By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Undeniably, our divergent views on key issues of national interest are mostly due to our general outlook, which is moulded by the type of education and thinking we are most receptive to depending on our ethnic and cultural background. Opinion makers, editorialists and other prominent figures voice their opinions spluttering a high rate of adrenalin, and occasionally raise an unnecessary hurly-burly among members of the public who feel obliged to express their own views in press articles.
There is such a gap in the way we respond to vague abstract concepts invented by others and imposed on one and all as great progressive ideas. Some concepts germinate in the amphitheatres of French universities and are dished out to the general public as the absolute truth. A European or French cultural heritage makes a small part of the population more sensitive to worship western-style abstract concepts. The point is that they constantly hammer their own views, and unwittingly or deliberately ignore that a big chunk of the population is prone to adopt a more pragmatic outlook on matters of national interest. A recent case is that of one of our opinion maker, who spends sleepless nights because what he terms ‘Mauritianism’ is sluggishly straggling behind. That beats it all. Being a patriot and all that, he feels sad about the slow progress of Mauritianism.
There is no denying that we live in different islands in the same country. Those who are comfortably basking amid soaring wealth in the cozy offices of the banks and other private conglomerates are definitely cut off from the down-to-earth concerns of ordinary people. An important matter of concern is the rate of interest that banks charge the public on loans. Since the 2008 crisis which started in the US, rates on loans have been going down in developed countries. In France, it plummeted from 7-8% to 2.5%, which is advantageous to those who have contracted loans. Is there any such thing happening in Mauritius? Or are commercial and state banks operating in collusion to squeeze the juice out of all citizens who come to them for loans? We would like to think that any keen observer and patriot whose heart is bleeding for the progress of ‘Mauritianism’ and the welfare of common people would be aware that the principle of ‘liberalism’ has been applied selectively to suit the interests of powerful lobbies. What percentage of the population earns enough and is able to borrow money to buy property and reimburse banks?
We are not so sure that the government should follow the ultra-liberal economic policy that has been the mantra of the Anglo-Saxon sphere, the US and UK, and has been imposed across the world as the only viable system. Just see the disastrous consequences resulting from the high concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, the huge disparities in salary and glaring inequalities these countries are facing today. Total ‘laissez-faire’ is detrimental to public interest. High fares applied by the national airline with the complicity of some other airlines have been penalizing the public for years.
This is one example of state policy getting at the throat of the public. Absence of regulation leads to wild capitalism. The arrival of a new player in the telecommunication sector and a fair price for internet should sensitize public opinion on the various monopolies held by public/private partnerships. It escapes nobody’s notice that the great ‘patriots’ who love the country never thought of denouncing such unfair policies. Water and electricity should remain public assets and not sold out to the highest bidders, South African and other foreigners knocking at the door of public companies which are doing well.
It should be a matter of great concern that the development of real estate is deeply altering the demographic and social landscape of the country. In the absence of a proper vision and a bold and viable long-term economic planning, the political class has been giving carte blanche to all sorts of investors who will virtually own the country in a few years. A handful of people are laying their hands on all lands around the coast and in the hinterland. The privatisation of whatever available space in the form of real estate projects and ‘domaines’ of all sorts is going on at an incredible pace.
A small island which is densely populated cannot afford to follow all the liberal policies that are adopted in big developed countries. Mauritius cannot take in all the foreigners that want to exploit the island’s potential, which is often to the detriment of public interest. It is revolting that middle-class citizens should buy lands in their country from South Africans. A subtle way to increase the percentage of people of European descent and alter the ethnic and demograhic configuration since the implementation of the IRS. One should be naïve to believe that there is no ‘hidden agenda’.
An uncompromising and critical mind should have enough foresight to see how the increasing flow of foreigners will further damage the social fabric. It just does not sound right that locals whose parents believed in Independence should now depend on foreigners and their local partners who are blowing hot and cold as regards the price of lands. Some of these locals have been at the helm of economic and hence political power for centuries and are powerful enough to influence decision-making at the highest level.
The rapid privatization of space will soon spread to the whole country, relegating the people to huddle in unhealthy promiscuity, with whole joint families having to survive in a mere few square metres of land. Such constricted housing conditions are an impediment to the sound social and intellectual development of citizens. Every family needs adequate space to breath some freedom without being stifled by loads of relatives crowded together.
Unofficial segregation which has blotted the social landscape for decades is being reinforced with the arrival of people of European descent, particularly South Africans who are joining their local comrades to promote a silent apartheid in the country. We all know how the local comrades devise ways to keep people out of their residential sphere in towns and the coastal regions, and how they apply the same policy in the hotel industry to deny entrance to Mauritians.
The liberalization in real estate has led to a South African style gated and guarded residential estates, which is not in tune with the mindset and lifestyle of most Mauritian citizens. Ghettoes for the rich are cropping up across the country with cameras to safeguard and protect some people’s interests. A surveillance society is being modelled just as in Johannesburg and other South African towns and townships. This sort of development is being carved out by powerful private sector lobbies with the blessing of the government. Are Mauritians in favour of such a course that is being set up by a few people? For obvious reasons, great patriots in the media choose to close their eyes to such happenings. To them, development means the financial gains that are siphoned into the coffers of banks.
For decades, citizens of all ethnic hues have increasingly socialized and integrated better, sharing more and more and learning from others, especially in the villages, while bearing in mind that the preservation and promotion of their cultural heritage is essential to their well-being, rather than being overwhelmed and swept off by external cultural factors.
In the garb of great patriots and promoters of ‘Mauritianism’, some opinion makers are obsessed by unfair appointments in parastatal bodies. Their favourite targets, for lack of external enemies, are heads of what are called ‘socio-cultural’ associations, namely Hindu community groups. In the process, of course, ‘minorities’ are depicted as victims. No one buys that nonsense. Just see who have for decades benefited most in the hotel and tourism industries in the form of contracts for suppliers and monopolies. A quick look at recruitment from top to bottom in private companies owned by so-called ‘minorities’ speaks volumes for ethnic profiling. But the obsession is with VOH and SDT Federation and their leaders. Why not blame them for all the ills in the world: drug dealing, political instability in Madagascar, the spread of AIDS in South Africa, climate change across the world, the typhoon in Japan and the US, ethnic cleansing in Pakistan, bomb blasts in hot spots and so on?
Come on! People are widely pragmatic. Most of them have not been to French universities and gulped down all sorts of ‘isms’ to then become self-proclaimed champions of ‘progressive’ ideas and force them down the throat of people. If anything, the ‘thinking’ élite is cut off from daily concerns of the common people.
* Published in print edition on 31 August 2012