The new commissioner of Prisons, Mr T. Brebner Ross, arrived in the colony last Tuesday and assumed duty the next day. We welcome him in our midst and hope that he will do his best to contribute his bit to prison-reform.
The punishment of offenders in Mauritius is gradually undergoing a change. Formerly, emphasis was mainly laid on the punitive element of imprisonment. Every offender was treated with the utmost severity. It was hoped that the severe treatment would deter him from committing other offences and would also be a lesson to the community.
The modern trend of treating offenders is quite different. The offender is treated as an individual and not like any other criminal and punishment is graduated to suit the needs of different offenders. It can safely be said that the treatment of offenders is erring rather on the lenient side. Even the highest punishment that could be inflicted on a criminal, capital punishment, seems to have had its day.
In Mauritius the punishment of offenders is being considered in the light of their welfare. The Prisons Department and the Social Welfare Department have started overlapping. It is a welcome sign. We hope that Mr Ross, the new Commissioner of Prisons, who has just come and Mr Hazareesingh, the Welfare Commissioner, who is expected to be back from UK soon, will put their heads together to find out ways and means to check crime and rehabilitate the fallen ones.
We should like to emphasize what we wrote under the heading of ‘CRIME’, on the 4th of November last when the longest Assizes Session in our judicial history was just over: “Punishing a criminal is like administering drugs to a sick man: the harm has been done. But while we hear a lot about prevention is better than cure in the practice of medicine, next to nothing is heard about it in the practice of law… Physical restraint and even torture may be necessary but it is essential to see to it that no mind is sick and no soul sinful.”
Before ending, recent happenings at the Prison impel us to sound a note of warning. If Mr Ross is swayed by political passion or race prejudice, he is bound to leave a bad name behind.
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This time we are concerned with the Forest Department. We don’t propose to deal with some aspects of the department which need scrutinizing: we want simply to draw the attention of the authorities to the sole question of timber sawing.
We gather from the annual report for 1954 of the Forest Department that there were 48 sawmills in the island at 31 Dec 1954. What follows this statement is really worthy of note. Let us quote verbatim from the report: “Of these (the 48 sawmills), five — three privately owned and two owned and operated by the department — were engaged throughout the year in the conversion of timber exploited in the Crown Forest Estate. It is not possible to give particulars of the timber input to or output from privately owned sawmills, or to indicate with accuracy the sources from which supplies are derived.”
So we find that Government must have recourse to three privately owned sawmills for sawing its timber. Favouritism would seem to creep in the choice of the three sawmills. The owner of a sawmill has sent us the following questions in the hope of getting answers to them from the responsible authorities:
“Why tenders are not called anymore for the sawing of timber of the Forest Department?
By making private arrangement with a few sawmills, is not Government closing the door to competition, favouring a few to the detriment of many and paying dearer for the sawing?
Will it not be in the interest of the taxpayer if tenders are called for the sawing of government timber?
Now that we have put the questions, we shall wait for the replies. As long as the questions remain unanswered, the public in general and owners of sawmills in particular cannot help suspecting favouritism.
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The three youth delegates left by air yesterday for Western Germany where they will be taking part in the 6th Council organized by the World Assembly of Youth. We wish Messrs Delaitre, Mewasingh and Edahtally once more Bon Voyage and a happy stay abroad. We hope they are leaving our share conscious of the responsibilities that rest on their shoulders and that they will honour their island home by their work at the Conference.
It is very unfortunate that there has been so much heartache as regards the choice of the delegates. The J.O.C., the J.I.C.F. and the Chinese Youth Federation have protested in the press. Frustration has been exhibited not only by young people who were perhaps nursing rosy hopes but also by their elders who ought to know better. The major communities of the island being represented in the delegation, an outcry was raised to the effect that it contained no representative of workers and that members of Important clubs had been discarded. And, we are told, complaints even crossed the seas to reach the headquarters of W.A.Y. Isn’t it queer?
The Youth House is a body functioning within the Education Department. Youth clubs and associations are affiliated to it and their members become eligible for representation of the colony at conferences held abroad. The three delegates were chosen by the Selection Sub-committee of the Youth Advisory Committee.
When we find people, in spite of all that, raising hell, are we not justified in trying to find out their motive?