Water Rights

By Lex

Nobody can claim to have any right over any water in Mauritius 

A First Point: And then the authorities may not have taken timely measures to tell people that we were about to face a water crisis on such a scale. Even now it seems that quite a number of persons have not become conscious of the gravity of the situation. What is to be done? It does seem that the authorities are now doing what should have been done quite a long time ago, but as they say, better late than never!

“Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink”. So said the poet. We are surrounded by seawater but on land we are facing problems to get enough fresh water for our domestic use. Nature has turned against us for once in this respect; maybe we are to be blamed to some extent because we have not paid due respect to the dictates of Nature and also because we do not appreciate the full scarcity value of the underpriced water that is brought to our home.

I know that in days past, members of the Hindu community used to do special prayers when the country was going through a period of drought and the ladies of the community used to sing some special religious songs known as Har Parawri and these songs were sung by the riverside. Hindus do believe that the prayers and the religious songs do have some positive effects in this regard. This just goes to show how close to Nature the Hindus have always been. But now, I do not know, they prefer to give up what is their own which has a lot of benefits and adopt what belongs to others unquestioningly.

Now to come to the essential point. Let us forget about the sea and all its water. Let us also forget about the rain that falls. Let us talk about the water in our reservoirs, in our rivers and canals and the underground water. To whom does this water belong? The layman that I am would say that all such water belongs or should belong to the State and the State should decide how to distribute it in order to give satisfaction to the majority of Mauritians.

Do some persons claim to have proprietary rights on water because there is a water source on some private property? That is they claim to have “perpetual rights over water on their property”. Can they ever have such rights, as they used to claim that they had perpetual grazing rights and they wanted to enforce such alleged rights? But the Supreme Court then decided that such perpetual rights cannot exist and the perpetual rights were converted into leases of thirty years, if I am not mistaken.

How many persons enjoy water rights supposedly in perpetuity? I am told that they do not pay for the water they consume and I am told that in they use, and waste in certain cases, millions of cubic meters of that precious liquid. I say that nobody but the State should have any special rights over water in Mauritius. Those who claim to have perpetual water rights may be given a lease to use the water for a limited period of about 30 years, at the end of which time nobody can claim to have any right over any water in the country.

But then the State will have to think what to do about those who have inherited the “concessions” which their ancestors had been granted without payment of, as we say, a cent. I think that these persons must understand that it may be preferable to share natural resources more equitably today with the rest of the population than holding on to their exclusive privileges on those properties. In some countries the State has intervened to achieve a fairer distribution of natural resources in favour of the population at large. There would be much point debating this sort of issues with a view to getting to a fairer sharing of natural resources among the population.

But for the immediate, we are concerned with our water problem. Government is getting concerned about water tanks that would be made available to households in the circumstances. I would suggest to government to give free of cost, what we call “drums”. In the past, people used to store water for their daily use in drums and everybody was satisfied with that. Those who want to go for the sophisticated water reservoirs can pay for what they consider best for them.  

Equal work, equal pay – Mauritians and foreigners alike

A Second Point: There was a time when we did not have the number of qualified people to man the civil service, especially at the higher echelons of the various departments. We had to rely on foreigners when the country was a colony of the British. The British then had to control the civil service for their own interest and they did not encourage the locals to obtain higher qualifications as in such a case the locals would claim some of the top posts in the service which might have gone against the interest of the colonial masters.

But in these days of independence and after forty years of managing our own affairs, it is objectionable to call upon foreigners to manage our affairs, especially in those areas where there are qualified Mauritians, as qualified as any foreigner, to do the job.

A relative of mine, who was at the head of a unit of a service department, was telling me about so-called experts who were here to supposedly teach the locals how they should do their job. This relative asked one of the supposed experts what were his qualifications, his experience and his expertise that put the ‘expert’ in a position to teach him how to do his job? He found out that the supposed expert was less qualified, had less experience and far less expertise in the field than that of this relative of mine. And yet the foreigner was being paid about three times more than what this relative was earning.

The point that I am trying to make is that we still have this colonial mentality and so we think that the foreigners are better than our local people. This reminds me of the case of our students who go to Great Britain or France for their higher education. For the first six months, our students try to find their way in the system and thereafter, most of them do better than the British or French students. I am sure of what I am saying.

We have qualified, hardworking, dedicated and competent people over here who can match any foreigner in many fields and they are prepared to work for a lesser salary than the foreigners. In the circumstances why call upon some foreigners to work here? I do agree that in some areas there may not be persons with the required qualification and in such cases a foreigner may be recruited, but such a person can be recruited for a limited period, until a local person gets the necessary qualification and training.

And then all foreigners should not be paid such a high salary that they start thinking that all the locals should be stupid morons compared to them. The system of equal pay must be applied for a local or foreign recruit as much as possible.

In these modern days, the idea that the foreign officer can earn so much more in his own country does not hold water. That kind of across-the-board economic apartheid cannot be justified. And the same reasoning must be applied in cases of Mauritians who go to work for a few years in a foreign country looking for an opportunity to come back here in order to get a job where they will get about three or four times more than their local counterparts. This can never be justified, the more so that the message that is sent is that the higher Mauritian civil servants are no good. If Mauritians were to join the civil service, at any rank whatsoever, they must be given the same treatment as any Mauritian with like qualification and experience. They are not superior to other Mauritians. Nor should the foreigners be assumed to be always better than us. However, the Mauritian civil servants must be more dedicated in their work, pay less attention to politics and, above all, they should just ignore the trade unions.

However, the situation is different in the parastatal bodies, call them by whatever name you want to call them. People work less, they think more of themselves, their promotion and the benefits that they can get and above all, they think about how not to cooperate with the top officers while some of the top officers keep thinking of how to award favours to people who are near and dear to them. There are examples galore and if need be, they can be quoted. 

The insults continue

A Third Point: Paul Bérenger has continued insulting politicians who do not side with him. I have said it and now I am repeating it, he thinks that he is the most intelligent of politicians. Those who are his bootlickers are no different in this regard. I do not want to name certain of his followers who behave likewise and people can make out who those persons are. Are they really so clever in politics as to outshine everybody else? If they are so intelligent as politicians, tell me why can’t they evolve a system whereby they could win all the elections with all the seats that they contest?

Bérenger has accused Vasant Bunwaree of being malhonnête et puéril”, and of having “un comportement indigne d’un professionnel”. How is the “comportement” of Paul Bérenger? Remember when he was the Prime Minister?

And then there is Rajesh Bhagwan. This one has again said that the MMM is still the strongest party in the country. People know that that such politicians do not talk seriously and this is what brings their downfall during general elections. Is this a sign of the times to come?

* Published in print edition on 17 June 2011

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