Re-enacting 2003?

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

The country at large should by now realize that the every-five year democratic farce is not a guarantee of sustained progress and prosperity. The system guarantees freedom for the electorate to choose those who will be at the helm of the country’s affairs for a few years, but a deliberate strategy to rock the boat and create an impression of a tempest-tossed crew that will have no choice than call the public back to the ballot box is a game that the electorate is mature enough to see through.

It is paving the way to a grotesque situation where those who are allegedly involved in a conflict of interest will pose as saviours and, considering that the public is ready to be taken for another ride, will go about to satisfy their personal agenda.

ICAC is expected to carry on its investigation unimpeded by sectarian interests whoever be the culprits. If anything, as a small country with a small economy, instead of wasting time and energy in futile discourses and getting excited over hypothetical political changes, it would be wiser to muster strength and channel energy towards dynamic and constructive projects.

The Minister of Telecommunications is re-assessing the relevance of the association of Mauritius Telecom with France Telecom. This is a salutary initiative. The Minister knows fully well that the privatization of MT caught the public unawares in 2003. It was not announced in the electoral agenda of the political parties concerned. The erstwhile leaders did not deem it necessary to inform the public of the urgency of privatizing MT. The press did not make it an issue, and it was obvious that the leaders had treated the public with contempt in sealing the deal. MT, just as Air Mauritius that used to be a national pride, had been faring fairly well without the new partnership. In actual fact, as if to emphasize that the deal struck was quite deep, France Telecom brought Orange along with it in the wake of the acquisition by it of a large stake in MT.

By the way, is the Minister aware that Mauritians pay as much as Reunionese and higher than the French for Internet via MT FT Orange? Private French TV channel Canal Satellite charges Mauritians with the same high tariff. Overall average salaries in these places are five times higher than in Mauritius. This shows that, left unchecked, private service providers will leave no stone unturned to satisfy corporate greed to the detriment of users. Current malpractices are shocking and terribly unfair. Will the Minister address this issue urgently or will he, like others before him, skirt it aside in the name of private business?

2003 drew Mauritian expats in South Africa back to the shores of our island. Their business intuition wasted no time to seize the opportunity provided by the newly appointed leadership to set up the infamous Integrated Resort Scheme that has, since, been selling the country away to foreigners and pricing land out of reach of the pockets of residents.

For the Sake of Transparency

In the midst of the Jan Lokpal Bill under discussion and fast-unto-death satyagraha, notwithstanding the fact that she had no obligation to do so, the President of India brought to public notice all her assets, salary, bank account and those of her relatives. That initiative of hers was most welcome. Conversely, demands initiated by Swami Ramdev to reveal Swiss bank accounts illegally owned by businessmen in the private sector and a few politicians met with stiff resistance. An Indian journalist interviewed a Swiss bank employee who has been arrested several times for not respecting the secrecy relating to bank accounts held by foreign nationals. The motivation of the latter is to urge countries across the world to bear pressure on the Swiss banking policy to put an end to secrecy, and thus to reveal the scale of illegal accumulation of wealth which should have been under government control for the benefit of their population. In the case of India, more than a trillion dollars are said to have been stashed away by the private sector and officials in the public sector as well.

It would be reasonable and appropriate for Mauritian politicians to disclose their assets, shares in private companies and property they own in Mauritius and abroad to the public. That should include those of their immediate ascendants and descendants. Members of freemasonry in the public and private sectors and the foreign lobbies that influence key decisions taken in Mauritius should also be made known to the public.

Tourist Villages

Who had the hallucinating idea of building tourist villages? Foreign visitors are increasingly looking for authenticity, and places especially built for tourist shopping may have the opposite effect of keeping visitors away from such places. As things stand, Mauritius is looking more and more like its sister-island, and it is not in the interest of the country to keep this trend going. It would be unwise to believe that you should give up originality and authenticity to look like other countries and indulge in cultural and linguistic mimicry to attract visitors.

Mauritius should polish its own brand and revive its cultural originality to make it stand apart and attractive to foreigners in its own rights. Otherwise, as far as westerners are concerned, they will set their choice on Thailand and Bali, which have not thrown away their cultural blessings. Does a small country like Mauritius need several tourist villages? It will be a waste of taxpayers’ money to proceed in this direction, let alone vulgarizing a sector of activity to some sort of a lowest common denominator.

The other point is the issue of insecurity that has sullied the brand of Mauritius as a top tourist destination to some extent. We would like to think that the number of attacks on foreign visitors would be on the decline soon if we go by reports on such phenomenon in other richer countries that went through the same nightmare as a result of newfound prosperity. More equality and opportunities for better living conditions gradually rarefied assaults against foreigners in other places that were keen not to fragilize an intrinsically vulnerable activity.

In Mauritius, violence and insecurity in a context of economic prosperity showed up in the second half of the 1990s, more than fifteen years back. The issue of corrupt police officials who took bribes and let petty criminals get away with robbery and physical assault has also been addressed. Measures taken to educate and uplift people out of anti-social and criminal behavior are likely to bear positive results. It is well known that most coastal villages live off tourism. There is every reason therefore to make efforts collectively to keep this important segment of economic life in good shape and that will include the re-examination and replacement of ill-conceived strategies for the sector. 

* Published in print edition on 23 September 2011

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