Safe City?


In reply to a Parliamentary Question at the National Assembly on Tuesday 11th August 20, the Prime Minister, Hon Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, revealed that ‘a total of 2 761 Intelligent Video Surveillance (IVS) cameras have been installed at 1429 different sites across Mauritius in the context of the Safe City project. As for Intelligent Traffic Surveillance (ITS), 140 cameras have been installed over 68 identified sites along motorways and other main roads. He further indicated that 101 cases which required a Police enquiry have been detected through the Safe City cameras. The Prime Minister also highlighted that under the project, 4500 multimedia radios have been delivered and the state-of-the-art Main Command and Control Centre, located in Ebène, is operational since August 2019.

Speaking about works that are still in progress in the context of the Safe City project, Mr Jugnauth underscored that they include the setting up of: a modern Integrated Emergency Response Management System; seven Sub-Command Centres at the level of seven regional Headquarters; a Traffic Management and Control Centre at the Line Barracks; and a Monitoring Bay at each of the 71 Police Stations and one Police Post’.

The justification for setting up the Safe City project was that public concern about safety and crime had risen in recent years, resulting in an increasing demand for security services, especially with a view to safeguard Mauritius’ reputation as a safe tourist destination, tourism being one of the major pillars of the Mauritian economy. The government seeks to safeguard Mauritius’ reputation as a safe tourist destination.

The main suppliers of security and safety equipment to Mauritius in 2017 were China, South Africa, Portugal, Thailand, Israel, and the United States. It is public knowledge that the total cost of the CCTV surveillance system is Rs 19 billion with an operational cost of about Rs 350 million per year.

With such an enormous capital investment, and the implications in terms of debt per household and for future generations of citizens, the logical expectation of the public is that these cameras would function perfectly. After all, China is known to have the world’s topmost expertise in Artificial Intelligence which is the basis of the Safe City surveillance system. It would be an inexcusable indictment if the authorities were to put the absence of records of the movements in the ongoing investigation of the death of Soopramanien Kistnen to the failure of the CCTV cameras – to all intents and purposes an impossibility for such a highly sophisticated system.

That they work and are operational, and that the signals are properly transmitted is confirmed by the fact that during the lockdown one early morning some people were visited by the police when they were doing some morning exercise in Plaines Wilhems. The exercisers were told that their presence had been signalled to the police station by the Traffic Management and Control Centre at the Line Barracks, and the police officers had been sent by their superior to warn those people.

There is therefore no reason to suspect that the surveillance system is faulty, which makes the alleged absence of records very suspect. Giving rise to even more doubts in the mind of the public is that no answers are forthcoming in Parliament – the Leader of the Opposition has been suspended, sessions are held such that there is no time for PNQs. If questions cannot be asked by the duly elected representatives of the people who seem to be deliberately prevented from doing so, it is but a small step for the people to wonder whether all this is tantamount to an attempt at cover-up. Will the government put to rest any such assumption before its already falling image gets another bashing?

At the end of the day, the core question: can we really talk of ‘safe city’?

* Published in print edition on 15 December 2020

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