Swacch Mauritius

“Moris mo zoli pays” is the theme title given to the latest campaign to clean up Mauritius. It kicked off at the Floreal Youth Centre on Sunday 5-March 2017. And hats off to the PM for his personal involvement at the event which culminated in his joining a group of citizens walking along the streets of Curepipe and picking up the ubiquitous trash that blemishes our environment.

 “Swachh Mauritius!” the wife exclaimed at the sight of Pravind Jugnauth picking up litter with gloved hands. Given the abysmal failure of past government campaigns, we can only wish this one will have a different outcome.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign) is the ambitious initiative of PM Modi to achieve Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of a clean and hygienic India within five years, by the end of 2019. At the inauguration in October 2014, he personally picked up a broom to sweep the dirt littering the street near a police station in Delhi. To further emphasize his commitment to the Campaign, he would repeat this gesture in Vanarasi, and to ensure success, he has deployed an army of 3m government employees to drive the project; and many millions of school-children have been encouraged to join in.

 It is estimated that some 600m Indians have no toilet facilities and, therefore, defecate in the open. As well as State Governments and NGOs, private sector corporates like Tata and Ambani have not been shy to give a helping hand by offering material and labour for toilets. In the first year alone an impressive 3.2m toilets were built. Live coverage was given by NDTV of the launch of the campaign and its two anniversaries — with regular spots throughout the year to drive the message home. If only our corporates and dear old MBC would do as much for our clean-up campaigns. It is possible!

To help popularize the initiative, Modi did not hesitate to recruit the help of famous people from the arts, cinema, sports, business and politics to act as Ambassadors. In a land where particular jobs are reserved for particular castes, cleaning dirt falls upon low-caste Dalits because the higher castes consider it to be beneath them. If Mr Modi has succeeded in galvanizing people across the board to join in the cleaning project, this in itself must go down as one of his major achievements. Cleanliness is after all the affair of everyone.

Alo Moris

So much for India and Modi’s great and successful initiative — fallait y penser! But what about Mauritius? For a start our problem is minor compared to India, as it mainly concerns littering. However so far we have been big on slogans and sound-bites, but small on action. Since the beginning of the millennium our successive governments have launched no less than four national campaigns — and the private sector has perhaps done as much in certain localities — to tackle the problem. But all them, particularly the national initiatives, have ended up in abject failure.

AD 2000: Environment Minister Bhagwan launched the “To zete to paye” (you litter, you pay) campaign. He made it known that Government meant business and would be pitiless with offenders! This meant individual litterbugs as well as fly-tippers. Given the amount of rubbish that gets thrown in our public places and the lorry-loads that are found illegally dumped along our highways, byways and even waterways, this seemed a very laudable initiative indeed.

However after an inauguration with great fanfare and some initial success, the campaign just frittered away and, sooner than later, died a premature death.

AD 2012: Twelve years later, another government campaign entitled “To zete to tasse” (you litter, you’re stuck) was launched. It seemed that Government really meant business this time by bringing in the joint capacity of not one, not two, but three Ministries — that of Tourism, Environment and Local Government. The population, or at least those who care for the environment, jubilated. With three swashbuckling Ministers (Aime, Duval and Virahsawmy) driving the campaign through the initial first year, it just could not fail!

After all they would be supported in their task by TV and radio spots, posters, advertisements on buses, talks in schools and colleges and regular audiovisual programmes. Furthermore the Environment Police would ensure that the laws on littering would be enforced, with maximum fines of Rs 2k for first-time offenders and Rs 10k and one-year imprisonment term for subsequent offence.

Again the emphasis was mostly on punishment. Polluters would be severely punished for littering public places, the Minsters said. However I cannot remember anyone actually going to jail for littering or fly-tipping. Anyway predictably the campaign flopped.

AD 2013: A Clean up Mauritius campaign was launched as a special commemoration of the annual Clean up the World (CUTW) campaign. The main objective of the CUTW — which originated in Australia in 1993 — is to bring together governments, business, NGOs, schools, community groups and individuals to undertake activities to clean up the environment and educate children about the environment.

The Ministry of Environment had been celebrating the CUTW annually with the participation of NGOs, local communities and others. But 2013 was special in that it was the year that the MID Environmental Policies and Action Plan (MIDEPAP) was adopted by the government. MIDEPAP’s objective is to create and embellish green spaces in order to transform Mauritius into a green and more pleasant place to live. It also involves cleaning activity through a sensitization campaign, distribution of rubbish bins, clean up activity, etc — certainly no shortage of ambition there! Unfortunately it did not work.

AD 2017: Clean up Mauritius and Embellishment Campaign. This Government campaign will be administered by a Ministerial Committee (I wonder if that is not already a reflection of things to come) chaired by Minister Soodhun. The objective of the Committee is to “ensure an effective coordination between the public and private agencies responsible for cleaning and maintenance…” It was certainly good to hear the Minister stress that this time it will not be a one-time event, but an ongoing programme to keep Mauritius clean — short-termism has partly been responsible for past failures.

He also called upon the public to help maintain a clean, healthy and safe environment. Once more the authorities will rely heavily on legislation, and those caught violating the laws will be severely dealt with. Maybe this Campaign will meet with success but, based as it on threats (and perhaps a dare to potential polluters!) I have my doubts. Threats have not worked before, so why should they this time round?

Failure to Success (F2S)

It is obvious that all previous campaigns with threats, clever slogans and sound-bites have not worked. Because none of these address the fundamental problem, which is the incivility of our fellow citizens. From personal experience, my good friend Dr Foogooa and I know that it is futile talking to adults. They’ll simply tell you “nous fine assez travaille; laisse bane jeune faire astere” (we have done enough; it’s the turn of the young). But the young are not interested either — in fact they are among some of the worst offenders. Talk about Catch-22!

But, we simply cannot afford to give up; a different approach is needed. First, introduce a spot fine; and name and shame offenders. Second, since we can’t teach old dogs new tricks, we might as well concentrate all our efforts in training young minds. Call it Serendipity, but Amedee Darga’s recent proposition for the introduction of a National Civic Service (NCS) for all 14-16 year-olds comes with perfect timing. If we manage to combine the NCS with examples from the Indian experience, it might just do the trick. Since they are the two faces of the same coin, converting F2S is possible!

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