Gambling Scourge Gaining Ground 

Points To Ponder


A First Point: Why is the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation so keen on having the draws of the various lotteries displayed on our national television? We agree that the lotteries attract the attention of many Mauritians and that the MBC likes to pander to the taste of the people. But at the same time, is it not encouraging viewers to gamble more and ever more? It is making money in the process but I think that it has a moral duty to fight against the gambling instinct of the citizens.

The more people hear and see about gambling, the more they gamble.

I am sure that it is the policy of the present government to discourage gambling in all its forms, because it has never brought any happiness to the people at large. Maybe one in a million can win but the winnings are lost in a few years. The very great number of persons who gamble lose their money and we know of so many persons who have lost everything they had and even some of them have had to resort to begging; some have been driven to suicide.

Of course gambling concerns money, and big money at that. Children start gambling when they start playing, then they graduate to small time gambling when they are at school, after which they become real gamblers. How many teachers, of the primary schools as well as of the secondary schools, are real gamblers? How many employees in the civil service spend the equivalent of nearly three working days per week in gambling? I know that such is the case, therefore none can deny this hard fact. The culture of gambling is very much prevalent in Mauritius but are the authorities ready and willing to put a stop to it or even to bring it down to an acceptable level?

Take this obvious example. The people responsible for horse racing here are proud of the fact that our racecourse, the Champ de Mars, is the most ancient one in the southern hemisphere. Have they put the question as to why horse racing is still so popular in the country? The answer is simple. It is because it survives and thrives on gambling. How many thousands of millions change hands between the punters and the bookmakers every racing day?

I have been told that some gamblers had lost heavily and the only way out for them was suicide! Is this the society in which we want to live? I think it was Sir Anerood Jugnauth, when he was the Prime Minister, who discouraged Mauritians from going into this frenzy of gambling, bookmakers could not operate outside the Champ de Mars, and this was good for the great majority of Mauritians. He did not allow casinos to flourish, certainly not in every locality of the country as is the case now through the encouragement given to them by the last government. In fact he was like most of us ordinary Mauritians: we are against gambling. He was so right!

Nita Deerpalsing, the very active Member of Parliament from Quatre Bornes, has decided to fight against one casino, the one located on the high street in the centre of Quatre Bornes. That casino should not have its licence to operate renewed on its expiry. She is right to point out that a casino cannot operate in the centre of Quatre Bornes, because in the first place the people of Quatre Bornes are totally against a gambling joint and also because it should not have been given a licence to operate from where it is situated. It attracts all types of undesirable elements, including prostitutes and their supporters. Besides, we wonder why a casino employs “bouncers”, maybe because there are problems with people who gather at that unwanted place and at all unwanted places. Foul and insulting language is used, there are fights, and people get injured, and we have been told that there has even been one case of murder.

The inhabitants of Quatre Bornes are unanimously with Nita Deerpalsing as she tries to clean up a part of the town that has become so dirty that it stinks. What about the role of the Municipality of Quatre Bornes? Are the duly elected Councillors on the side of the people or on the side of those who are bent on bringing ill fame, disrepute and a foul smelling environment to the Ville des Fleurs? If they are not on the side of the people, we must know the reason for which they are siding with the casino. They should not forget that the local government election will be held soon.

I am also reminded that not only the ordinary persons indulge in gambling. Even the State Corporations or State-controlled companies indulge in gambling on a very large scale. Let me mention two organisations. The first is Air Mauritius and the second one is State Trading Corporation. Both these two organisations have lost billions of rupees in the gambling exercise called “hedging”. Those persons who have carried out the hedging exercise may say that what they did was not gambling, but for me, it was purely and simply gambling.

And they gambled when they had neither knowledge nor experience in this type of gambling. I wonder if they would have gambled if they were dealing with their own money. If it’s the money of the citizens of the country, the persons who feel like gambling, they will do it because they are irresponsible people. And of course neither Air Mauritius or the State Trading Corporation will have the guts to ask those responsible for the hedging or gambling to reimburse whatever sum of money that we have lost in the hedging or gambling, call it as you wish. Do those persons who have caused such huge losses have any experience in gambling matters? I am sure that the answer is in the negative, that is why Air Mauritius as well as the State Trading Corporation are still paying the price for such gambling.

Any person who helps to do away with gambling dens of any type whatsoever should be congratulated. 

The Battle of Grand Port Commemoration

A Second Point: The Prime Minister Dr Navin Ramgoolam is right when he says that we must assume our past, however unpalatable it is. Now we have a better idea of what happened around the year 1810 between the French and English in the sea around Grand Port. What I am writing now is for the attention of Mukeshwar Choone, Minister of Arts and Culture.

I would like to ask the Minister to tell us how much money is being spent to better acquaint us with the battle that was fought in 1810 between the French and the English, called the Battle of Grand Port. Is it a hundred million rupees, is it two hundred million rupees or is it more than that? We need to be told about that.

If government can spend can so much in order to make us aware of that event, how much should it spend on the arrival day of the Indian Indentured workers? I am asking the Minister of Arts and Culture when and how is he going to celebrate that event which is far more important to Mauritians than the Battle of Grand Port, except to a few people who are attached to France.

May I suggest to the Minister that he should set up a committee right now to advise him as to how he should go about fixing the date, the activities and the duration of the event. The Minister should provide the finance and the other facilities and I am sure that this will be a credit to the Minister. All this would depend on whether the Minister believes that the arrival of the Indian immigrant workers is as important, if not more, than the Battle of Grand Port.

And then we shall have to concentrate on what is happening to our African Diaspora, the slaves and their descendants. We shall have to know in what circumstances those who were brought as slaves, how and why they were forced to give up their religion, how they were treated as part of chattels, as some sort of sub-human beings and how they were forcibly made to embrace Roman Catholicism. And we know that the Africans who were forcibly brought here were denied their heritage, cultural, religious and otherwise and their identity was suppressed. Most of them were forced to adopt French names, speak the French language, even if they could not do it and imitate the manners and customs of the masters. That is why you still find the sequel of slavery among some of our countrymen.

We shall also have to look at how the Sino-Mauritian community has fared since their ancestors arrived in this country and how they have progressed since in the educational and economic fields.

The Minister of Arts and Culture has an immense task ahead of him. Let us wait and see if he will perform to the satisfaction of the people of Mauritius generally, but specifically of those who did everything possible to elect him to be a Member of Parliament and subsequently to be a Minister.

Millions spent on Subutex. What about the result?

A Third Point: So many people have been talking of Subutex, the substitute for drugs for addicts. Drug addicts were put on Subutex as a substitute for hard drugs that the addicts were using. They used to spend thousands of rupees every month whether they could afford such sums or not, and their numbers kept on increasing.

We were told that Subutex would be given to the addicts for a limited number of months until the addicts could be weaned off drugs. Now it is time to tell us how many drug addicts have, up to now, gone off drugs, are back to normal and they are working and earning their living?

We must also know how many persons are, as at date, still on Subutex and when are they likely to be off that drug.

A qualified person tells me that Subutex has never been a medicine that will cure drug addiction, but that it is a substitute for the drug and nothing more. Is it so? The Ministry that is responsible for administering this drug knows best, but the officers cannot reveal any detail concerning the effects of Subutex on the drug addicts. Can we ask the Minister to tell us les dessous du Subutex? We are told that this is money uselessly spent on addicts and these people are not prepared to give up their hard drugs or Subutex for that matter. Those addicts who have the will to give up their drug addiction can do so, however hard the case can be, whereas for the others, nothing can be done.

At the same time, we would like to know how much money is being spent on the purchase of Subutex, on the dispensing of and advertising for the drug. I am sure that it goes into hundreds of millions of rupees, money that could have better used to relieve the hard cases of poverty, especially old persons, widows and handicapped persons. But who will listen?

Squatting on State Lands & Dereliction of Duty 

A Fourth Point: Let us talk about our squatters for a change. We have in Mauritius land that is under the control of the private sector, that is land that is or was purchased by companies or individuals with their own money, that they have saved with much hardship. But you also have those large estates that have not been purchased by the owners, but which were given to some chosen persons by the then authorities for free. And then you have those estates that have, in most cases, by dubious means, appropriated some lands that had been purchased by mostly individuals. The authorities will have to look closely at such cases and if legislation will have to be brought in, let it be done.

Then you have land under the control of the State. Squatting concerns mostly State land and in such cases, a person just goes and appropriates a piece of land without any permission from the relevant authorities and he behaves as if he is the owner. He constructs a small house thereon to start with, then he adds another room to the small house and then another and still another until he gets a big house with all the necessary conveniences. Such a squatter acts illegally all along.

State lands are under the control of the Ministry of Housing and Lands. The Minister himself cannot personally supervise all the various pieces of State Land, and for this purpose, he has under him, officers whose duty it is to see that people do not try to illegally occupy any part of State land. There are officers appointed for this purpose specifically region-wise and these officers know each and every piece of State land. The question is whether those officers do their duty properly, that is to take necessary action whenever any squatting takes place. This is the duty of the officer for which he is paid his salary at the end of each month.

If the officer does not do his duty properly, he must be punished for dereliction of duty, but if he has done his duty properly and the Minister or some other politician has interfered in the matter, the latter must then be called to order by the Prime Minister.

Why is a squatter not made to vacate State land immediately? Something is wrong somewhere in the execution of the duty under the responsibility of some officer. How many persons are, as at today, squatting on State land? For how long? The Minister of Lands is responsible for keeping a close watch on every parcel of State Land through his officers. Is he doing his duty properly? Obviously not. If some persons say that they have nowhere to live, that should not be the business of the Minister responsible for lands. Let the person responsible for Social Security look after those persons. Or let those persons be dealt with by the minister responsible for people who cannot work because of illness, of physical incapacity or for women who are widows with children. Those persons who are physically fit should look for work and the State should have nothing to do with the cases of such persons.

What does the Minister of Lands think? And also the Chief Surveyor as well as the other surveyors in the service of the government? Do they not agree that there should be no squatting on government land in any circumstances whatsoever?  

* Published in print edition on 12 August 2010

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