Will the fantasy of creating a paradise for cynics and tax dodgers not ultimately lead to a nightmare for all?
By Samad Ramoly
In the run-up to the yearly presentation of our national budget, citizens overridingly cry for more affordable “bread and butter”. It would be absurd to expect self-absorbed grassroots to ponder other critical obstacles to their own welfare. Few can afford to see through the media propaganda and distraction not-so-subtly disseminated for the benefits of the “entente cordiale” between governments and Big Business.
Social media tends to either share the very objects of distraction, or, in a rare moment of valuable contribution, turns into a platform for discussions about essentially the symptoms of our discontent. It would indeed be pivotal to see and hear echoes of the root causes going viral. This is to suggest that the drive to real salvation has yet to gather momentum.
Fortunately, bold change agencies are growing more and more visible. Such, among others, Aret Kokin Nu Laplaz (AKNL) and Adish Maudho*. The latter recently flagged the impact of ongoing land grab on gradual deforestation as translated through land degradation, deterioration of food security, soil fertility, carbon sequestration capacity, wood production, groundwater recharge, etc. The environmental, social and economic damage could not be more worthy of a state of emergency.
The tax incentives and refunds granted by successive governments to some sectors are shocking. Here they are not designed for Mauritians to mitigate the ever-rising cost of housing, but for developers of villas and apartments targeting foreigners blessed with a currency that makes a mockery of ours. Hence, the government’s scorn further limits the reach of citizens to decent housing and triggers a domino effect throughout the whole system. In return, while beaches, which count among the favourite leisure of Mauritians, shrink, betting houses have spread. The end result is that stress tends to escape through the unhealthiest outlets.
Whether it is through unconsciousness, incompetence, corruption or the three flaws simultaneously, our “elites” and their enablers unwittingly feed frustration slowly, but surely. Eventually, anger can turn into unrest with dramatic consequences. History and events around the world abound to testify. Under our malaise, xenophobia broods. Can we then blame the people and the “populists” who exploit the situation? It is actually very late, the awakening of the most enlightened minds among us cannot wait any longer.
Lately, we have been witnessing a usual blame game. This time it is about the decline in arrival of tourists. On the one hand, our leaders have yet to internalise how the experiential factor, that is the immersion into the local traditions and culture, and environmental landscape, now determines the competitiveness of tourist destinations. On the other hand, our main attraction is our hospitable cosmopolitanism, also part of our DNA.
Paradoxically, by contributing to the loosening of the social fabric, sordid policies are seriously compromising our national productivity and the elements of differentiation from our competitors. In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious setting, contagion can be devastating. Especially with an overwhelming concentration of title deeds, often acquired through coercion, cronyism and patronage or are misleadingly accounted for.
Sugar, on charcoal life support via power supply, and concrete, in excess, when lumped together, bear the potential of a time bomb. Will the fantasy of creating a paradise for cynics and tax dodgers not ultimately lead to a nightmare for all? The break with our development model can no longer be just another buzzword. On a more positive note, it would be desirable for AKNL to morph into Aret Kokin Nu Later to aim at our systemic drift in the hope that plenty more citizen movements follow suit.
* See ‘L’état de nos forêts face au « développement »’ in Le Mauricien, 5 July 19