inauguration of our ministerial system. But if one had to rely on the official communiqué only, one would have thought that Mr Profumo was coming to spend his Whitsun holiday over here just as Noel Coward would go to Jamaica. Was that done with a view to attracting tourists to Mauritius?

Anyway, Mr Profumo is among us and we welcome him. We know how the British Government is reluctant to spend money when quiet spots like Mauritius are concerned. Only the other day it was said in the House of Commons that what the British Government spends on the visits of MPs to colonial territories represents one tenth of the sum which an Italian football club was prepared to pay recently to secure a footballer.

It’s not every day that Mauritius can expect to have the visit of people like Mr Profumo. We don’t know what arrangements have been made to give him an exact picture of Mauritius. We quite agree that one week is too short a time to do justice to the visit, but it’s better than none. At least Mr Profumo will be able to think of us in terms of what we really are instead of having to rack his brain identifying us with the people of Africa. The French Week which has set the tricolour and the Union Jack flying side by side must not make him forget the allegiance of others.

Mr Profumo must surely know how the London Agreement was received in Mauritius. If he finds everybody quite quiet today he mustn’t fly away with the idea that the Agreement is the ideal thing for Mauritius. There is a peaceful atmosphere because the general opinion is that the Agreement should be given a trial. By giving the Agreement a trial, in truth and in fact, the people of Mauritius are trying their ministers. There may be pandemonium if they do not come out successful of the ordeal.

The curiosity of the people as regards our constitutional set-up is once more aroused. After welcoming the ministers, they will naturally seek to know the difference between the old Executive Council and the Ministry. They are eager to know what change in their lot the change of the constitution will bring. The high-sounding name of minister will only exasperate them if they find that the net result is nil.

Everything is so shrouded in mystery in our island that very often we have to rely on what is said right and left to have a glimpse of the shape of things to come. It is now rumoured that there will be six portfolios out of which Labour will get four. As to the number of labour members to become ministers, it is settled, we understand, that there will be six. How the six ministers will battle against or co-operate with the other six ministers and ex-officio members under the benevolent gaze of the Governor to carry out their plan is a question which is uppermost in the mind of the people.

We take it today that the ministerial system is being tried. It is not rare to find systems of Government emerging out of a process of trial and error. If it is found to be inadequate or unworkable, we hope that people who stand for social progress and political emancipation will have the courage and wisdom to resign and continue to press for other reforms.

The political skyline of Mauritius may change beyond recognition within a comparatively short time. The British Labour Party has outlined its colonial policy as regards colonies like Mauritius in a statement entitled “Smaller Territories”. In pursuance of that policy, Mauritius will be granted Dominion Status. The Labour Party has, of course, to come to power in Britain before implementing its policy. But Lord Attlee is confident that Labour will sweep the board at the next general elections. So, in the near rosy future we may find the silhouettes of a Governor-General and a Prime Minister standing out.

The fight henceforth will take another turn – not self-government but Dominion Status will be the battle-cry. Let us behave in such a way as would convince the Colonial Office that we deserve better things. If we pocket all manner of indignities and cling to office, we won’t be revealing any statesmanship but only our opportunism.

4th Year No 150 – Friday 21th June 1957

* Published in print edition on 10 November 2020

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