The right to vote, like the right to a passport and many other rights, are the attributes of citizenship in a political community. These rights have been acquired at birth and span over generations – past and future
When I was a student in Britain, I was entitled to vote in the British general elections of 1970, but chose not to do so, not because I was less politically minded but rather because I did not consider myself to belong to the political community that constituted British society. The right to vote, like the right to a passport and many other rights, are the attributes of citizenship in a political community. These rights have been acquired at birth and span over generations – past and future.
The recent proposal floated in the Budget Speech to put on sale the Mauritian passport to high net worth individuals (HNWI) has necessarily provoked a backlash among Mauritians across the political spectrum and all social classes. The idea of selling the Mauritian passport and the citizenship of Mauritius should be abandoned.
Many voices have already been raised against this passport transaction and several articles have in a comprehensive manner elaborated not only on the immorality of such a measure but also analysed the economic, financial and political implications. The determination of democratic forces to come forward with a national petition against this budget proposal despite the fact that government appears to have backpedalled on this measure reflects the national sentiment that such a measure violates our citizenship, degrades our passport and reduces it to a product to be sold on the global market.
Membership in a democratic sovereign state entails a complex network of meanings, a sense of shared values, a common history, as well as a number of duties and responsibilities. As individuals and as a community, we have both individual and collective interests that seek to promote the welfare of every citizen. We obey the laws and respect our institutions because these have been made both by rulers and the ruled through a legitimate democratic process. In a democratic set-up where the government is expected to remain accountable to its citizens, these rules can nevertheless be challenged and contested when they breach our trust and infringe on our democratic rights.
Putting on sale Mauritian citizenship through the sale of a Mauritian passport is a gross and crude way of filling the coffers of the state. It looks like a disjointed and desperate measure for a declining economy. What would be the moral rights and responsibility of a person in our society if he obtains through the immorality of a cash transaction a Mauritian passport?
Many of us may sometimes have taken for granted our membership in our modern democratic nation state and not given perhaps much thought to the value of our Mauritian passport. We have not known the miseries of thousands of stateless people or even the humiliation endured by many passport holders of different countries at immigration counters. We have had the good fortune that our passport did not arouse the deep suspicions of immigration officials because our citizenship reflects the law-abiding citizenry of a democratic country. Can we say the same for the eventual holders of Mauritian passports obtained on sale?
If our institutions have not been able to spot one Sobrinho, who can trust that several Sobrinos will not pass through the net and cast an irreparable blemish on our passport? Why open the gate to Mauritian citizenship when we all know that all fraudsters, drug barons, money launderers and terrorists and other members of mafia-like organizations are ready to pounce on our passport to facilitate their mobility, offshore their money and avoid extradition.
This is not to deny that Mauritian passports were not available in the past to investors who contributed to the country’s economic development by setting up factories, creating jobs, enabling the transfer of technology thereby contributing to the overall welfare of Mauritian citizens. At present those who will acquire a Mauritian passport would have no social obligations or responsibility towards the country. In fact the use of Mauritian passports will open the gates to corruption as it happened in not so distant a past when rumours were afloat that the sale of Mauritian passport was taking place at the heart of government.
Moreover, the state has a responsibility towards its citizens on the basis of equality, and the vision of a sovereign state is to further the cause of equality of all its citizens and not to create a new class of citizens and reduce Mauritians to second-class citizenship in their own country. The news of the sale of Mauritian passports has created some panic among our millennials who have already become worried about their future and that of their children and future generations.
The budget proposal has hardly been uttered that property developers have put up the price of land and millennials are faced with the impossible dream of acquiring a home. They all know too well that the statistics that suggest that 80 to 90% of Mauritians own their houses fly in the face of reality when most of them who do not rent a house have simply squeezed themselves in a room or two in their ancestral home or at most added a few rooms to their parents’ houses.
With inequality widening in our society, of which even the gini coefficient is a grossly inadequate measure, foreigners obtaining a Mauritian passport will not only widen inequality but also undermine our social fabric. We already have some measure of how our citizenship is being violated by the trek from South Africa to our western district.
A sovereign democratic state has the reciprocal duty of extending protection to its citizens inside and outside its jurisdiction. The last thing to do for a developmental state with a hallowed tradition of protecting its citizens is to embrace the neo-liberal idea of selling passports to the highest bidder in a world market – thereby violating our core values of equality, freedom and social justice.
The national petition which democratic organizations have prepared should be circulated to all corners of Mauritius and signed by all trade unions, social and cultural and political organizations, students at all levels, in brief by all citizens of Mauritius so that a resounding ‘No to The Sale of Our Passport’ can be heard from far and near.
* Published in print edition on 6 July 2018