TP Saran

Of natural calamities, local administration and medi-clinics

Common concerns of the people

The torrential rains that have battered the country this week have once again brought to the fore the difficulties faced by people in several localities across the island – such as markedly in Souillac this time — whenever such weather prevails. Of course no one has any control over the weather, and it would be foolhardy to expect that the Meteorological Office can play God in matters of prediction or that the authorities can have all the solutions immediately at hand. But there are advance measures that any country can take and that can help to mitigate potential impacts of such vagaries of nature.

For example, we have a well-established cyclone warning system and cyclone preparedness plan that has stood us well for nearly three decades now, and this has allowed us to cope with the fiercest of cyclones. The number of people seeking shelter can be considered to be minimal compared to earlier situations, casualties are infrequent, the essential services are geared to tackle all emergencies, the SMF is on alert and helps both during and after the cyclone to clear roads, etc. In short, we seem to be more used to coping with cyclones that with any other calamity. But it has taken us several years to reach this level, and hopefully sooner than later we will also have the same degree of preparedness for torrential rains and other such mass disasters that are likely to become more frequent given the climate change that is now a reality of our times.

In an earlier article in this column on 30 November 2012, titled ‘Well-planned towns and villages’, we had made certain comments which we think are even more relevant in the present context (some key points are highlighted in bold):

‘There are things that the central government should take care of – security, law and order, international and regional partnerships, major social welfare programmes, and so on. But a lot of the things that affect citizens in their daily lives – planning for land and space utilization, regulating constructions, maintenance works e.g. green spaces/gardens, health tracks, drains and run-offs, clean streets free of obstructions (including hawkers – who do need a decent space to ply their trade, though), hygienic environments and marketplaces, waste collection and disposal, amongst other things – are the mandate of their local councils in the towns, districts and villages, through their elected representatives who should work in synergy and not at cross purposes with their central counterparts and in a mutual bipartisan spirit for the good of the inhabitants.

To transform our towns and villages we need efficient local administration, and there is no mystery about the elements that go to make this up, however trite it might seem to repeat that:

· Dedicated councillors of calibre;

· A cohesive team;

· Leadership with drive, ideas and initiatives;

· Shared vision, well-defined objectives and agreed strategies;

· Transparent and accountable governance;

· Involvement of and listening to citizens.

It is a sad commentary that our local councils have been in the limelight more often for the wrong reasons: the main ones being money scandals, and lavish expenditures of the manze-boire type and group travel to far-flung foreign destinations that do not bring back anything concrete for the towns or their inhabitants.

We must do things right at both the micro and macro levels – local and central, and there are clear modes of functioning that respect boundaries, roles, liabilities and responsibilities that can be ‘copy-pasted’ with suitable adaptations, that is, best practices and SOPs culled from reliable sources.’

In the past it has been Mon Gout, Cottage, Ste Croix that were among the worst affected areas. At Mon Gout, for example, the main drain running along the main road — a broad canal as a matter of act – was completely clogged up with all kinds of debris, including big rocks. Had that canal been properly maintained, the villagers of Mon Gout would not have undergone the trauma that they did when they were hit by torrential rains a few years ago.

On the other hand, there is also the responsibility of individual citizens, but again there is an issue of regulation by the authorities that comes into play. In a number of cases, people have erected walls and covered drains, with the result that water accumulates on the roads. An example is Avenue Soobiah in Reduit. Here there is a clear failure of respect of norms, and it is the respective local authority that ought to have exercised supervision. There are surely other examples around the country where weak enforcement contributes to creating the unacceptable situation that arises after heavy rainfall.

Unfortunately, there is political interference at all levels in the town planning process, from the appointment of competent officers to the strict application and respect of norms based on international best practices. And we see the result. Will this ever change?

* * *

Vox populi

Two items in last week’s issue of this paper reinforce the points we are making above. The first is the interview of Mrs Shakuntala Boolell, where she confirms that during her campaigning for the local elections she was able to make out that the people’s immediate concerns are far removed from what is considered to be ‘national news.’ Their worry is security at the local level, the timely collection of domestic and garden waste, good roads and so on. Let us hope that the inhabitants of Quatre-Bornes will see their concerns addressed by the new team.

On the other hand, Mr P Naden in ‘Reader’s response’ raises issues about the Medi-clinic planned in Goodlands. They relate to the location of the facility near the Cite Saint Claire, which may cause serious problems of access and security not only to patients attending the clinic, but also the health personnel who will be posted there.

The question that arises is whether the Regional Health Board was party to the decision for the location of the Medi-Clinic, and if not, why not? There is in fact the larger issue of the composition, role and function of these Boards which needs to be seriously reviewed. They are supposed to be a link between the community and the authorities, but there are instances where the Chairmen of some Boards keep poking their nose more in the day-to-day running of the Regional Hospitals, such as the posting of X or Y doctor, rather than dealing with matters that should be their prime concern, such as the present problem of location of a health facility, or helping the authorities to handle rowdy elements (drug addicts for one) that pose a constant threat within health precincts.

After all, the Chairmen and members are supposed to be part of the community and therefore be known to the local people, and should be in better position to influence their behaviour. Alas, that is clearly not the case. It is high time indeed to look afresh into those Boards which were set up at a point in time to ‘caser’ certain ‘protégés.’ Are they still needed? If so, they need to be revamped in terms of their mandate, and reconstituted by a transparent democratic process instead of through political nomination as has been the practice. Further, they must be renewed at fixed, regular intervals, otherwise some people grow roots and mess around the hospitals.

With properly constituted Regional Health Boards, there would have been no need for the plaint from Mr Naden. Nevertheless, it hoped that good sense will prevail at the appropriate level and the voice of Mr Naden is heard and given due consideration.

TP Saran

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