S. Chidambaram

The Best Radical Option in Town

 

“Some of the politicians have argued that municipal councils should retain the organic link with the central government as part of their campaign strategy to win the municipal elections. A considerable section of the electorate is responding positively to this argument. This is not simply because they have become habituated to the party in power in both municipal government and central government over the last few years. It is also for sheer practical reasons…”

S. Chidambaram

The attempt by the political parties and even the media to give the municipal elections national dimensions seems to have failed miserably, reflecting to a great extent the communication gap in the parties’ strategy. New meanings for the municipal elections have had little impact so far and the electorate remains impervious to such messages.

Even the respective political parties’ programmes are politely ignored. The people are not even concerned as to whether the Plaza or the Port-Louis Theatre have been renovated or whether there is a delay in building a new market at Quatre Bornes or Curepipe or even less concerned as to when the new Vacoas Market will be inaugurated. This is to suggest that the electorate has its own priorities and is not swayed by the priorities decided top-down by the main parties.

On the ground, the electorate remains generally entrenched in its respective political folds but increasingly the wall separating the two main camps is becoming porous with the likelihood that some shifts are imperceptibly taking place, diluting the ethnic and party divide which characterised municipal politics in the past. Which party is capitalising or benefiting from these shifts will become evident in a short while.

Politics is changing in Mauritius as a new generation is gradually taking over from the older generation. Municipal councillors will increasingly live in their own wards and the gender bias is being corrected by legislation. The violent passion and aggressiveness, which have characterised municipal elections in the past, are so far totally absent.

Despite the strenuous efforts by some parties or even the media to promote some kind of pessimism in the population, surprisingly the underlying strategy does not seem to have had the expected effects. On the other hand, those ‘breaking news’ which hit the headlines during the past few days are being taken in for their entertainment value for they bring some spice and drama to national life much more as a prelude to the end-of-the-year festivities rather than for their seriousness or as materials which can provoke thoughtful debates.

Not surprisingly, we are still in the age of drains and street lightning politics. Major complaints still focus on inadequate lightning, recreational space and inefficient drain works, which in many cases cannot be undertaken properly by a municipality because it involves major road works over extensive areas. Partial remedies, which that have failed in the past, are bound to fail again. Leisure playgrounds and recreation parks require urgent attention from both municipal and central governments. While many rightly consider that party political attitudes in local government are irrelevant in local issues, paradoxically it is party organisation which frames political opinion at the local level and, more importantly, provides stability and consistency that is necessary for any form of government. The alternative to control by parties is government by personalities of individuals, which remains the undesirable alternative.

The ratepayers’ concern about the amount of the municipal rate they have to pay tends to restrict local government expenditure budgets. This is a major obstacle to local government bodies providing all the services and infrastructure required. Low municipal collections imply that some of the municipal services, such as major infrastructure projects, have to be obtained by way of support from the central government.

Our urban population is growing day by day. In many of the towns, suburbs have degenerated to the point of becoming unacceptable for decent living. The roads are too narrow and many of the settlements are overcrowded. Admittedly, these are legacies from the past but even the new blocks of flats which are emerging in several places have made no provision for spacious parks. In the first place, permission should not have been given to start them unless the development plan submitted provided ample green space nearby. In the party programmes, the proposal to construct residential blocks of flats in the town centre or mixed residential and commercial blocks, there should also be proposals for gardens, parks or open spaces. Such comprehensive development proposals can restore the vitality of urban life.

As our towns and some of our big villages keep growing vertically, there is an urgent need to acquire more land for housing development and leisure parks. Some of the land can be made available for certain towns and villages from the 2000 acres of land which the Government had obtained from the sugar estates when the EU deal was made. However, more land should be obtained for urban planning.

Some of the politicians have argued that municipal councils should retain the organic link with the central government as part of their campaign strategy to win the municipal elections. A considerable section of the electorate is responding positively to this argument. This is not simply because they have become habituated to the party in power in both municipal government and central government over the last few years. It is also for sheer practical reasons because citizens find in the present government the best option for radical reform in urban administration.

S. Chidambaram

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