Futile – and dangerous – diversion


The turn of events over the weekend presents a real risk of the creation of a futile – and dangerous – diversion in order to displace the Wakashio affair from the public’s eye. This possibility has not escaped the attention of several silent observers of the political scene.

Otherwise, they ask, what explains the presence of apparent supporters of ministers Ramano and Maudhoo when they were due to appear at the Souillac Court, after the DPP had given the go-ahead signal? For it is well-known in our more recent political folklore that there is hardly ever any spontaneous mobilization for a politician – unlike the people’s movement that has rallied around to face the impacts of the Wakashio shipwreck. It has involved not only those who have been directly and immediately affected but also more broadly Mauritian citizens belonging to all communities who have not been afraid of expressing their full support to their fellow compatriots. Their concern was not only for the local livelihoods, but has extended to the wider environmental, economic and social aspects, as also to the international image of the country as a tourist destination.

On the other hand, it is clear that there had also been a planned mobilization of supporters of the plaintiff in this case, Bruneau Laurette, within the precincts of the same court. As it could be anticipated, hot tempers led to some scuffles, but fortunately these were short-lived and will hopefully remain at that. Citizens are intelligent enough to grasp the seriousness of national issues, that the one such as the shipwreck represents. This is evidenced by the all-community mobilization to clean up the spill.

As citizens concerned about the safety and security of our country, and aware of the severe difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic to a large number of people in terms of loss of employment, of revenue, of loans on house/car or children’s education that need to be repaid and so on, this shipwreck has come as a major second shock while that of the pandemic is not yet over – doubled by the fear that a second wave may hit us when borders are opened to allow the tourism industry to function again, the very sector which is at stake in the current incident!

The genesis of the crisis post the shipwreck lies in the paucity of information coming from government ranks in Parliament in response to questions being put by members of the Opposition. In fact the latter have averred a number of times that sessions of Parliament are deliberately being altered so as to prevent them from asking questions and debating on the several aspects of the disaster that they feel need to be elucidated. As such, therefore, the representatives of the people are not being allowed to play their role as they are expected too.

However, not only here but in other democracies elsewhere too the rules seem to allow governments some latitude – or whatever legal term applies — to ‘escape’ questioning. Thus, this is what has happened in Canada, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau being taken to task for prorogation of Parliament, using Covid-19 as an excuse. This has been referred to as ‘…Trudeau’s self-serving prorogation of Parliament…’ in an article in The Conversation, and it is considered a ‘controversial one, since it shuttered committee inquiries into the WE Charity affair that have already embarrassed the government’, with the opposition calling the move a ‘cover-up’.

In other words, does this mean that parliamentary practice provides for the government in a democracy to ‘cover-up’? This is a lacuna or a weakness that legislators ought at some stage to address, surely? In our case, there is so much that needs clarification, not least the suspicious movements of the boats to and fro around the Wakashio, coming from Namibia via Madagascar, then going round to Riviere Noire which have been revealed by satellite imagery and shown during an interview on a TV channel. Have the authorities been so naïve as not to realise that there is such a thing as sophisticated satellite surveillance of the oceans – and all the data is recorded and stored, and is accessible to those who specialize in tracking movements across the oceans?

As we can see, there are enough problems that need to be resolved in connection with this incident, including that of a fair and equitable compensation to those who stand to be impacted. Such compensation must come from the shipping company so as to pre-empt any further drain of taxpayer money which is badly needed to deal with the myriad other issues that are impacting people as a result of the pandemic. As much as the Wakashio incident must not be used as an excuse to relegate the Covid-19 associated problems to the background, so too must a politico-communal twist not be used to distract attention from the real issues – the cause and circumstances of the Wakashio shipwreck and subsequent oil spill, and the corrective measures that should be put in place to avert the recurrence of a similar disaster in future and lead to more embarrassment for the country.

Let us all therefore be very vigilant and do our utmost to prevent such a slide that can only be immensely harmful to the country, and potentially devastate those who are in most need of assistance, and who are probably already reeling under the impact of Covid-19.

* Published in print edition on 25 August 2020

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