Points to Ponder
A First Point: The OPEC countries may give us all the assurance they want that there is enough reserve of fossil fuels to last a long time, that we need not worry that this type of fuel will be exhausted soon, but what is the worth of such an assurance to the poor countries without any resources to move ahead in their difficult economic development?
We know that fossil fuel is not inexhaustible and that during this century, other sources of energy must be found. Besides, we also know that that the cost of fossil fuel is going up every year, and the question is for how long can a country like Mauritius afford to buy its energy from the supplier countries at the current price, not to say anything of the price reaching to three or four times the present level? This is the point that I wish to investigate in this article.
The government’s energy efficiency programme does not seem to be reaching the consciousness of the people. Our citizens seem to think that the country can afford to go on buying its energy needs at the same price being paid now, but we seem not to realize that sooner or later, we shall have to take some drastic measures in order to reduce our energy consumption. We must look for some alternative energy source in order to prevent waste of energy in all sectors. We cannot allow energy imports to gobble up the scarce financial resources that we can ill-afford to waste.
A more vigorous campaign should be mounted to ensure that every Mauritian, rich, middle class or poor, becomes fully aware as to what should be done. The rich particularly should not run away with the idea that because they can pay, they will be allowed to waste energy to their hearts’ content.
Government is right to emphasize on more widespread use of solar energy, and it seems that people will adopt such energy if government would sponsor the hardware. But according to some persons in the know, there is no need for government sponsorship if the price of say solar heaters is brought down by 25%. And this can be done if government can invite some foreign companies to mass produce solar heaters right here in the country.
We have no choice: we must go for alternative sources of energy, alternative, that is, to fossil fuels. We have mentioned solar energy, but we should not limit the use of such energy to heating water only. We must look for the possibility of producing electricity for the purpose of lighting our houses as well as for all other purposes wherein electricity in used. Give people the facility to install photo-voltaic cells to produce electricity for domestic use and if more electricity is produced than is required for domestic use, as the Minister of Dr Beebeejaun has said, the surplus can very well be sold to the Central Electricity Board. However, for the scheme to succeed, a great number of people should be involved.
Soon we shall have motor vehicles driven by electricity generated by solar power running in all our streets, and this will be a development that the OPEC countries will not be able to stop.
And then we have this untapped source of energy that wind power is. Certain countries, which have the facility to explore for fossil fuel, are experimenting with wind power to produce their electricity. I know that there are certain areas, which have enough wind, both here and in Rodrigues that would allow us at least to try the experiment of producing electricity by wind-driven turbines
The sea around Mauritius is very calm, but there are one or two areas where the sea is a bit rough and where there are good waves. I have been told that in these areas, we can try the experience of producing electricity from sea waves.
The sun, the wind and the sea are all free for us. We do not have to buy sunshine, wind or waves of the sea. They are inexhaustible sources of energy but the only problem is that we have not yet mastered how to convert the power in those natural elements into electricity, or even if we can do it, the price of a unit of electricity thus produced would be rather expensive. But the cost element should not deter us from trying to reduce it by further research. If at the moment the cost of producing electricity in the fossil fuel sector energy per unit is substantially lower than the energy produced in the non-fossil fuel sector, such will not be the case in the future.
Is it not time yet to engage in larger-scale experimentation with solar-wind-sea waves energy with a separate department in the Ministry of Public Utilities, with a team responsible to develop alternative sources of energy? And at the same time, that department can listen to persons who have ideas that can be promoted at a relatively lower cost? And that department must have a good public relations officer so that at every step, the people of the country is kept informed of what is being done.
Dealing with crime
A Second Point: It is unfortunate that the crime rate is constantly on the rise, in spite of what the police authorities say. And such crimes are becoming more and more violent and sophisticated year after year. How can one go about to bring the crime rate in the country down?
The first method is by re-activating the death sentence for violent crimes like murder and the wilful killing of persons who try to prevent the destruction of life and property and such heinous crimes. And of course for drug offences that affect not only the lives of the drug addicts, but the lives of all those around the addicts as well. Let all this be well publicized so that nobody can say that he was not aware of the consequences of the crime he has committed.
The second method is far more important than the reviving of the capital punishment. At the moment, a prison sentence is considered neither a deterrent, nor a punishment for people who commit crimes. People just go to prison where they have a good rest, where they are served good food, including fruits and tea at regular hours and they make some new criminal friends. They have doctors to look after their health and they have certain persons outside the prison to look after their welfare. And their relatives are given a pension for the time that they are in prison. It is no wonder that the treatment meted out to certain prisoners is far better than the treatment that those persons get at home.
We know of cases of prisoners who prefer to remain in prison rather than be free outside. In our prisons they have better food and better rest than when they are at home, and no wonder that many of the prisoners consider the prison to be their second, or rather their first, home. If you want a prison sentence to be a deterrent and a punishment for crimes committed, then there must be wholesale reform of the method of running prisons. The first matter that has to be looked at is the freedom enjoyed by the prisoners. Let all their civil rights be suspended during their term of imprisonment. They must not be allowed to enjoy the ordinary rights enjoyed by the ordinary Mauritian.
They must not be kept in prison at the expense of the State. The prisoners must be made to work and they will be given a salary, say about 50% of what a person outside earns for a like job. Those who do not want to work and earn will not be left to die because of hunger. Such prisoners will be given a piece of bread and water. Prisoners cannot say that they want to be served a particular dish; they will have to buy whatever is available in the prison canteen with their own money.
Prisoners should not be allowed to smoke cigarettes or other harmful products or to consume alcoholic drinks. And visits by relatives and friends should be restricted. And also a prisoner who is found to be in breach of any provision of the law or of the regulation of the prison will be very severely dealt with by the prison authorities without reference to anybody or any other authority.
And above all, a criminal must be under a legal obligation to make good to his victims for all the prejudice that the victims may have suffered by the acts of the person guilty. There should not be a separate civil case for the purpose; the Court that takes the criminal case can very well adjudicate on the case for damages. The Attorney General should think of an amendment of the law for this purpose. Would the Attorney General as well as the other ministers agree? That is the point.
Only then the prisoners will not have a tendency to commit further criminal offences, because they will have learnt the lesson that they will have to pay a very heavy price for their criminal activity. Others will think twice before embarking on a criminal career as they will be aware of the punishment. Such a prison regime will act as a deterrent and as a punishment. I am sure that most Mauritians fully agree with what I have written and they will back the government in the matter.
There will surely be a group, those who are in favour of the prisoners and against the victims of crimes, who will be against turning a prison into what it should be, as compared to what it is. But these people live on the fringe of society and they may shout as much as they like, the great majority of Mauritians will never be on their side. Most Mauritians query the idea of the human rights of prisoners and they wonder why these people should enjoy such rights when others as victims do not get the protection that they deserve.
If the authorities want to see a reduction in criminal offences, here you have some ideas.
What’s wrong with the press?
A Third Point: When I read the local press, I get the feeling that here nothing is moving in the right direction. Especially the main dailies that create this impression. We must compare what is happening in the countries which those at the head of the papers take as examples.
The countries that we can cite are in the European region. Take the case of France. Over there they have strikes by the workers every week, if not more often, on every issue and at times on no issues. The latest one was because the workers do not agree that the employees will have to work till 62 years of age. The workers want to enjoy their pension at the age of sixty when we know that their neighbours the Germans remain in employment till they reach the age of 67.
Besides, corruption, both in the public as well as in the private sectors is rife as we have been told. We can take another example. The high level of corruption in all sectors in Italy is well known. The mafia controls so many sectors that even some of the cities have to suffer from the stench of the household refuse that are not removed. We can go on ad nauseam on the ills in the developed countries.
Now let us take the African countries. We have the case of Madagascar. If you want to see really poor people, just visit that neighbouring country. I am sure that Mauritians have never seen such a degree of poverty. I was shocked by what I saw.
If our people want to know what non-respect of democracy involves, they can take the example of Madagascar again, where there is no elected government, the economy is in shambles and the people cannot do or say anything. Remember that our Leader of the Opposition was at one time in favour of the political regime over there and if at that time people had voted for the MMM, I am pretty sure that both in terms of political development as well the economy of that country, we would have been in the same situation as Madagascar. Thank God our political leaders knew how to lead the country in the right direction and our people did not rightly trust political adventurers. We know that some people, for basely communal reasons, are prepared to put the country’s future in jeopardy.
I am not saying that everything is going on smoothly in our country. I am the first to accept that there is corruption both in the public sector as well as the private sector. The problem is to gather evidence in order to bring those involved to justice. However, people do not want to cooperate with the authorities.
In spite of all its faults, Mauritius is still one of the best countries where foreigners would like to stay, and they have said it so often. And some of our journalists find that nothing worthwhile is being done by the government, that there is but corruption and crime everywhere. I would like to tell such journalists to visit some of the mainland African countries and then sincerely judge our authorities. We shall tell them to read the opinion of all those foreign experts who work for the international institutions and be guided by them. They have no axe to grind here nor have they any reason to brag about the country. They do their work and give their report based on the situation as they find. I would request those communal minded journalists to be fair and reasonable and compare the state in which the other countries find themselves.
Political interference at the LGSC?
A Fourth Point: The Local Government Service Commission is an independent body that has the responsibility for the recruitment, promotion and discipline of the employees of the local authorities. Nobody is entitled to interfere in the work of the Commission as the law says.
Does the Minister responsible for local government affairs interfere or has interfered in the recruitment of officers in the municipalities or district councils at any moment? Can the adviser give the assurance that such is never the case?
There are vacancies in some municipalities for some top job, interviews have been carried out and it seems that the best candidates may not be appointed, for example, in Quatre Bornes. There is an officer who has been acting in the post for the past four years without apparently any adverse report against him. Will he be appointed?
There are other good candidates, but will they get the consideration they deserve? I have been told that the best candidates are getting ready to go to the Supreme Court in case they are not appointed. People should remember that this institution has been created by the Labour Party and now Labour Party members themselves would contribute in downgrading it. People are saying that Burty David was a Minister who could understand what the real powers of his ministry are. And officers say that it was a pleasure to work with him. What a pity that he is no more.
* Published in print edition on 19 November 2010