Ripping off consumers

Points to Ponder 

By Lex

A First Point: People are saying that they are being made to pay more than they should for commodities of everyday consumption. We all tend to agree. The supermarkets sell some commodity, say, for Rs 60, and then they bring down its price to a “promotional price” of Rs 40. Do you think the supermarkets are selling at a loss? There is no way they will do such a thing. This is but one of those methods they have recourse to rip off consumers.

In the circumstances, I would suggest to government to start importing the essential consumer products in competition with the private sector. Any corporation set up to do that should be operated on strictly commercial lines, without benefiting from any governmental favour.

One obvious example is the importation of milk from India. Amul products are not available on the market anymore, and I do not know why. Many consumers considered this brand of milk to be very good. Was it the racist propaganda/boycott put up by who-you-know that drove it out of the market? Was there some marketing failure on the part of those responsible at the State Trading Corporation, which eventually discouraged consumers from buying Amul products? We do know that some private sector operators use underhand methods to block the entry of new players in the market, and this is simply outrageous.

I read somewhere that a gentleman who was employed in the food distribution sector by one of the conglomerates is deciding to retail foodstuffs online, that is through the Internet, at half the price charged by the main supermarkets. He said that he would ensure delivery at consumers’ homes. He further said that the supermarkets’ supernormal profits are simply shocking. Now we say that such people must be given all possible help to materialize their projects, and hopefully the common people will benefit from such a service.

Nobody should begrudge the State if it goes in competition with those who do not believe in real competition. If government is not interested in importing the items we have in mind, it should allow some foreign conglomerates to enter the distribution sector and to set up shops all over the country. And hopefully the prices of foodstuffs will come down.

Foreigners in Mauritius

A Second Point: How many foreigners have entered the country during the last three months? I am putting this question because I am told that there are lots of foreigners, especially South Africans, Frenchmen, Italians, Englishmen and others, all around us and many of them are doing business of all sorts in the country. Even if they are in the country legally and they hold regular permits for the business they are involved in, we should still view their presence with concern.

Many of those persons have been saying that they are making up to 200 per cent profit on their capital outlay. We say that they are ripping off Mauritians as well as tourists and so giving a very bad name to the country, and the permits of such persons should not be renewed on expiry. They must go back. Mind you, we are not against foreigners, but there are some who do deserve to go, as they have no business staying in this country.

I can understand the foreigners who wish to settle down here in this country: Mauritius is one of the best places to live in; everybody feels at home and at ease. If we get so many repeat tourists here, there must be a reason for their engouement for this place.

Parkinson’s Law and Civil Service Pay

A Third Point: I have been told that French public functionaries were not given any increase in pay or monetary compensation last year, and that this year also, they will suffer from the same fate. Just imagine that for two years these employees will not get any increment let alone any monetary compensation!

In Greece the situation seems to be worse. Last year, the functionaries had to suffer from a reduction in their salary, it was that bad for them. They were then expecting to catch up this year, but now they have to face an even worse situation. They will have to face a further reduction in their salary. Not only that, they will have to work longer hours as those who have reached retiring age will not be replaced. You then have less people to work much more.

But you are aware of the well-known and now famous Parkinson’s Law which says that a Civil Servant fits any piece of work he has to do to the time available that he has to do it. If a Civil Servant has four hours he will take all the four hours to complete the job, but if he has only one hour to complete it, he will do so within that one hour. This is Civil Service mentality, it would seem nobody can fight the system.

The reason for my trying to draw the attention of employees is because they are unduly influenced by so-called trade unionists who, at every moment, try to call for a “marche pacifique”, as they call it, in the streets either of Port Louis or of Rose-Hill. Or they try to call for a strike. When the economy can sustain an increase of salary it is the duty of the employer to satisfy the employee and to improve the conditions of service.

But when the world economy is generally facing a downturn, it is the duty of every citizen to understand the situation. You can pull an elastic band up to a certain extent, but if you pull it a bit further, the elastic band just snaps. Employees must understand this.

I was reading somewhere that a group of employees of the Cargo Handling Corporation is keen to call for a strike though another group is dead against any such strike. Whichever decision those workers take will not turn to be to their advantage in the long run. Why is it that the authorities rely on only one organization to do what the Cargo Handling Corporation is actually doing? Why is it not employing the workers of another company to get some competition?

It is well known that the employees of the Cargo Handling Corporation are well paid and other workers are keen to work in that sector. Those now doing cargo duties are not the only persons capable of doing the job, there are others waiting to get such a job. Why not use them as well? Competition in any sector will not be detrimental to performance.

Having said this, I have to say that the private sector must honestly give a fair deal to every worker in that sector. If the private firm has been capable of withstanding the international financial crunch, it is due to a large extent to the efforts of the workers. And those very workers should not be treated as if they are insignificant for the proper running of the enterprise: they must enjoy an equitable treatment, taking into consideration all the circumstances. I agree with the workers and other persons who say that the workers do not get what they deserve.

According to me, each employer must be made to pay according to his capacity, the more the enterprise earns, the more it will have to satisfy the employees and a very performing enterprise must pay to the workers much, much more than a lame-duck enterprise. After all, it depends on the effort of the ordinary workers as well as of the management that makes a firm move ahead or to stagnate.

Agalega forms part of the Republic of Mauritius

A Fourth Point: What does the Roman Catholic Authority have to do with Agalega, which forms part of the Republic of Mauritius? Apparently one of its priests went to the island and took exception to the fact that people belonging to the Voice of Hindu, clearly of the Hindu faith, went over to Agalega on the occasion of the Maha Shivaratri. Everybody in Mauritius knows that this is a major Hindu festival and the Hindus can pray in any part of our country.

The priest I am talking of has apparently said that the inhabitants of Agalega are 100 percent Catholics, and the underlying meaning seems to be that Hindus have no right to be there. I would like to ask the same priest if he can tell me what is the extent of land on both islands of Agalega in private ownership and belonging to the State. If those persons who call Agalega their country must have their titles to the lands, otherwise they are staying there because they are tolerated by the authorities. Maybe they are not even leaseholders.

Maybe at one time, they were taken by the leaseholders of the islands on contracts of work and when the leasehold came to an end, the workers were just left in place instead of returning them to their place of origin. From this to say that Agalega is their country, that they are 100 per cent Roman Catholics implying that others do not have the right to go there is taking things very far.

If government wants to develop the country for the greater benefit of Mauritius, who can say that it cannot do so? If India installs some facilities for the monitoring and greater control of our territory, and this with the permission of the authorities, where is the harm? Should government ask the permission of the Roman Catholic authorities or of those staying over there before doing what it has been mandated to do? If tomorrow I were to decide to settle down in Rodrigues or Agalega, who can prevent me from doing so?

And this reasoning should apply to all the islands and islets that form part of the territory of Mauritius. All Mauritians are free to move to any part of our country without having to seek prior permission of anybody or religious institution. 

* Published in print edition on 29 April 2011

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