Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By Peter Ibbotson
In yet another ‘Opinion du Jour’ devoted to income tax, that celebrated literary stylist N.M.U. asks us to consider a gross income of 40,000 rupees a year.
First, however, let us consider the thousands of people whose plight was described by Father Dethise earlier this year. Let us consider the bus-driver whose basic monthly wages were Rs 145 yet who had to spend Rs 144.50 a month on food alone — his overtime earnings having to pay all the rest of his household expenses. Let us consider the average monthly expenditure on food by categories of families:
Married; married with 1 child – Rs 93.39
Married with 2, 3 or 4 children – Rs 121.35
Married with 5 or more children – Rs 138.10
Yet many people cannot afford such expenditure and so have to live on diets which are inadequate and unsatisfactory. Children are never able to eat their fill; they must go about in rags.
Let us consider also the awful monotony of a diet consisting largely of rice and bread: with meat and fish seldom appearing on the menu. Would N.M.U. care to subsist on such a diet?
Let us consider also the plight of the sick, the aged and the unemployed. Public assistance — an average of 21 rupees a month. Old age pensions — a maximum of Rs 20 a month. Unemployment benefit — nothing at all. Let us consider all those hundreds of people to whom the daily gift of only a 10-cent bread roll means the difference between starvation and existence. Let us consider also the hundreds of children who have to go off to school without a solid breakfast inside them; who come from families who have only one meal a day.
Let us consider also the hundreds of people who are always underfed and always hungry. Who eventually die of anaemia due to malnutrition. Or who fall victims to tuberculosis, that dread scourge of undernourished, ill-housed underprivileged populations.
Let us consider all the thousands of people in Mauritius whose material conditions of life are an affront to their dignity as human beings.
And while considering them, let us also ask ourselves: “Has N.M.U. spared any of his invective for the social conditions which have caused such widespread poverty, misery and squalor? which make life for many Mauritius a living hell on earth? which condemn people to life-long want? Has N.M.U. ever castigated with his vituperative pen those who are ultimately responsible for the wretchedness which lurks ever-present behind Mauritius’ picturesque filao-fringed facade?
Only when we have considered the lot of all the poverty-stricken thousands of Mauritians ought we to begin to consider the man with the gross annual income of Rs 40,000. But let us, all the same, consider him. With Rs 10, 000 exempt from taxation as his personal and family allowance, the man pays Rs 8, 250 income tax on the remaining Rs 30,000. So his net income is still Rs 31,750 — not bad; not bad at all. On Rs 31,750 he can afford a better home than one room (at Rs 10 a month) in a Port Louis tenement. He can afford something better to live in than a dark, ill-ventilated, straw roofed shack built of mud and dung. He can afford to feed his family on a better and more varied monthly diet than: 80 lbs rice, 150 loaves, 12 bottles of milk, 1 lb tea, 20 lbs sugar, 2 boxes of butter, 8 bottles of oil, 9 lbs meat, 12 lbs fish, and Rs 24 worth of legumes, spices, fruit and cakes. He can afford more than Rs 25 a month for clothes; he can afford to buy his cigarettes more than one at a time.
Even if the man with Rs 40,000 a year does pay Rs 8,250 in income tax and is made miserable at having to pay it, at least the Rs 31, 750 he has left enable him to be miserable in comfort. And there are thousands of Mauritians who would gladly be miserable, if the cause of their misery was having to pay the income tax due on Rs 40,000 a year. I would myself, come to that.
Anyway, who are these people, these plutocrats, over whose income tax liability we are invited to weep? for whom N.M.U. asks us for our sympathy? They are the very persons who are exploiting the limited natural resources of the island! Since they are doing so, it is only right and proper that they should pay income tax and thus contribute towards the Government’s expenditure on schemes of social service intended in some way and degree to ameliorate the conditions of life of the majority.
France claims to be a civilised country. It was a Frenchman who said “When I pay taxes, I buy civilization.”
Yet in Mauritius it is a Frenchman, M. Noel Marrier d’Unienville, who publicly opposes tax-paying.
What illogicality from a reputedly logical race!
Although of course we could appreciate the logic of N.M.U.’s campaign against the Income Tax Dept if we knew his personal interest in the matter.
Friday 5th October 1956
* Published in print edition on 18 January 2019
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