Drama and spectacle can only go so far. What is essential in order to effect genuine clean-up is meticulous work and solid evidence
In the wake of the dismissal of the cases brought against several people shortly after the installation of the Lepep Alliance in power in December 2014, and that included former Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam and minister Anil Bachoo respectively, comments by certain lawyers have been of two types: on the one hand the system of the police acting on the basis of provisional charges is considered to have shown its validity; on the other hand it is rejected as being arbitrary and unfair to the victims. As in all matters, there are no doubt pros and cons on each side, but we will leave it to the experts to continue ventilating their opinions.
However, we cannot refrain from making some observations on the series of events that were thrust into the public domain shortly after the change of government in December 2014, and willy-nilly were forced upon the country as being of national interest. They became the talk of the town given the widespread and lengthy, live coverage of the alleged culprits – already assumed to be so by populist trial in triumphalist tones.
One does not have to be a genius to understand that the dismissal of these cases can only mean that the panel of legal advisers to the DPP – as part of the institutional mechanism(s) in the Office — that examined the evidence brought by the police found it to be either weak or insufficient to sustain their case in Court. In several areas of human activity, there is something called ‘levels of evidence’, which in some instances is graded from say 1-4, in ascending order of strength/admissibility. No one would be foolish enough to defend a case with a grade 1 or 2 level of evidence!
The perception of arbitrariness in the manner of proceeding of the police and of political vendetta (according to Anil Bachoo) certainly damages the image of the country. However, perhaps more important from the taxpayer’s point of view is the total waste in terms of energy and resources, including time which is money, mobilized to pursue the so-called clean-up agenda. And this happened not only once, but several times, involving different entities – the police, the national TV station, the legal apparatus and so on. How much money has been dilapidated in the process, money and resources that could have been better utilised for more constructive work? Such inefficiency and waste are totally unacceptable.
It must be clear to the deciders by now that drama and spectacle can only go so far. What is essential in order to effect genuine clean-up is meticulous work and solid evidence base that will do honour to the institutions of the country, with respect for human dignity as well. Let this be kept in mind in any future clean-up operations.
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So-called ‘heritage city’
Why heritage, and whose heritage? This has never been properly explained to the public. The term does not sound right, especially when we know that at the end of the day it is taxpayer money that is going to fund any project. Even if we get loans from whoever on generous terms, still they will have to be paid back – and it looks likely by future generations given the colossal sums that are being advanced, and everything must be done to avoid burdening them with huge debts even before they have seen the light of day!
A communiqué from the Prime Minister’s Office has been issued to the effect that the Prime Minster chaired a meeting to review the ‘Heritage City’ project.
It has been decided that: ‘Le concept d’une cité administrative qui devrait permettre une meilleure gestion financière vu la somme importante déboursée chaque année par l’Etat concernant le loyer des bâtiments abritant différents ministères, est maintenu.’
This is the first time that a very valid reason has been officially given to justify such a project, namely that the State is spending an enormous sum of money on rental of buildings to house government offices. This amounts to hundreds of millions annually, and it is indeed high time that an alternative be found, which means government having its own buildings to be used as offices.
The second decision is about the location: ‘La localisation géographique d’une telle cité et son aménagement en plusieurs phases sera réétudiée, incluant la composante d’un nouveau parlement.’
The controversies regarding flooding from a possible bursting of Bagatelle dam have come to the fore; in any case, even if the risk is small, why take it? The experts who do not take this into account for the project will be long gone by the time catastrophe, if ever, occurs, and we have enough natural disasters already that we do not need any more to be added to the list.
What is less clear though is the need for a new parliament.
In a previous article we had written about ‘the traffic and overcrowding that suffocate the city during what we call office hours. Port Louis becomes the impossible city then, and with the vehicular fleet of the country showing no signs of ever stopping to increase, one cannot begin to imagine what further havoc awaits Port Louis during the day.’
Consequently, we had commented that ‘the idea and principle of doing something about this worsening situation in Port Louis has been around for many years, grounded not in political demagogy but in a felt reality by all Mauritian citizens who care for their country and its capital city, even if they are not its residents.’
We had continued that ‘short of building afresh another capital, there is a sound rationale for delocalising several activities from the city to other regions in the country, starting with government ones so as to give the good example. Indeed most of the ministries could justifiably be moved elsewhere, and with the video-conferencing facilities and other communication platforms available today, their physical presence in Port Louis is no longer necessary.
‘We do not advocate going to the extreme being currently peddled, namely to shift the Parliament and the Prime Minister’s Office too. The Parliament is a historic building; so too is the Treasury which has been converted at enormous cost to the Prime Minster’s Office, and they are both more than adequate and fully functional. Some key ministries that should remain are, for example, Finance and Economic Development, Foreign Affairs, Civil and Administrative Reforms, Information and Communication Technology because of the more direct links they have with the PMO. Certain other key government institutions too could stay put.’
Instead, of a grandiose ‘heritage city’, therefore, we need a functional city to reduce the cost burden of government administration as well as to allow Port Louis to breathe more easily during the day, and to become more vibrant at night by another government-led initiative as has been proposed in an article by Sada Reddi, a former resident of the city, in the following words:
‘Today the city is faced with great challenges and is paying the price of decades of neglect at the level of town planning… It is not the fanciful smart city which will give a new life to the capital. Artificial cities of this sort are rarely successful and are not suitable for a city like Port Louis. They simply enrich property developers. The solution may be simple, yet costly… In fact the city is losing its residential population. The streets are deserted after four o’clock. Old residential houses are giving place to car parks and there are security problems in the capital especially after working hours.
‘…The solution lies in that simple formula. There is security when there are people on the streets. There are people on the streets when they inhabit the place. So the solution is perhaps in encouraging more residents into the town and in every street through the compulsory provision of residential apartments on all new buildings and the putting up of residential blocs in strategic places. This requires planning, money but also boldness…’
Since the government is already showing boldness in revisiting the ‘heritage city’ concept, it may as well travel the extra mile, and in a second phase embark on the formula suggested above.
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