Constitution in the Making

MT 60 Yrs –  2nd Year No 52 – Friday 5th August 1955

When you see a good man, think of emulating him; when you see a bad man, examine your own heart. – Confucius

When the parliamentary delegation was leaving for London four weeks ago we wished it Bon Voyage. Now it is time to say Welcome Home. Sir Robert and Hon. Sauzier are already among us.

Before leaving, the four Labour delegates had emphasized that they were going to rouse heaven and earth to get Universal Suffrage and Responsible Government. The two members of the Parti Mauricien, on the other hand, said that they were going to fight tooth and nail against Universal Suffrage and Responsible Government. It was later that we heard about proportional representation “sans avoir recours toutefois, à la representation communale”. Although the two Independents, as the Hon. Nominees were called in London, had not expressed any views prior to the departure it was generally understood that they were going to side with the members of the Parti Mauricien. And officially no announcement was made concerning the proposals.

No wonder there was wild speculation regarding the basis of the discussions. We may be shocked or we may be surprised in the end. But, for the moment, we think it is worthwhile clearing up the whole mystery.

Hon. Sauzier, in an interview to Le Cerneen and Le Mauricien, has thrown some light on the questions discussed in London. It appears that the following five proposals received careful consideration:

1. The increase in the number of elected members of the Legislative Council from 19 to 25;

2. No increase in the number of nominated members, which is 12;

3. The increase in the number of unofficial members of the Executive Council from 6 to 9 — all of whom to be chosen by the Governor;

4. The granting of more responsibilities to Liaison Officers and the change of their name;

5. Wider Suffrage.

And what have been the results so far?

We gather the following from a reply made to Fenner Brockway in the House of Commons at the close of the discussions.

“Agreement was reached on a number of proposals designed to improve and strengthen machinery of government, the need for a change in status and powers of present Liaison Officers, and on appointment of a Speaker for the Legislative Council from outside the island. There remained difference of opinion among Mauritian representatives on certain other proposals including an increase in membership in Executive Council and Legislative Council, whether portfolio holders should be called Members or Ministers and the introduction of Universal Adult Suffrage.”

Everybody is now naturally eager to know what in fact is going to be the outcome of the discussions which began on the 12th of July and ended on the 22nd. When the delegation left, the shape of things to come could not be imagined but now imagination is running riot everywhere.

While Her Majesty’s Government in London is busy taking decisions on the constitutional future of our island, let us turn our thoughts back for a moment to the not so very distant past when our present Constitution was granted.

The then Colonial Secretary, Mr Creech Jones, writing from the Colonial Office on the 16th of August, 1947, to the Government of Mauritius said: “After very full consideration, therefore, while I feel that some different arrangements may be preferable at a later stage of the Island’s constitutional progress I have decided to accept the proposal as a transitional measure.” And he added: “I consider that these changes go as far as is practicable in the direction of developing democratic institutions at the present stage of the constitutional progress of Mauritius, But I regard them as a step in the evolutionary process which should culminate in the achievement of full adult suffrage at a later stage.”

The “transitional measure” and the “step in the evolutionary process” approved in 1947 would not do today, only eight years later. That is why Sir Robert took the delegation to London. Is it to be inferred that our present Constitution was not enough liberal when it was granted? Or have we made some remarkable progress?

It is too early to speak on the achievements of the delegation as a whole or on the success of the different schools of thought in particular. But one thing cannot go unnoticed: all concerned have done their best for what they stand.

Whatever the decisions of the Imperial Government, we think that our politicians got the opportunity of sorting out the burning issues of the day. At least, their minds must be clear by now: it is one thing to entertain people at Plaine Verte and quite another to face people like Mr Lennox Boyd or Mr Hopkinson. Would it be too much to expect some sane politics now?

We cannot help hoping to get a Constitution that will be in accord with “the present stage of constitutional progress of Mauritius.” If it is not, the Colonial Office must be ready to receive some other delegation in the near future.

* Published in print edition on 27 November 2015

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