Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By Peter Ibbotson
The contents of various issues of the Government Gazette provide striking contrasts. Take numbers 23 and 33 of 1957, for example.
In number 33, dated July 20, we find the usual string of sales by levy. Three people had not paid their sewerage rate, one person had not paid for drainage installations, and one person had paid neither sewerage rate nor for drainage installations.
Now let us look at number 23, dated June 1. The legal supplement contains a proclamation made by the Governor under the Game Ordinance, section 29 (1). The Governor has in this proclamation prohibited the shooting, killing, capturing in any place, purchase, sale or exposure for sale of all wild birds except 10 species that are listed. What are these 10 birds that can be captured, shot, killed, sold or offered for sale? They are the Ring-necked Parakeet, the Schlug-Schlug, the Red-whiskered Bulbul, the House Sparrow, the Partridge, the Quail, the Barred Ground Dove, the Wild guinea Fowl, the Wild Duck and the White-Faced Duck.
Such tenderness towards wild birds! It compares with the tenderness towards the Central Market pigeons shown by the cereal retailers, who several times a day throw rice, maize and lentils for these birds. The birds are happy and carefree; perhaps it was the birds that the cinema newsreel commentator had in mind when he said, last September, that Mauritius was a happy and carefree island. But while the birds are protected and fed, what of the human inhabitants of the country? Their fate is told in the Gazette notice of Sales by Levy; in the notices of Bankruptcy; and in the columns of the daily press.
An unmarried mother tries to dispose of her baby by getting rid of it down a sewer. Even the London Times carried a short news item about that; unfortunately, it classed Port Louis as a “foreign” city. Another woman, whose public assistance had been stopped, tried to drown herself after leaving her baby on the table of a P.A.D. (Public Assistance Department) official. Recently there was the man who interrupted the proceedings of the Legislative Council by declaring from the public gallery that his wife and children were starving. Even more recently there was the demonstration at Government House by unemployed workers.
We read of the fate of many persons in road accidents.
In one recent issue of Advance there were listed three accidents: a lorry-driver was killed and two of his passengers injured when the lorry collided with a car; a Sino-Mauritian was run down and killed; a pedestrian was knocked down by a bus and had to be taken to hospital. Regularly, too, the papers publish the list of notifications of infectious illnesses and diseases; typical are the Health Department bulletins for the weeks ending June 8 and May 18. The latter: two cases of typhoid fever, two of diphtheria, and nine of tuberculosis (three fatal). The former: one case of typhoid, one of diphtheria, and four of TB; in the week, four people died of TB.
The attitude of many road users when an accident occurs is shown by a report in Le Cernéen of July 19 headlined: ‘Une voiture renverse un motocycliste et ne s’arrête pas. Grièvement blessé, says the paper, le motocycliste est en traitement à l’Hôpital Civil’.
The people suffer. They have no work. The Public Assistance Department is callous, parsimonious. Road accidents multiply and the police appear powerless to stop them. Disease is rampant and poverty stalks Mauritius. To tourists, and to visitors such as Michael Malim (Island of the Swan), Mauritius is a filao-fringed paradise; but to the unfortunates who have to exist on miserable wages or begrudged doles from the P.A.D., it is a filao-fringed hell on earth.
Yet while the people suffer, the birds (except Schlug-Schlugs, Red-Whiskered Bulbuls, and the other eight) are happy. Not for them any fear of sudden death, or capture or lack of protection. They are taken care of; they are protected by law.
They need protection. The new Ministers have a hard task ahead of them to provide that protection. A start has been made; the approximately 10,500 Government employees paid under “Other charges” have had their wages increased. An extra 30 cents a day for artisans, 25 cents for semi-skilled workers, and 20 cents for unskilled workers will be given. Modest though these increases may be, they are none the less an indication that the new Executive Council has the welfare of the ordinary people at heart. The decision to increase the low-paid underprivileged workers’ wages was taken on July 26, only three weeks after the Ministers had assumed office. The decision is to be backdated to the date of ministerial responsibility: July 1.
If this increase can be granted by Ministers, why could it not have been granted under the previous Crown Colony regime? As Advance asked in connexion with an anologous though not exactly similar case: ‘pourquoi ce qui était d’abord impossible est devenu possible après?’
Now that the Ministers have shown themselves so interested in the lot of the common people, it is to be hoped that they will actively interest themselves in the shocking treatment meted out to many paupers who apply to the P.A.D. for assistance. Perhaps the rates of outdoor relief will be increased? Perhaps the rates of old age pension will be increased? Perhaps, too, the efficiency of the Police will be reviewed, so that the number of road casualties will begin to fall, and the number of drivers who knock someone down and drive on without stopping will be reduced to nil.
While the Ministers are at work, one hopes that they will be able to do something to allay the disquiet felt by some Civil Servants about gross or minor injustice or personal favour made to protect and favour some fils à papa. The appointment (after examination in the case of the under-forties) of First and Second Grade Clerks to the rank of Executive Officer has caused many heart-burnings among Civil Servants especially in view of the strange fact that many First Grade Clerks have different dates for their appointment to the grade of Executive Officer for purposes of seniority and purposes of salary. And some Second Grade Clerks who were acting as Executive Officers have been appointed Executive Officers from varying dates after 1 April 1951, only being granted acting allowances for the time they were acting as Executive Officers before the dates of their promotion to Executive Officer rank.
Mr Ramage’s terms of reference precluded him from considering anything other than adjustment of salaries. He could not deal with redress of grievances or anomalies. A new salaries commissioner has been appointed, Mr Howes. Will he able to consider matters other than salary revision? A number of Civil Servants, who are labouring under grievances, hope that he will. The working party appointed to review the structure, operation and system of the Public Service appears, by ITS terms of reference, to be precluded from considering these Civil Servant’s complaints; so that, while no one wishes public servants to be always running to political heads of departments for a redress of their grievances, it appears that in this instance it will have to be the Ministers who consider the matter and settle the Civil Servant’s problems.
The Executive Council has its hands full with many matters concerning the prosperity of Mauritius as a whole, and the welfare of its inhabitants as individuals. These matters will take time to deal with. But in raising the wages of the 10,500 odd Government employees, the Executive has given an earnest of its intention to help those who cannot help themselves. Carried further, that intention will earn for the members of the Executive (and six of them are Labour Ministers, it must not be forgotten – a majority, that is) the blessings of the People of Mauritius.
Meanwhile the blessings of the birds of Mauritius are reserved for the Governor whose proclamation has protected them. Except, of course, the Ring-Necked Parakeets, Red-whiskered Bulbuls and Schlug-Schlug who apparently, like the people, need no protection.
4th Year – No 158
Friday 16th August 1957
* Published in print edition on 23 February 2021