Points to Ponder
A First Point: We are fed up with the number of atrocious crimes and delinquencies being committed in the country these days, not just with their number but also with their loathsomeness and sordidness.
So long as the criminals do not come to feel that the punishment they will be meted out will be appropriate to the seriousness of their crime and so long as the criminals go on having a good time in the prisons where they are sent supposedly as a punishment, and so long as these criminals are fed better than at home and their close relatives continue getting a pension, and also so long as these dastardly prisoners are not compelled to make good to the full extent their victims, we can remain assured that the rate of crime will not go down nor will the harshness of the crimes diminish.
May I suggest another way to deal with crimes and criminals. I have in mind a system of accountability of the policing at the district level. The strength of the police force must be beefed up at the regional level. We need a full-fledged police command in every one of our nine districts that is headed by an officer of the Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner level, depending on the importance of the district, its population density and the rate of crime and other offences in the district. Of course all them will be responsible to and take their orders from the Commissioner of Police. These district officers will be accountable for the criminal behaviour of the inhabitants in their particular area. At the same time, they will have to be given all the facilities they require to carry out their duties to the satisfaction of everybody. Well-defined responsibilities and strict accountability for them tend to concentrate the minds of officials and usually lead to improved performance. I have no doubt in my mind that the arrangement I am proposing will result in better policing of the districts and of the country as a whole.
On the other hand, the police must become more people friendly, by being always ready to help those facing problems. They should offer their help with a smile. Mauritians complain of the rude manner of some of our police officers. The police authorities must see to it that such behaviour is not condoned. The public should never have to complain of rude behaviour from the police – or any other public servant, for that matter.
There is another matter of concern regarding police officers that is becoming obvious these days, namely obesity. When these officers are recruited and during their training, they are slim and fit. A few years later, many of them put on weight, and they do not appear, to me at least, fit to carry out some of their police duties. This applies mostly to some officers in the higher ranks, but some younger officers who joined the force only a few years ago are also guilty of this weakness. Shouldn’t police officers look after their physical fitness when preparing themselves for any promotion? After all, how can we expect an officer to protect our persons and our property if he is not himself fit?
One question remains unanswered: how to tackle crime and those who commit them? Hit hard at the criminals, let them suffer for their acts; in extreme cases let them be given the capital punishment; in all cases make them pay full damages to the victims – that way they will feel the pinch at the level of their pockets. Even if they will need to work a whole lifetime to satisfy their victim/s in monetary terms, the sentence should apply in full.
And our prison system must be reformed. Prisoners cannot be made to enjoy their stay in prison nor can it treated as a place of rest. I do not think we can expect any reform of our penal system under the present Commissioner of Prisons. His public statements mark him out as being too soft and this is what criminals desire and appreciate.
Chagos & The International Tribunal for the
Law of the Sea
A Second Point: I do not know what is happening to the case that the State has decided to lodge before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. We understand that certain preliminary points have to be settled before the case can be lodged. I hope that the case will be lodged as earliest possible opportunity.
We know that we cannot seize the International Court of Justice at The Hague because the British would never agree to this course. The law says that unless both parties agree, the International Court of Justice will not have jurisdiction to hear the matter.
May I suggest another course of action. It should be in two parts. First of all, on the political front. Two of our former ambassadors who have worked on the file and who know the thinking of the Americans and of the British are Chitmansingh Jesseramsing and Mohun Goburdhun respectively. The former has been our ambassador to the United States for a long time and I think that he knows everything that an ambassador should know, but he knows much more. And he has his entrées where others may be denied access.
Mohun Goburdhun has been our High Commissioner both in the United Kingdom and in the Republic of India and he knows the British system inside out. And he knows all about our territories in the Indian Ocean which the British have seized illegally and to which they have given the name ‘British Indian Ocean Territory’.
There is the legal aspect of the whole matter. The Mauritian lawyer who is best suited for such a job is no other than our friend Anil Gayan. I understand that he has kept abreast with developments pertaining to the law of the sea; he was responsible for this matter during the time he served at the State Law Office. Besides, he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and he has practical knowledge of the workings of the United Nations and its different bodies.
These three gentlemen should be called upon by the government to work on a committee that would advise the government on the best course to be adopted in order to try to get back our territory illegally occupied by the British. If more members are required I would suggest the inclusion of Dhiren Dabee as his experience would be useful.
My suggestion is that they should not be given specific directives on how to go about their task: their terms of reference should simply be to find a solution to the BIOT problem. The solution can be political and/or legal, but we must have our territory, illegally occupied, back. If the Americans want to talk to us, the door must be kept open and I do not think that we are averse to do a deal with the Americans on the back of the treacherous and perfidious British.
However, I think that the United Nations must tell us what can be done so that we can get back our property, being given that the same United Nations have passed two resolutions on the case in point.
At the same time, the Committee can look at the problem of Tromelin, another territory of ours but on which the French have some supposed claim. Apparently, there is some sort of an agreement whereby Tromelin would be co-managed by Mauritius and France. The French are saying that they have not yet signed the agreement and that they are waiting for some piece of legislation to be passed. In the meantime, they are enjoying the fruits of our territory all by themselves — in my view most illegally.
Therefore the question is what is the difference between the English and the French? None whatsoever, except that the French act in a more diplomatic manner and the English are crude in their dealings. Both are illegally trying to appropriate our territory illegally, one is doing it bluntly and the other is acting smoothly.
CWA and Water Issues
A Third Point: A relative of mine was talking to me about the severe drought that we are experiencing these days. He knows what he was talking about because he quite conversant with matters relating to water resources, the treatment and distribution of water and reservoirs. He suggested that now is the time to carry out servicing works at reservoirs like Mare-aux-Vacoas, in fact at all our reservoirs. All our reservoirs are more or less empty of their water and the ministry of Public Infrastructure should assemble a strong task force to complete the job of servicing them within a matter of days. We can get a heavy rain lasting for several days at any moment and by then it will be too late to service the reservoirs. Or is it already too late? In any case, the need for servicing our reservoirs remains, and the authorities concerned must formulate and announce a plan of work in that regard.
Fanning the flames for Rodrigues’ ‘independence’
A Fourth Point: When I was young, I had a school friend called Mahesh and we used to spend a lot of time together. He used to talk a lot and we used to discuss a lot about politics, though we were mere youngsters.
Last week I met him by sheer luck and of course the conversation turned to politics. He asked me how many districts there were in Mauritius? I told him nine. Wrong, he said. And he gave the answer himself: ten. He said that Rodrigues is the tenth district.
I did not want to get involved in a discussion on matters of semantics but I accepted his reasoning. And I asked him what was the purpose of putting such a question to me at this point of time. He told me that I read the local papers perfunctorily.
He said that some of the papers have a hidden agenda: that of sowing the seed of secession from the Republic of Mauritius. They are already fanning the flames for Rodrigues’ ‘independence’ from Mauritius, as if Rodrigues were a colony of Mauritius. What was Rodrigues when we were a colony of Great Britain? Was it the colony of a colony?
I told him that Rodrigues is part and parcel of Mauritius and there is no dispute about that. All persons in Rodrigues are full-fledged citizens of the Republic and they enjoy equal rights as all Mauritians, including those of movement between Rodrigues and Mauritius.
My friend said that some politicians want Rodrigues to break away from Mauritius. They know that Rodrigues can never stand on its own feet; it will have to seek association with some other foreign country in case it does become ‘independent’. Those politicians who are talking about ‘independence’ have, in the opinion of some political observers, already decided to make of Rodrigues a colony of either of France or, better still, of Australia. And they are being helped by certain local journalists on this score. They say the persons living in Rodrigues have their own specificity, different from that which obtains in the Mauritian society; they have their own language and they go on with this litany.
My friend said that he is thinking of starting a political party that will operate at the district level, He is from Pamplemousses district. That district has its own specificity as well; it does not fit in the whole of Mauritius, it has its language, etc. He went on and on until I told him to stop. He said that if the district of Rodrigues can do it, so can the district of Pamplemousses.
But he told me that he has one major problem to sort out. And he needs the help of those who were in government when the law granting the status of “autonomy” was granted to Rodrigues and, according to him, this is a step towards asking for independence. And he informed me that he is going to talk to Paul Bérenger sometime this year whenever he is free. But he does not think that he will have access to Sir Anerood Jugnauth to talk on the same subject as now he is the President of the Republic, and is not likely to help him. These two gentlemen granted autonomy to Rodrigues and indirectly planted the idea for its independence. But was the Labour government of 1995/2000 right in granting duty-free privileges to passengers travelling between Port Mathurin and SSR International Airport?
And my friend concluded by saying that if the district of Rodrigues is granted autonomy, why is it that the district of Pamplemousses treated differently? He left me saying that Paul Bérenger loves the Rodriguans but he despises us as he will not help us in achieving our autonomy and eventually our independence.
Was my friend serious? I do not know. But on a serious note, there are for sure constitutional points involved as well as matters of semantics.
* Published in print edition on 28 January 2011