The Golden Fleece 

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Some ten years ago, this paper carried an article on the unhealthy negative attitude displayed by a few locals who, directly and indirectly, worked with the hotel industry in the country at a time when there was scarcely any investigative press articles on the issue.

The reason for this omission was probably that few journalists dared to break into the bunker of the powerful hotel barons and demand facts and figures on the functioning of the hotels, the recruitment of the staff, the work ethic of the staff and of others such as external vendors or taxi-drivers who work in the parameter of hotels on a daily basis. Generally speaking, it is much more convenient to sling arrows at Government House than to inquire boldly into an industry that functions as a state within a state.

The point raised in the article was that many regard foreign visitors as golden geese to be fleeced unscrupulously. The rot in the mindset began to show in the early years of the booming industry when every new hotel that was built was the silver lining in the dark clouds of the economy and hence drew to their gates loads of job seekers trying to earn a living in an expanding sector. This erroneous perception of tourists as being very wealthy stems from an ignorance of the economic situation, social evolution, lifestyles and cultural habits of western countries and their nationals. The hotel industry has thrived on a wide pool of uneducated CPE failures and semi-educated college dropouts. It seemed that the availability of such a mass of school dropouts was deliberately maintained (with the blessings of the authorities) to be channelled towards factories for the less fortunate and towards hotels for the lucky ones to work as barmen, waiters and in the maintenance team.

Though a great number of hotel employees do their work conscientiously and honestly, cheating and thieving have developed into a well-established habit among those workers who ruthlessly feel entitled to rob other people’s belongings for their own profit. Those Mauritians who then worked in hotels, the current employees as also the inhabitants in the coastal villages have first-hand reports of robberies committed inside hotels as well as in the surroundings of coastal holiday resorts. Hardly did one German couple in their seventies set foot on Wednesday 12 January in the north of the country that they were robbed of their clothes and towels at Mon Choisy beach. Every year, these people spend one month in Mauritius, and they did not feel like walking to the police station to report the case knowing they would never retrieve their belongings.

On the same day, an Englishman gave a lift to a German woman who was walking back to her bungalow along Mon Choisy road dressed in bikini because someone stole her clothes, towel and her bag containing her purse and credit cards. One fellow who is in charge of the maintenance of a hotel swimming-pool has been well known for decades for grabbing whatever lies around, watches, jewels, lighters, cigarettes, towels, sandals, tee-shirts, shorts, sunglasses, etc. People like him show off their trophies around shamelessly.

The mysterious disappearance of a Frenchwoman and her daughter before leaving a hotel in the south of the island hit the headlines for weeks some years ago. The bereaved husband kept coming back to Mauritius just to find out what really happened to his family. Instead of showing compassion and empathy, the so-called authorities got more and more irritated and one of them insensitively suggested that the Frenchman be declared persona non grata in the island! As if they owned the country. It should be hoped that in the recent case of a theft gone awry in a most tragic way the bereaved young husband will receive more attention and respect.

Too late now

But one cannot help imagining that the half-brained fellows could, upon being caught red-handed, have been cowardly enough to run away or have apologized for the theft and begged not to be denounced. Instead, panic-stricken, they thought of their self-interest and stupidly chose to eliminate the witness. Briefly, it did not occur to them that they were not OJ Simpson, millionaire stars or big wigs of the corporate world who could hire the big shots among lawyers to get them out of the terrible mess they had entrapped themselves in. In that hapless moment of madness, which suspended all reasoning, they forgot that society shows no clemency for the guilty when they are poor and uneducated especially if they kill rich and famous people. Just witness the hysteria of the voices on the private radios and the calls for barbaric punishment.

Yet, the apparent ‘development’ which has been taking place in the coastal villages from Pte aux Piments, Trou aux Biches, to Grand Gaube should not conceal the fact that these regions are widely inhabited by a largely uneducated population that has just recently begun to enjoy decent living conditions. The lure for self-enrichment and easy money has been perverting a lot of people across the country but there are many white-collar robber barons amid the corporate world and their cronies among politicians of all hues who are powerful and clever enough not to get caught.

Are we informed about what lies behind every new contract granted by the authorities to promoters? No black money, no conflict of interests, no bribes, no corruption? Who fleeces who in the race for wealth-grabbing? The ultra-liberal system has spawned a breed of entrepreneurs in the hotel industry and tourism sector who have fattened and multiplied under different names and seen to it that they reap the highest benefits of all tourist-related businesses. Wildcat capitalism engenders deep inequalities, frustration, envy and greed. Of course, no crime is committed. Not yet. As the Mahatma said: Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.

* Published in print edition on 21 January 2011

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