Mr Profumo Meets the Press

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By Somduth Bhuckory

Mr John Profumo left us last Sunday morning after spending his Whitsun holiday among us. What was topical last week is fast becoming a matter of history. Now that Mr Profumo is gone, we can view things with some perspective.

It is clear from the activities of Mr Profumo that he did not come to Mauritius to lie and relax on our white shores and listen to the smoothing songs of our filaos. He was here, so to say, on a conducted tour to learn as much as possible about Mauritius. And among his so many activities one was a press conference.

Mr J. D. Profumo, OBE, MP
The under Secretary of State at a Press Conference which he gave to Mauritian journalists on the 22nd June, 1957
From the pages of the Mauritius Times – Photo – Photorex

The press conference, which was held last Saturday morning in the Council Library, gave Mr Profumo an excellent occasion to meet the representatives of the local press and feel the pulse of Mauritius. Many topical questions of great interest were put to him and he answered them all. Whether or not his answers were convincing and satisfactory is quite a different matter.

The press conference stands out of all the activities of Mr Profumo here because we saw his mind at work there. He was taken here and whisked away from there – all in private. We don’t know what he said at those functions and had it not been for the press conference his visit would not have left any important trace in the press.

We did not expect Mr Profumo to give us either convincing or satisfactory answers to all our questions. How could he find answers to the problems that have been puzzling us all our life within the limited time of a press conference? But we liked to listen to Mr Profumo juggling with words, toying with humour, tiding over perilous waves of questions and generating a friendly feeling. Mr Profumo showed us in short what a practised hand he was at answering questions and the conference came to an end.

The press conference is over but we want the questions raised there not to be buried.

We did not expect Mr Profumo to solve our problems chatting unconventionally at the table. We wanted to acquaint him with some of our pressing problems. We hope that the souvenir Mr Profumo took with him of the conference is a bunch of varied and burning problems to which, he will give his kind consideration when the time comes.

* * *

As was to be expected there were some questions about the ministerial system. These questions translated the anxiety of the people and they were put with the sincere desire to have some points cleared up. And as Mr Profumo had a hand in the London Agreement, we hoped that he would throw some light with competence on the dark and shady side of the ministerial system. Unfortunately, Mr Profumo did not feel to be in a position to enlighten the public. And so there is still a lot of uncertainty about the functioning of the ministry.

The walk-out, first of all, of the members of the Parti Mauricien remains unexplained up to now. Mr Profumo did not want to commit himself by giving any motive and he expected the Parti Mauricien itself to come forward with an explanation. No explanation, however, has been forthcoming from any quarter.

Last September, the Labour members walked out and there was a deadlock. Wouldn’t be there a deadlock again if the members of the Parti Mauricien did not cooperate? Logically speaking, there should be a deadlock. Moreover, the London Agreement has laid it down that the new Executive Council should reflect the composition of the Legislative Council. How can there be an Executive Council without any member of the Parti Mauricien if the London Agreement is to be respected? That aspect of the ministerial system too did not elicit any opinion from Mr Profumo.

Another question which was really to the point was about the ensuing confusion in case the ministers disagreed among themselves. What will happen indeed if one day the Labour ministers find themselves unable to back the policy of a non-Labour colleague? What will happen if they resign? This topical question too did not get the attention it deserved and so it is still haunting students of politics and others.

* * *

Before Mr Profumo met the press, we sent him a letter telling him inter alia: “Besides the mansions and opulence which you must have seen up to now there are thousands of shanties where the great majority of the inhabitants of this island lead a wretched life.

“We request you, Sir, to be kind enough to visit these slums and hear the tales of woe of these people at a time when Mauritius is passing through a period of unprecedented prosperity.”

And we sent him some photographs of the shanties.

At the press conference Mr Profumo referred to our letter and the photographs. While appreciating the progress made as regards housing so far, Mr Profumo added that nobody ought to be satisfied with the horrible conditions still existing.

We also raised the questions of unemployment and land legislation. These two questions together with the allied question of overpopulation deserve immediate attention. Unfortunately, we are so much taken up with the Constitution these days that the rest remains in the background. Ballot papers are all right. But what about bread?

We hope we have driven our point home that, notwithstanding the hustle and bustle produced by the coming of ministers, the fundamental problem of living cannot be lost sight of. And the sooner the problem is tackled the better.

Nobody, we presume, was at the press conference to give a headache to Mr Profumo. But we should like to think that he will have a quite different memory of it from the lively evening parties and slick official visits. Just because the conference must have made him think hard.

Mauritius is a quiet speck on the globe and a charming spot – a beauty spot, on the face of the Indian Ocean. But in this charming place there are ugly blots here and there.  All we desire Mr Profumo to do now is to treasure his happy memories and to remember those ugly blocs and remove them.

4th Year No 151 – Friday 28th June 1957

* Published in print edition on 17 November 2020

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