Trust The People!

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By Peter Ibbotson

In his despatch of January 1955 to Mr Lennox-Boyd (Colonial Secretary) on the subject of constitutional changes in Mauritius, Governor Sir Robert Scott criticises the attitude of the elected members of the Legislative Council to “Government”; and criticises the Mauritian populace too for its failure to realise that democracy involves responsibility as well as rights.

Sir Robert appears to fail to realise the historical reasons for what he calls “suspicion of Government”. He fails to realise the historical reasons for people failing to appreciate the responsibilities as well as the needs of democratic organisation. As to the “suspicion” of Government — it derives from the length of time during which the people were prevented from participating in the election of their Government. Up to the 1948 constitution, which let us not forget was promulgated by a Labour Government in the UK, there were never more than 12,000 people entitled to vote at the Legislative Council elections. Political power was thus confined to the same people as controlled the economic power of Mauritius; and the ordinary man — the plantation workers, the peddlar, the docker, the artisan — had no share or say in determining who would rule him. Denied representation in the Legislative Council, he yet had to pay taxes; it was this selfsame fact of being subject to taxation without, however, enjoying representation, that led to the American War of Independence and to the UK losing its American colonies.

It was only in 1948, eight years ago that the people were given a say in the election of their Government. The present Legislative Council is only the second to have been elected under the 1948 Constitution. Old fears die hard; before 1948 the people, denied the vote, were naturally suspicious of the Council. They saw the bosses in control of the island’s economy; they saw the same bosses in control of making the island’s laws. Where economic power and political power are combined in the same group of people, there is rightly the suspicion and indeed fear that self-interest will dominate that group in its political capacity; so that the needs of the governed are subordinated to the wishes of the bosses.

It is that historical fact that underlies the attitude of many Mauritians today to the Legislative Council. What has added to their suspicion has been the action of successive Governors after the elections in appointing nominated members. The Report on Mauritius for 1953 lists the nominated members of the Legislative Council. At the beginning of 1953 they were Hons. Sauzier, Osman, Robinson, Gelle, de Chazal, Cure, Ah Chuen, Mrs de Chazal, Harel, Macdonald, Maigrot and Atchia. Then came the 1953 general election; at which the Labour Party won a majority of seats: 13 against 6. Who were after that the nominated members? Hons. Nairac, Martial, Osman, De Chazal, Ah Chuen, Maigrot, Sauzier, Raffray, Bahemia, Celestin, Schilling and Taylor. A two-to-one majority for Labour at the elections, but a twelve-to-none majority for anti-Labour at the nominations. Is it surprising, therefore, with the reactionaries confirmed in power by the Governor’s nominations, that the people continued to be suspicious of the Legislative Council? Is it surprising that they continued to be suspicious of the Executive Council when they saw such a strange selection as Hon. Andre Nairac as Liaison Officer for Labour?

Before launching strictures at the people of Mauritius and their elected representatives for “suspicion” of Government, Sir Robert Scott should remember that the suspicion derives from the attitude and actions of the handful of persons who control the economic destiny of Mauritius. He should launch his strictures at them. It is they who will not co-operate for the public good. It is they who lack an awareness of the need for toleration of differences in race, religion and culture; it is they who “emphasise the centrifugal rather than the centripetal elements in educational, cultural and social activities.”

Sir Robert says that a majority of the elected members of the Legislative Council fail to appreciate where the responsibility for the government of the island rests. The Labour Party is in the majority among the elected members. The Labour Party fully appreciates where the responsibility for government rests: with the anti-Labour forces. These anti-Labour forces have been put in the majority by unwise nominations (the Labour Party was altogether correct to protest at Sir Hilary Blood’s nominations in 1953), and it is therefore up to the anti-Labour people to govern. Yet they were repudiated by the people at the elections! I repeat, is there any wonder that people are suspicious of their government when they have overwhelmingly voted for a Labour majority but have had that majority turned into a minority by the Governor?

The people are right to be suspicious. What, they ask, has caused the Governor to favour the defeated reactionaries? And what has caused Sir Robert Scott to perpetuate the favour shown by Sir Hilary? If Sir Robert had really wanted to get rid of part of the suspicion shown towards the Legislative Council, he could have done so after the regretted deaths of the hon. nominees MM. Taylor and Martial. He could have nominated Labour Party supporters. But no; privilege had to be retained and the anti-Labour bloc of 12 kept intact. The Governor’s motives may have been suspect by the people; the reactionary majority in Council certainly is suspect; and rightly so.

(To be continued)

Friday 16th November 1956


* Published in print edition on 3 May 2019

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