Powerful financial institutions keep making hay …

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

As the same old Time flows into a new year, we may go on wondering why on earth some things never change. Development banks, commercial banks and the state bank still charge higher rate of interest for bank loans to priority productive smaller customers than in Europe, China and Reunion. From a low 2.5%, it went up to 3.5 % in France and most of Europe.

Over here, it is around 9 % in most commercial banks and even higher while being not less than 5% in the case of Development Bank of Mauritius. How they manage it is a mystery to the public. Customers have to pay for their checkbooks, which are free elsewhere. Multiple charges are applied which unbearably hike up the cost of finance to customers less likely to leverage their position vis-à-vis the banks.

Conversely, French banks offer only 2.5% on savings and the rate is likely to go down as it has been the case in Mauritius, with banks raising their margins between deposit and lending rates, unmindful of the tough times businesses, especially small businesses, are facing. CEB and CWA bills are debited on bank accounts with a fee paid to banks while most banks in Europe do not charge anything for water, electricity bills or any other direct debit payments. On top of that, customers queuing up docilely in banks, waiting for their turns tend to forget that they are the ones who are actually feeding banks.

In France, different VAT rates are applied on products and items in sharp contrast to Mauritian-style VAT which applies 15% on every single item you buy. Mauritius-Réunion airline ticket is the most expensive in the world, 327 to around 340 euros for a 25- minute flight. France-Morocco flight-hotel package for a week amounts to 300 euros for around 3-hour flight; Paris-Dominican Republic, more than 8-hour flight for 450 euros, one week at a hotel included; London-China is 600 euros; low season London-New-York is 500 euros; Europe to any Eastern European country is peanuts – 150 to 200 euros. Just to give you an idea. The average income is five times lower than in France, and yet Mauritians are made to pay nearly as much as French consumers for satellite television channels. It all sounds grossly unfair. But business goes on as usual.

You may think the fellow selling cars in a garage is bluffing but he is dead serious when he unscrupulously tells you that he prefers to bribe a policeman and keep his licence if he is fined for drink-driving. Then you try in vain to drive some sense into his mind by telling him that a better solution is to be responsible and avoid consuming alcohol before taking the wheel. The other fellow who is trying to sell off agricultural lands in the north does not blink an eye. Buy them, and if you do the “right” sort of things where it matters, he says, you will be allowed to build on those lands, he tells you. He must be joking. So you hope. Year in year out, ICAC has a Herculean task ahead if ever it seriously means to change mindsets.

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ISKON – Getting away from the hustle-bustle of daily chores

It was a unique occasion for a public gathering by the seaside at dusk while the last boats gently sailed into the bay with their loads of holiday-makers; songs and music mingled with cheers and laughter could be heard from the shore where the waves flapped on the rocks. Far away on the horizon, the sunset still flared deep red and orange amid the dark clouds hovering around. One just had to sit down on the rocks facing the sea and listen to the hymns coming from the tent pitched a few metres away by ISKON devotees.

More than a week earlier, banners at different points on the roadside advertised the event that took place at Grand Bay on the 30th December.

Prior to the gathering, the procession organized by ISKON was mostly attended by devotees. On their way, books were proposed and invitations were made to the public to join in and attend the gathering in Grand Bay in the yard of the Mandir and on the sea front. Looking tired after the long procession, and resting now in its chariot next to the Nandi, a calf was affectionately patted by children and adults who walked past it as if they were thanking it for having put up with all the ceremony.

By the seaside, books on religious topics, health guides and vegetaraian cooking were on sale as well as a variety of food items. A few tourists walking by were drawn to the stalls and stayed on to listen to the kirtans and bhajans sung by devotees from different countries. In such an atmosphere of peace and serenity, one would have expected more people to stop by and enjoy the evening in the open air after a day’s work. But the year-end hustle and bustle in the streets, shops and supermarkets in the summer heat seemed to have drained the energy of most people who chose to head straight home after work. Or the others simply did not care about the spiritual stuff.

More publicity will certainly draw public attention to the benefits of open air peaceful evenings. A respite from the daily activity of work, savings, financial worries, stress , responsibility, duty towards others, feathering one’s nest, providing for children’s future, relationship issues and loads of activities that draw one away from the consciousness of the real self. Anyway, it was a good initiative taken by ISKON and it would surely attract a bigger crowd in the future.

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A natural indigenous entertainment holds out new scope for all

As regards popular music and songs, it should be noted that nothing is organized by district councils to gather the public at large to celebrate the New Year. Football pitches in the coastal areas of Trou-aux-Biches, Mon Choisy, Grand Bay and so on can be used to organize concerts, invite artists young and old, to perform and create a festive atmosphere. It can also be done in Triolet, Fond du Sac and other villages. Those who looked forward to celebrate after midnight and have a late night on New Year’s eve flocked to the new temple of consumption at La Croisette where a private radio was supposed to make the public spend an unforgettable night, were quite disappointed. The fellow yelling in the microphone seemed only too happy to listen to his own voice.

Any modern place in the world cares to organize social gatherings on special occasions. Over here, there is little recommendation that can be given to tourists who leave the compounds of hotels or bungalows and feel like venturing in the local public space with the hope of experiencing celebration among locals. That could even be welcome by Mauritians who want to have a break with the traditional family parties on every occasion.

The sort of natural and spontaneous meeting of friends and neighbours to play music and dance at Blue Bay beach a few days earlier is a rare sight. Nothing of this kind in the north of the island. And yet, not all foreigners are fans of pubs, night-clubs nor do they stick to the precincts of hotels.

Financial gains during peak season in the deep pockets of the hotel industry and government coffers should not be all that matters in the local style for developing tourism. One needs to depart from the used-up model of in-house hospitality to create a new brand for Mauritius

Maybe it would be too much for the public to rely on every newly elected district council team of advisors to come up with innovative and dynamic projects. Private initiative and contribution to set up projects to make holiday seasons more interesting and in better keeping with local folklore for one and all would be most welcome. It calls for initiative rather than an unending quest for profits.

* Published in print edition on 12 January 2013

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