Mauritius Times – 60 Years
By Peter Ibbotson
It is clear from the report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Police that the commission was long overdue. Not because the Commission found justification for the many charges levelled against the Police by Hon. Bissoondoyal, but because of the many recommendations which the Commission has found fit to make concerning a wide variety of matters — matters which, if the recommendations are implemented, will all help to increase the efficiency of the Police Department and improve the relationship between Police and Public. No Police Force can function efficiently unless it enjoys the respect and confidence of the public, and clearly (from what the Commission has said and from what the many witnesses said — according to the press reports at the time) the Mauritius Police does not enjoy either.
Complaints that the Police act with partiality, either on grounds of race or colour, were, said the Commission, sometimes justified. In paragraph 26 we read: “We did get a clear impression that some classes of persons appeared to be given a privileged position at times.” One has to read between the lines to discover who these privileged classes are, but of course the Commission dare not say so outright. What it does say is: “In 1956 there were 10,802 motor vehicles registered and 10,708 persons prosecuted for traffic offences” (paragraph 24). Later we read paragraph 92: “the standard (of driving – P.I.) in respect of private vehicles left a good deal to be desired, and although the records show a multiplicity of offences by Public Service Vehicle drivers the latter were, in the main, careful and responsible”. The clear inference is that bus and lorry drivers, who are of course Indo-Mauritians or Coloured almost to a man, are prosecuted for traffic offences whereas many private drivers are not prosecuted for the same offences. And in paragraph 95 we read of speeding and careless driving (cutting in and cutting out) especially along the Route Royale at peak periods. And whose cars are they which use the Route Royale at these times particularly? The commercial and agricultural magnates travelling between their offices in Port Louis and their homes in Curepipe, Vacoas, Quatre Bornes — it is their cars which are among those singled out for special reference in this paragraph.
Although the Police appear very industrious in prosecuting for traffic offences, this industry is clearly at the expense of efficiency in other directions. Paragraph 91, for example, criticises the Police in these words: “We examined a number of cases involving serious and fatal accidents and we were by no means convinced that in such cases a careful and accurate picture was presented in the subsequent police reports. Quite apart from any prosecution for either wilful or negligent acts it is important that an investigation should be as thorough and detailed as possible to support any civil claim which may be justified by the consequences, and in this respect the Police certainly have some responsibilities”.
It cannot be too often emphasised that the duty of the police is to see justice administered, not simply to secure conviction. In this connetion, I have had many letters from readers who have said that a constable’s promotion is helped by the number of successful prosecutions he is responsible for; and the fact that every registered vehicle is, on average, involved in one prosecution in a year adds support to my correspondents’ letters.
In the Mauritius Times last year, during the sitting of the Commission into the Police, I referred at length to the case of the late Mr H.V. Orange who was knocked down by a car which failed to stop and whose injuries proved fatal. This case is only one which bears out the Commission’s criticism of police enquiry methods. Another case which substantiates complaints of police laxity in making enquiries related to an accident in Desforges Street, Port-Louis on February 10 at 6.30 pm (18 30 hours) or thereabouts. Behind a parked car, two cyclists were followed by a car driven by a young man. The car hit the rear cyclist and carried him forward so that he hit the front cyclist. Both cyclists were carried forward and made contact with the parked car. Their cycles were badly damaged; they themselves were taken to hospital where, after waiting over an hour, they were given anti-tetanus injections and sent along to the Police Station where they were kept a further two hours. “But,” says my informant, “the exasperating thing is the Police ignore the real driver who caused the accident.”
Many of the Commission’s recommendations are designed to bring Mauritian police practice in line with British police practice. This is all to the good. The British police are looked up to all over the world; at least, the police of England, Wales and Scotland are. The police of Northern Ireland are on a different footing, being armed agents of the semi-Fascist government of Northern Ireland which enjoys the dubious distinction of being one of the only two police states (South Africa is the other) in the British Commonwealth. The police of Great Britain is efficient beyond compare; even when below strength, it keeps crime well under control. Few criminals elude detection and punishment for long. One very important factor in the success of the police in the UK is that the police forces of Great Britain enjoy the confidence and respect of the general public. They can do so in Mauritius too, if by their actions at all times they set out to earn it.
Many witnesses before the Commission made allegations of corruption in the police. The Commission recognised the danger of such corruption being possible; and to lessen the risk of corruption it recommended higher salaries for all ranks. It recommended, too, legislation to control the activities of those blood-sucking parasites, the moneylenders. To deal with corruption first. In England, there have been two cases very recently where policemen have been alleged to be corrupt. One was in Brighton; it will be recalled that two members of the Brighton CID received prison sentences and the Chief Constable, though found not guilty by the jury, was nevertheless verbally castigated by the judge when he passed sentence on the two detectives. Then there is the case of the Chief Constable of the Worcester City Police, suspended by the city police authorities pending investigation of his conduct as treasurer of the Police Club by senior policemen from another area. On another plane, a city recently criticised its chief constable for his conduct in private life. All these cases show how jealous British police authorities are of the good name of their police forces. And the same should be the case in Mauritius. It should be the duty of the Commissioner of Police thoroughly to investigate all charges of corruption (of however trivial a nature — even accepting a cigarette as a bribe not to report a cyclist for riding without a front light) against any of his man, and to publish the results of such investigations promptly. People should know not merely that justice has been done, but that justice has been seen to be done.
All the professional and technical recommendations, which if implemented as they should be will make the Mauritius Police a model of the British local police force, are praiseworthy. One hopes that they will be implemented, and that very quickly. One hopes too that the cadet system will be operated fairly and not become another field of favouritism; we do not want the fils de papa in the police force as well as in the sugar industry. The recommendation about moneylenders should also be given effect very quickly.
Control over the moneylender is something which the Mauritius Times has sought for a long time; I have before now written about it in the Mauritius press. Legislation along British lines, setting a maximum chargeable rate of interest, is long overdue. And the suggestion that a policeman borrowing from a moneylender should be reported to the Commissioner is excellent. The policeman has a position to maintain: in all he does he must be punctilious that he does not bring the good name of his force into disrepute and going to a moneylender is one of the surest ways of dragging the good name of any profession into the mud. I repeat if the recommendations of the Police Report are carried out Mauritius will have a far better Police Force.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 13 May 2022
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