A Stronger, more Secure and Stable Society
The achievement of a stronger, more secure and stable society is stated to be one of the main thrusts of the Government Programme at paragraph 11 of the speech delivered by the President of the Republic on Tuesday 8th June. The paragraph following states that tackling crime will be a top priority of the government. This emphasis on the social factor is not out of place. There is no real meaning to extraordinary economic and similar achievements by a country if its social structure is unable to hold itself together in a well-governed and civilised manner. In fact, enterprises are born or upgraded and production is increased in a country on the assumption that an overall social environment will prevail which is conducive. Haiti has not come up because the social factor has been amiss. Closer to us, Congo is unable to derive the advantages conferred upon it by its rich mineral deposits because of its prevailing social havoc. We should not look down on such countries because the whole mess is not of their making. Many external forces have impoverished them in the first place. This has led to a scramble for the remaining scarce resources on which to survive, leading to the proliferation of violence and crime. A moment must have come in their history when they could have confidently collected themselves towards a fairer and more stable society. They missed that opportunity. A chaotic situation ensued as a consequence which it is extremely difficult to reverse because of aggravations having taken place since then.
In the case of Mauritius, the threat of social instability has manifested itself not in the absence of broad economic success. In fact, barring the exception of the social disturbances of 1968, it is during phases of high GDP growth, which economists are so fond of quoting as marks of success, that the social factor has shown signs of degeneration. Crime, alcohol, drugs and perverse social behaviours have been manifesting themselves more frequently now than before. Driving impatience is catching up on the roads. Tension is building up for individuals, not going down. Looking for scapegoats for all this, the tendency has been to put the responsibility for each degrading social situation on the government of the day. This is not so. The State has a responsibility but you cannot pass the whole buck to it alone. There are a series of other factors explaining the setting in of looser social behaviours.
One of the explanations for the evolving adverse social situation may be attributed to excessive individual expectations against the background of relative prosperity. Seeing the disparity of incomes and wealth, often paraded ostentatiously especially by those in top social positions, people at different levels find themselves facing an expectations gap. They resort to all sorts of devices, not excluding crime, to try to bridge this gap. The criminals are a minority in the population but the few misdeeds they carry out tend to cast a long shadow over our otherwise more positive achievements. The unruly social elements realise that it is by adopting unlawful behaviours that they can get faster to their objectives, short of being able to overcome the handicaps that separate them from their social aspirations. They are prepared to grab by any means and the majority of their victims are the less well off. Some of the “forces vives” of the country, to whom the President referred in his speech as part of the solution towards better social integration, help to accentuate the expectations gap rather than working together with the authorities to help reduce this gap or bring it to more socially tolerable proportions. Rather than sympathising with them to secure adherence, which is what they usually do, they could have gone that one-step-further to help them get more skilled and better treated economically. But they don’t. In that case, “forces vives” is a misnomer for them.
When an employee in an institution wants to rise beyond his current station, he may seek recourse to political pressure and/or other forms of corrupt behaviour to get to his objective. It is enough that he should feel that he is above the lot. Whether this is true or not is another matter. Once this machinery is set in motion to meet this kind of often outrageous demand, it creates hundreds of other frustrations in the work place. People start feeling that they too can get to their chosen objectives by having the appropriate “contacts” in the right places. The whole system becomes prone to by-passing. Naturally, this kind of one-upmanship ends up contaminating entire structures and de-motivating those who really deserve. The contaminated structures therefore increasingly fail to deliver what they have been set up for, as the worm-in-the-bud grows to make corruption of the sort part of the system. In any event, their efficiency is irremediably impaired the more generalisation of this sort takes place.
Should there be strict rules that can be applied without delay, so that no one is allowed to jump over the fence, the damage done to the social framework will be mitigated. The perception that justice is done and seen to be done is a first and essential step towards achieving a safer and more secure society. The more the public trusts that this is actually the case the more we will make progress towards achieving social stability. A more level playing field will ensue in that case in the private and public sectors, which is a basic ingredient for social stability. We have to arrest this manner of fulfilling unjustified expectations gaps if we want to see society stabilise in a controlled manner. If we want to achieve the social objective set out by the President in his speech, it will become imperative to ban the filling up of unjustified expectations gaps by means of external interferences in laid-down processes. Let’s see who will be the first to sign up to that.
Beyond the above-stated considerations, some amount of positive discrimination is called for to restore social balance. Despite very substantial and sustained economic growth rates having taken place since the decade of the 1980s up to now, the system (including onerous credit sales and consumption habits) has not helped to level up differences to an acceptable degree in terms of social well-being, sustainability and status of the poorer lot among the population. It has widened existing disparities in fact to their prejudice. Disorderly development has been allowed to proceed. Our extensive social welfare program has also missed them. Those finding themselves today in sufficiently serious enough economic conditions for one reason or other, to such a point as not to be able to contemplate educating their upcoming generation suitably, cannot be left behind. This is not for utilitarian purposes like getting less crime and violence. It is about fellow citizens who cannot be left to fend for themselves under so-called “market forces”.
This involves a matter of social justice that is expected to inculcate in such disadvantaged people the confidence to come up. Helping them does not mean giving them one-off assistance. There is need rather to follow up more closely to ensure a more sustainable livelihood for them, until they are well integrated into the mainstream. The accompaniment should be real and testable by results obtained over specified periods. Rather than letting such people live on the fringe of society and thus become a liability by adding to social instability, the focus should be to lift them out of this danger. Politicians should stop using their misery to get on to collecting more votes. It is the mission of governments to direct resources to equip people finding themselves in such dire conditions. It is also the responsibility of profitable enterprises to join hands if only not to be considered as feeling-less profit makers. It is far better to achieve concrete results than use high-sounding words to give a semblance of action. Actions of the sort will contribute to make all of us feel that we are bound on a common adventure and in a common effort to deal with the rest of the world as our partners in transactions.
A final word on reward and punishment. Modern punishment does not achieve much by way of really suppressing the scourges that make society insecure and unstable. This is because the system of punishment rarely tracks down the root causes of anti-social behaviours. There are those at the top who profit by the proliferation of drugs and crimes in society. Their wall of defence appears to have been raised so high that the eye of justice barely sees them. While their stooges are caught up for a pittance, they themselves manage to get away scot-free. This introduces the risk that petty and more serious crimes may go on proliferating without any long-term solution. Unless the crime-tracking services of the State are truly effective, uplifting those who are currently in difficult economic conditions will become a frustrating work. The lords of the underworld will enlist new recruits and perpetuate instability. This is where the proposal made in the Government Programme to enable law enforcers to track down and take hold of unexplained ill-gotten wealth also makes sense.
The job cannot be attended to piecemeal. It requires coordination at all important levels. If this exercise is carried out to its logical end, a new and better society will emerge giving Mauritians a much higher ambition to vie against the best in the world. Why should we not become renowned for our social peace and stability rather than for the contrary? The task is difficult but it is worth it.