By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Importation of migrant workers to satisfy the needs of specific economic sectors and boost their competitiveness in a market economy is a component of the modern capitalist system. It benefits both the workers and their employers – to the detriment of local workers in some countries. Employers pay less and pocket profits while workers are too glad to leave countries where few job opportunities are available. Lack of local workforce in some areas is another factor which justifies the recourse to foreign workers.
Employment of thousands of Bangla Deshi workers in the construction sector was given carte blanche by the former government. Three-year contracts were renewed and fresh arrivals encouraged to provide labour not only in the construction sector but also in textile factories. Over the years Bangla Deshis have been employed in shops, warehouses, and now as gardeners and waiters.
Mauritius looks like America to them in terms of economic development and individual freedom. No doubt, their families back home were happy to receive part of their monthly salaries to make ends meet, save and build homes. Quite a lot of the workers dream of Europe, US, Canada and Australia and making a big buck, which is quite understandable. Bangla Desh itself has benefitted from a favourable rate of economic growth over the past years.
There are a few points that need to be addressed to rightly inform the public. In the last electoral campaign SAJ raised the question of the presence of thousands of Bangla Deshi workers and the length of their stay over here, and considered sending back a big chunk of them. It seems that local employers and lobbies are encouraging employment of the migrant workers for various reasons.
The public should be informed on the number of foreign workers employed in the country, the duration of work permits and the numbers who actually go back home. There is no reason why workers from countries with rising unemployment issues like Madagascar, Sri Lanka, India and Nepal do not migrate in thousands to Mauritius to fill vacancies in specific areas. We hope that the government will look into the issue seriously this year and consider the predominant public sentiment on what is a desirable choice in migrant workers policy.
Immigration laws are quite tough for obvious reasons. We have the paradox of a small territory which is already overcrowded, with the never-ending needs of a market economy to boost consumerism. There are urgent policy decisions to be taken on this thorny issue. Foreign spouses of Mauritian nationals already have the right to settle but no such right is guaranteed for their children’s children. In the long run, it also raises the question of inheritance. Superior financial means makes it easier for returning Mauritians to purchase lands and property. It does not sound fair to citizens who have been struggling to save for years in Mauritius. Other developing countries face the same issue. Big countries can afford to advise citizens to migrate to vast rural areas. Mauritius can take back its younger citizens from foreign lands in a decade or two. By that time, let us face it: the ageing population will have made room for others.
The open-door policy to wealthy foreigners is a risky option which may yield short-term economic gains. Are they craving for Mauritian nationality? Not that we are aware of. Tax evasion tempts a few rogue elements to launder ill-gotten wealth in safer havens. Skilled foreigners with the right work culture are an advantage to the local economy. Apparently, South Africans are eager to settle permanently and acquire Mauritian nationality. One reason is that positive discrimination in their country favours employment of black South Africans. Anti-White hostility and violence is the other reason. It is also understandable that the climate and peaceful atmosphere here draw other foreigners over here.
A plethora of desires, wishes, hopes and fears prompt folks to move here and there, and this does not make it easy for the authorities to sort out. But that does not absolve them from the responsibility to craft a reasonable policy to deal with the issue, without alienating relations with countries that have stood by and partnered with us over long years.
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Africa and the domino effect
First, it is a fact that Mauritius is located partly in the African geographical zone, which the country intends to take advantage of in terms of investments and economic opportunities. But Mauritius is not an African country.
Media spokespersons mislead the public in comparing local political leaders with African despotic rulers. Though corruption and greed permeate politics, the overall bigger picture is different. Colonialism and exploitation of African natural resources cannot be eternally blamed for the myriad ills that have plagued the African continent, during which millions of US and Europeans’ taxpayers’ money have poured into Africa. Any educated African citizen you meet in Africa and abroad will tell you that the root problem has been African politics. In any case, does it change a lot that precious natural resources in parts of Africa are handled by China now?
Mauritian political leadership, despite economic hurdles and lack of resources, has aimed to uplift the general standard of living of the population as from Independence by investing in key sectors of education and health. Megalomaniac African leaders lacked the concept of common good, general welfare and distribution of wealth. Mauritius is more Asian in character and outlook, and has adopted a pragmatic approach to economy and politics, opening up to modern western influences which suit its needs.
We must not join the chorus of western leftist intellectuals who are very good at propagating a simplistic binary vision of victims and culprits. It is so convenient to pin failures on other people’s back. Political correctness does not promote historical truth. Slavery in Sudan and Libya is still carried out by those who deemed it right to enslave Africans much before Europeans started the slave trade.
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As far as our country is concerned, what is perceived as an illegal promotion to prime ministership does not seem to bother common folks. Whether SAJ did not officially announce his intention of paving the way for his son does not give sleepless nights to citizens. Because they already knew it just as everybody did in 2014. What matters to them is how the country is being led and what is being done to promote their welfare, with scant concern for the ‘l’imposte’ narrative which is grist to the mill for talk show political analysts.
Quite a number of apparently respectable individuals are indeed ‘impostors’ , and some of them are white-collar criminals who are having a field day making the best of a double role and duplicity which is deeply ingrained in their mental make-up and which they believe will never be unmasked.
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What looks like a domino effect of an overthrow of autocratic regimes in Algeria and Sudan may prompt the hawks who advised President Bush in 2003 to think that they were right. Except that it is happening elsewhere. The Middle-East is still in a mess. Could Iraqis, Libyans and Syrians have dreamt of toppling their leaders without foreign intervention?
The US will make sure that the ousted Sudanese president be dragged to the International Court of Justice and be judged for genocide, war, crimes, torture, rape and the fate of two million Christians in Sudan. Omar al-Bashir’s anti-western imperialist stance to justify his actions is unlikely to get a favourable hearing. His Arab supporters may not be of much help. Russia is beginning to face internal discontent. China will think twice before siding with him. Uprisings in Sudan and Algeria are bound to send shivers down the spine of other autocratic rulers in the continent. Not a bad prospect for the people aspiring to reform and change.
* Published in print edition on 19 April 2019