The Free and the Unfree

First let us pay tribute to free men and women. There is always hope for a country when its sons and daughters rise to address their fellow citizens freely and fearlessly. 

Secondly, due attention should be given to what matters most to us as a people, and to what kind of society we want to build and aspire to live in by studying different ways and means to lead better lives on the physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual levels. Henceforth, Culture in its various forms should be given the place it deserves in our writings and speeches at a national level and in the media, so that the yearnings that stare out of the window in the waiting room of our minds and hearts craving for expression come out and materialize.

Why do we put freedom first? Because it is an indispensable tool for promoting truth, boosting creativity and innovation. Truth is a liberating factor; political correctness conceals the truth and ignores reality. Creativity and innovation in all domains bring about aesthetic, artistic, cultural, scientific and economic benefits.

Thank you, Ivor Tan Yan, for leaving a comfortable career in France and taking up Jack Bizlall’s fight for workers’ rights and welfare. Mr Tan Yan packed up and came back to serve the country after what he calls ‘The Tragedy of Inefficiency’ in what befell the hapless victims of the floods in Port-Louis a year ago. He also shunned a minister’s suggestion to work as a lawyer and pocket Rs 100 000 simply by putting his signature on a paper. A choice that rogues and crooks that strut around like big shots would have made without blinking. Instead, Ivor Tan Yan acted like a free man, a man with convictions and ideals.

Indeed, there are Multiple Tragedies going on which we hope he will look into. One instance is the lack of regulations concerning labour laws which affect the most vulnerable groups, men and women alike. Rampant hire and fire practice among employers wreaks havoc in the lives of many workers. An army of serfs at the lowest rung of the pyramid devote their whole days working for very low wages. The Rs 600 pay rise decided by the government is disregarded by a number of employers in all impunity. Legal action is unaffordable in a country where lawyers charge the public as much as in Europe. Employees are not free to quit given the scarcity of jobs. Exploitation of female labour needs no introduction, especially those who work as saleswomen in shops, assistants in small businesses, cleaners, housemaids and so on.

Jack Bizlall is indeed an institution, as Ivor Tan Yan put it. He is one of the most free-spirited persons in Mauritius. He puts national interest first and fearlessly issues warnings to leaders for mismanagement and ill-inspired policies which favour a few to the detriment of the masses. It would be of great benefit to the country if his open letters are heeded and the former PM packs up and leaves the stage, instead of putting up a pathetic show and gesticulating desperately to stay in the spotlight.

You are right, Jack Bizlall, about any bloke claiming their own droit à l’excès while meting out random punishments to those who stand up to denounce their erratic behaviour. This sort of excès hankers mostly after cash and super golden parachutes for themselves, their cronies in the public sector and their godfathers in the corporate world who reap huge benefits through public contracts generously handed out to them. However, SGD’s case was different. Alain Gordon-Gentil focused more on his personality, a bigger-than-life public figure and smart lawyer whatever were his wild leanings and extravagances.

We should hope Jack Bizlall keeps hunting down the culprits to know the truth about the missing Rs 80 millions in the Air Mauritius’ ‘Caisse noire’ affair and other Toms and Dicks who are involved knee-deep in scams of all hues. Hunt down all the blokes suspected of globe-trotting with money-laden coffers to be stashed away in safe places. One cannot go on living in denial while blatant corruption and conflicts of interest stare in the face following disclosures of crony capitalist arrangements on a daily basis. As things stand, we are witnessing a nauseating situation that no one, not even the Opposition, dared to inform the public about for more than a decade and even further back.

Many voices keep silent for fear of reprisals, self-interest, personal gains or lack of principles. Erratic transfers might dampen the eagerness to speak out freely in the public sector. Media spokesmen and spokeswomen have their own editorial lines to abide by, which take care not to offend, not to denounce without evidence and not to lose out revenues in terms of publicity and annual turnover, while other opinion makers have a sectarian approach in their criticism and praise depending on the prejudices which guide their thoughts and writings. If anything, we have had our fill of palabres, of seeing the same faces on newspapers that arouse loads of comments and adrenaline and sell copies on a daily basis.

Lalit’s fight against the biometric card is becoming successful, and that’s no ordinary feat which deserves three lines in the press. Lindsay Collen, Rajini Lallah and their collaborators are known for their resilience and they never give up. They are strong people with strong beliefs embedded in an ideology. We know where they stand. They are not poupettes who dance to the tune of the ruling parties or let themselves be silenced by them. So are the members of Rezistans ek Alternativ who are proposing public consultation in major decisions and policy-making. These are parties who deserve the votes in the coming elections.

The other new parties have reasonably stepped back for the time being deeming it useless to throw their weight on the political platform barely six months after general elections. We expect Roshni Mooneeram to keep up the fight and prepare 2019 though her collaborator has opted for a smart job. Sheila Bunwaree was right not to team up with traditional parties. Whatever Muvman Liberater was liberating itself from has not been made clear to the public. The leaders with inflated egos function on the monologue mode as did their past comrades. Communicating with the public is definitely not their cup of tea. There is a time when we should say ‘Game Over’ to the traditional parties who have made a mockery of democracy. For decades the governing style has been characterized by opacity, a culture of secrecy and impunity, unilateral decision taking, arbitrary nominations, blackmail and random rewards and punishments.

Nandini Bhautoo is another free-spirited academic who has voiced out her genuine concern not for the promotion of her personal career but for several issues plaguing the country, namely violence in her latest paper. It would be too lengthy here to dwell upon the insidious psychological violence, rampant corruption and lack of ethics a state inflicts on people.

Our tribute to Serge Constantin for bringing Lombraz Kann at an international level. Mauritius is overflooded with dollars and billions of rupees sloshed around in coffers globe-trotting for safe havens. A budget should be allotted to a film producer like Serge Constantin and other artists who promote creativity and free expression in various forms.

The above mentioned names and many other like-minded free-spirited people like Jack Bizlall who value their independence and freedom above all will surely refuse prizes, decorations like GOSK (?) , or prestigious appointments handed down by authorities who do not rate highly in their esteem. Let us recall the words of some famous French personalities who refused the Légion d’honneur.

Thomas Piketty, Nobel Prize for Economics in 2015: ‘ Je refuse cette nomination car je ne pense pas que ce soit le rôle d’un gouvernement de décider qui est honorable. Ils feraient mieux de se consacrer à la relance de la croissance…’

Famous cartoonist Jacques Tardi: ‘Je ne demande rien et je n’ai jamais rien demandé. On n’est pas forcément content d’être reconnu par des gens qu’on n’estime pas.’

In 2012, cancer specialist Annie Thébaud refused the Légion d’honneur ‘pour dénoncer l’indifférence qui touche la santé au travail et l’impunité des « crimes industriels ».’

Jean-Paul Sartre in 1944: ‘L’écrivain doit refuser de se transformer en institution même si cela a lieu sous les formes les plus honorables comme c’est le cas.’

Further back, scientist Marie Curie: ‘En Sciences, nous devons nous intéresser aux choses, non aux personnes.’ ‘Je n’en (Légion d’honneur) vois pas la nécessité.’

These are people, free people who have self-confidence, and trust in their role and mission, and cherish their work and live up to their beliefs. Fortunately, in the same line, we do have great people in our small country.


*  Published in print edition on 12 June 2015

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