The Police in Mauritius

Public services are bound to be criticized at the micro level.
Overall, however, the work of the Police has been beneficial
for the upkeep of the country

The stability and progress of Mauritius rest on a few key pillars of governance. The police force has been one of these.

Having been established in 1767, this 1st August marked the 250th year of Mauritius Police. Our law enforcement agency has generally been a force for good, having contributed as much as possible, with the means at its disposal, towards ensuring the peace and stability of the country.

Public services are bound to be criticized at the micro level. Overall, however, the work of the Police Department of Mauritius has been highly beneficial for the upkeep of the country. Several Commissioners of Police have handled the job with diligence and care, taking into account the various sensibilities which abound in Mauritian society. This factor has called upon the force to employ discretion where it is necessary before applying sanctions and to take decisive action in order to prevent situations from deteriorating before it is too late.

However, the police has often been criticised for errors and omissions to which it has been subject from time to time. It has also not been immune at times from unwarranted undue outside interferences. But this is also the fate of quite a number of other public institutions. Some of our latter-day politicians in particular don’t seem to know where to draw the line. Many of them don’t appreciate the difference it would make towards the efficient conduct of public service were such pressures not to be exerted upon the normal working of public institutions.

The core philosophy behind the setting up of a police force is that it is primarily meant for the protection of the citizen rather than being a coercive instrument at the beck and call of the State, for which reason the Commissioner of Police’s post is a constitutionally guaranteed one so that he can perform his duties in full autonomy. Any political pressure to tamper with this autonomy can have a boomerang effect on the initiator of such a departure from the norm when the tables are turned at the next election, and cause havoc in the polity. This real risk must always be taken into consideration if we want a police force that is genuinely pro-citizen.

What has been perceived as the instrumentalisation of the police to track down and harass political opponents or for settling political scores, as seen during the last few years, has blemished the image of the police in a large measure. Fortunately abuses whenever they occurred were checked by the judiciary, and things now appear to have gone back to a situation of normalcy.

There have always been cases of certain police officers who have taken advantage of their position in the force for private gains. Others have worked below the expected standard and frustrated the pursuits of the entire police force by so doing. They have helped to sully the image of the force by their misconduct and disrespect of their oath of duty. The aim should be to give exemplary signals that such departures from discipline and respect for established rules will not be tolerated. Good credentials and a solid track record of impartiality and trustworthiness will prove essential for the police for doing its work efficiently and for fulfilling its responsibility towards society as a respected force. It needs to work in this very direction in future.

There are countries in which the law and order situation has become untenable because the police force and the army pursued their own interests at public expense in such places. We have managed to steer clear of such chaotic situations in which quite a few countries in Africa and Asia are plunged today due to the complicity of the police and the army which became willing instruments for advancing the private interests of unscrupulous politicians in power and their own. We have been spared of such chaos thanks in large measure to the political decision not to go for the setting up of an army, following Independence, as was the practice in most of the newly independent African states around that time. The SMF, a para-military force, placed under the command of the Commissioner of Police, was thus a deliberate decision to ensure that it remained ultimately under civilian oversight.

If Mauritius has not failed like those states, we owe it in a large measure to the political leadership and culture which have prevailed in this country since Independence and to those of our independent public institutions which have refused to give in to unlawful entreaties to pervert the state apparatus. If we have not drifted in this dangerous direction for so long, we have not the least reason to embark on such a course now, for our own good.

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Creole in the National Assembly

 The Creole language has been in evolving form for over three centuries now in Mauritius. Like any other living language, it is bound to go on regenerating itself with time. Now that the National Assembly has taken to live broadcasting of parliamentary debates, the question has been asked as to whether, over and above the accepted official English and French languages to be used in parliament, it would not be time to let Creole become one more language in which members of the Assembly could also make deliberations.

In this context, the argument has been put forward that Creole would be more widely understood, helping the TV viewing public to better understand the issues being debated. Whether for political correctness vis-à-vis voters or out of sheer conviction, most political parties have lately exhibited some type of quasi-concurrence for the additional use of Creole in the Assembly. There are those who feel more at ease with the existing linguistic disposition for parliamentary debates.

It must be recalled that a certain class distinction has been practised in different public institutions of the country pertaining to the specific language employed by interlocutors. In the colonial days, the ability to express oneself in French was associated with a certain notion of social elevation: an “educated person” will more likely speak in this language than in Creole which was seen as the language of others lower down. One who spoke only in Bhojpuri or Hindi was perceived by some members of society as not having sufficiently socially evolved. The tendency was to put a higher consideration on those who could speak either or both of the two European languages, English and French.

The situation has evolved, however. Now, it is common practice in almost all public forums not to cast down those who speak Creole or Bhojpuri or Hindi. Linguists have come on stage and advocated the speaking of Creole or Morisien, as some call it, as being a more natural vehicle for the expression of views in Mauritius than the “foreign” languages.

At some stage of this debate, the question arose as to whether strict limits of decorum, as has been implied by authorising the use of European languages within clearly defined parameters of what is “unparliamentary language” will not get violated when allowing an unbridled use of brittle Creole expressions yet to be tested as to their suitability in the “august assembly”. Some believe there are risks that members could take advantage to test their uncouth vocabulary during parliamentary debates – although the fact remains that MPs are already crossing the bounds of decency even when employing the two authorised European languages.

The decision to introduce any other language in the Parliament cannot be taken lightly and cannot be only a political one. It is as important an issue as that of whether to include one’s religion or ethnic group on the electoral voting paper, and must therefore be thought through very thoroughly. Public debate and input must inform any eventual decision, because the politician will be too apt to take the path of least resistance and give in to populism. This, in the long run, will surely go against the larger interest of future generations of Mauritians in a globalising world where competence in the major international languages is a passport to higher goals and positions. So we have to tread very carefully and not take any hasty decision in the matter.


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