Tackling the drugs situation now an urgency

We are no less than in a situation of emergency as regards the drug problem, and it is high time for policy-makers to frame a fresh approach to and seriously consider methods that have passed the ‘test of reasonableness’ elsewhere

The approval by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), an American agency, of the use of the drug Epidiolex which contains a cannabis (marijuana) derived compound called cannabidiol in two specific types of epilepsy opens the door for a serious reflection on the overall drug situation in Mauritius.

First of all we have to acknowledge that drugs for medicinal and recreational use by human beings is not only a reality of contemporary society worldwide that is here to stay, but they have been present in all civilizations as well throughout the ages. Secondly, as Alison Ritter, Professor & Specialist in Drug Policy, UNSW Australia, observed in 2016, ‘Our drugs policies have failed. It’s time to reinvent them based on what actually works’. In so doing she was echoing the observations of many other professionals who had experience at the grassroots level with hardened drug users across many countries and cultural backgrounds: the drug ravages spare neither.

Lately synthetic drugs have become, literally, the rage in Mauritius, and not without reason. The ‘traditional’ pattern was the use of hard drugs, heroin in particular, administered by injection in the veins, and of cannabis illegally produced and procured. The practice was prevalent in the capital and surrounding suburbs, in some other towns like Rose-Hill and environs, and in some coastal resorts frequented by tourists, especially where there were nightclubs.

However, because of the criminalisation of drugs, people caught using or peddling cannabis are tried and jailed. Supply of the drug being made scarce, and therefore expensive, drugs users have turned to cheaper alternatives and sources, and this is where the synthetic drugs come in. They can be easily made by a simple chemical process, with the ingredients being equally easily available. Thus they are cheaper and much more accessible. As a result, they have spread not only in schools and colleges but have also found their way beyond the urban and peri-urban areas to the rest of the country, in villages as well.

The other aspect of criminalization is that a relatively large number of offenders find themselves behind bars where, instead of being rehabilitated, they come into contact with the hardened criminals and thus get into the engrenage of the drugs underworld, becoming more trapped in its labyrinthine network and at the mercy of the big bosses.

While it is a fact that only when someone has a personal experience – such as a victim of drugs in one’s own family or someone close – of the ravages that drug use can cause, policy makers who have no such experience must at least be open and take cognizance of the sufferings of families which are being devastated by this problem. The situation has become so widespread and so alarming that a wait-and-see policy is no longer tenable. The Commission of Enquiry has sat for almost two years, and during this period more than enough has been publicly aired about the nexuses that exist and about the extent and ramifications of the drugs cartels in the country and their networks overseas. Surely we do not have to await the report of the Commission – when? – to take remedial measures based on evidence already available in a number of jurisdictions that have enacted policies and adopted strategies and methods which have been successful to a large extent in controlling the situation.

To quote Alison Ritter again, instead of resorting to ‘policy quick-fixes (which) are mostly ineffective’, she suggests that ‘We can do much better. We have decades of research that tells us what works and why, and we are continuously building that evidence base. Smarter drugs policy-making would use that evidence, in conjunction with other policy drivers such as public opinion and personal experience’.

We are no less than in a situation of emergency as regards the drug problem, and it is high time for policy-makers to frame a fresh approach to and seriously consider methods that have passed the ‘test of reasonableness’ elsewhere if we are not to be mute witnesses to the destruction of our society.

* * *

EDB, Passport sale and conflict of interest

Several articles in the media have already pointed to the controversial aspects of the setting up of the Economic Development Board. These have such far bearing consequences that they need to be ventilated again, especially in light of the announcement in the Budget of the ‘cash for citizenship’ scheme.

To start with is the composition of the EDB, in which 7 out of 8 members are from the private sector. Nobody will dispute that the private sector has played an important role in the development of the country and that like in all countries, it must continue to bring its contribution.

The rub is that its composition lends to conflict of interest. It is only too obvious that when considering a project submitted by an investor, the chances of bias for or against are definitely higher with the present EDB than if it were made up of independent members.

More fundamentally, though, is that formulating government policy on economic development is the government’s role, because government is elected by the people for precisely that and the people expect that this should be so – always. Outsourcing this role to the private sector, as with the present arrangement with the EDB, goes against the public interest. It was not without reason that this country decided in its foundational years to have a separate Ministry of Economic Development and Planning, and all other substitutes have fallen short of the oversight standards this Ministry held up until the Ministry of Finance decided – wrongly in our view – to do away with it. This paper has repeatedly made a plea for its restoration, and we stand by that position.

As for the cash for passport scheme, the crux of the issue is not that it is going to leave in the lurch the promoters of luxury villas. Rather, it is that there is no counterpart to this offer –namely, the individuals have no obligation to take part in the economic development of the country, so what will be their motivation to come here except for their own benefit, whatever that may be.

On the other hand, when a mere bus-stop is costing Rs 1.5 million to put up, and the restoration of a beach (Mon Choisy) is estimated to cost Rs 350 million, what is Rs 35 million to the national coffer in comparison? And it will be one-off, with no indication of where the money will go.

Besides, therefore, the dubious credentials of the firms and individuals involved in this dark scheme – as an article by Pradeep Jeeha in today’s issue of this paper shows – the fact that they will not really be contributing anything to the national weal is the strongest argument against this scheme. Unless it is amended so as to favour concretely the development of the country, it carries more risks than benefits for the people at large. Either it is reworked, or it is dumped.


* Published in print edition on 29 June 2018

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