Trust The People!

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

Part Two of Last Week’s Article

By Peter Ibbotson

Governor Sir Robert Scott criticises the local Civil Service. “Communal jealousies and suspicions pervade the Civil Service and are adventitiously encouraged,” he says, “by the interest shown by members of the Legislature in various Service matters”. Sir Robert criticises elected M.L.C’s for their habit of discussing appointments or proposed appointments or possible appointments in Council “for reasons wholly extraneous from the criteria normally applicable in filling public posts.”

Not for the first, or only, time Sir Robert makes a faulty diagnosis. True, the local Civil Service is full of communal jealousies and suspicions; true, elected M.L.C’s discuss public appointments. (MP’s do in England; especially do Tory MP’s criticise the appointment of Labour supporters to the boards of nationalised industries, for example). The reason is not what Sir Robert would have Mr Lennox-Boyd (Colonial Secretary) believe however. The criticism of M.L.C’s is because a majority of their elected number, i.e. the Labour members want to see the emergence of a pan-Mauritian consciousness without the prefix Indo or Franco or Sino. And one way they can help to do this is to ensure that people with racist tendencies do not get appointed, if it can be prevented, to posts of importance in the local Civil Service. Since the scope of the Mauritius Civil Service is wider than the scope of the U.K. Civil Service, criticism has a wider field to cover. Sir Robert should realise this; educational discussions in Parliament do not touch Civil Service matters in the U.K., but they do in Mauritius.

But criticism of the local Civil Service is well-founded. Once again, apportionment of criticism must be related to historical circumstances and the lack of opportunity for many people of ability to get, in the past, an education sufficient to enable them to rise to high positions in the Civil Service. It is all bound up with the concentration of economic and political power in the same hands before 1948; and with the reluctance of those who at that time enjoyed political power to see any derogation therefrom.

Certainly communal suspicion exists in the Civil Service, and political and religious suspicion as well. It is easy to dismiss allegations of discrimination as products of the imaginations of men who have been sacked for misconduct or dereliction of duty. If there were only one or two cases like that, one could accept that explanation. But in the past two years, I have had brought to my attention (and Mr Brockway has had brought to his attention) too many cases of unfair treatment of minor Civil Servants for that explanation to be valid. And the cases involve too many different departments for all of them to be explained away as imaginary. If Sir Robert really wants to get rid of the suspicion with which the Civil Service is filled, let him personally make a thorough investigation into all the departments. He will find that many exhibit an almost complete lack of rapprochement with the public; that in many, it is only too true that higher executives allow racial or political prejudices to influence their dealings with subordinates.

An example of lack of rapprochement occurred in the efforts of the Taxi Owners’ Association (TOA) earlier this year to get representation on the Transport Advisory Board. In the documents which Mr Brockway and I have studied, it appears that the T.O.A. wrote to the Government on February 9 and 16 and on April 10 with a reminder; then they asked the T.U.C. to intervene, which T.U.C. did with letters to the Colonial Secretary on May 29 and June 14.

The Transport Adviser on June 16 acknowledged the letter of June 14 in typical civil service fashion; he had passed it on to someone else to be dealt with. On June 26, the T.U.C. wrote to the Colonial Secretary through the Transport Adviser asking for a reply, please. This letter was acknowledged by the Commissioner of Road Traffic Licences who — wait for it! — had passed the letter on for someone else to deal with.

All this over a simple request that the T.O.A. be granted representation on the Transport Advisory Board. From February 9 to June 26, and not a decision. Not a reply except “Your letter has been passed on to someone else to be dealt with”.

Such treatment cannot be defended. Whether the T.O.A. should be represented on the T.A.B. is beside the point; they should not be subject to such shabby treatment. If it had been the Chamber of Agriculture or the docks employers writing to the T.A.B., would they have received such cavalier treatment? No; and neither should the T.O.A. have been so brushed-off. Can Sir Robert wonder that the people are suspicious of Government and its workings when such things can happen and do happen?

It is no way to get rid of the suspicion by fencing the new constitution with restrictions designed to reduce the effectiveness of the popular vote and popular opinion. Before 1948, the people could not associate themselves with the elected Council. Now, since 1948, they can associate themselves with the elected Council but not with the full Council, rigged as it has been by nomination of anti-Labourites. If the new constitutional proposals come into effect, the people will still be unable to associate themselves fully with any new Council that may be elected and nominated; and the suspicions and jealousies will continue. But give Mauritius a constitution such as the Labour Party suggested, and trust the people, and there will be revealed a reservoir of latent talent which will ensure good government, of the people, by the people, and for the people. But the people must be trusted before they will give their trust to their Government.

And it is this lack of trust in the people which has up to now marked the political and constitutional development of Mauritius.

Friday 16th November 1956


* Published in print edition on 10 May 2019

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