One couple from the UK came to spend their nuptial holiday in Mauritius on 8th January 2011. They decided to put up at a prestigious hotel in the north of the island. This holiday was to turn into a nightmare as the new bride, Michaela Harte, was found murdered in her room. This happened in the afternoon of the 10th when she casually came back to the room to fetch back something, leaving her spouse temporarily in the hotel’s restaurant. Little did she reckon that this leave was not going to be so temporary.
The adverse publicity that this situation creates for Mauritius is, of course, something to be deplored. But this is not a mere concern about reputation. This kind of crime invites deeper reflection. Preliminary investigations indicate that when she landed in her room at that fatal hour, Michaela would have found an employee fiddling with the couple’s personal belongings. She paid for it with her life. This profound tragedy striking the couple at the threshold of a new life is upsetting enough. It shows how low a price some people will place on a life. It reflects a sense of loss of values in the Mauritian society, at least at some levels, which casts serious doubt on the depth of our educational and vocational training standards.
In the hotel industry worldwide, some basic safeguards are enforced for the protection of guests. Let alone the hard scrutiny of the guards which intruders cannot escape. With technology, we have, since decades, the world over, means to detect suspect movements and deal with them effectively. CCTVs and watch rooms provide 24-hour security in the corridors, at the swimming pool, down the alleys, on the beach fronts against aggressive hawkers, etc.
Hotel personnel are trained up to be courteous and attentive to guests, it being their primary duty to safeguard visitors against any aggression or undue inconvenience caused by outside interference. I have seen that the majority of them do abide by such expectations in our hotels. But there are black sheep. In the present case, what do we see? Investigations appear to be pointing the finger at some hotel employees’ involvement in the crime. If this is established, we have serious reason to be concerned about our standards of personnel recruitment. For, if certain staff members of the hotel are really those who acted to take away the life of this unfortunate young lady, they have clearly acted in breach of their fundamental duty towards guests. The duty is to protect the guests and not molest them.
It is a sad thing that this kind of substandard behaviour has invaded other fields of activity and social interaction as well. Several cases have been reported last year where people who would otherwise have been held to be trustworthy acted exactly in opposition to the trust placed on them, for personal pleasure or private gains. It is easy to generalise by putting it up as a global phenomenon, Madoff, etc. This however is not the best way to arrest the growth of an unruly attitude that risks transforming Mauritius into what actually it is not at the heart of it.
It is a minority of wrongdoers who seem to lose all sense of balance and decent behaviour on impulse. There must be explanations for it: a relative ease to commit the crime unchecked, management which fails to keep subordinates on their toes when it comes to enforcement of discipline, insufficient or poor regular counselling of staff, a parallel market where items of theft can be sold off for peanuts, inadequate internal physical checks of staff on departure to ward off temptations for staff to steal, etc. But on top of it all, it is the personal factor which leads to the derailment of proper conduct. An individual has to be responsible for personal misconduct in breach of trust above all.
There is a risk that the small minority of untrustworthy employees can cast a long unsavoury shadow on the majority which is well behaved. This is not going to be good for the country. Usually, there are no two ways to arrest lawlessness and its generalisation into society. The answer is exemplary punishment so that others are not tempted to copy the wrongdoers. In a place like Mauritius, where some people take patronage for some types of wrongdoing to be granted under certain circumstances, it is important to keep up our image of a law-abiding society by sending out clear signals that nothing of the sort will be tolerated. Actions, not words, are required. A series of examples will set the clock of untrustworthy behaviour back. We need that in various domains: misbehaviour in road traffic unless aware of police presence or radar checks, pavement-encroaching street hawking, provision of substandard education reflected in excessive private tuitions, faulty workmanship resulting in unreliable equipments, etc.
The authorities may begin by tendering out unqualified apologies to the parents of the victim in the present case. One hopes this has been done already. They need to do so in each such case in future until they realise that this cannot go on and that the problem needed to be tackled at the roots. It may be said that 2011 has started on the wrong footing for the local tourism industry. Surely, we cannot afford going down this road at the expense of the majority in the sector who are well behaved.
* Published in print edition on 14 January 2011