Castles on Sand

Administrative prose and public agency websites are a reflection of our levels and aspirations often to an internet-savvy world, but what really matters is whether the agencies do walk the talk

By Jan Arden

Recent weeks have seen the island engulfed in a number of storms ranging from flood disaster discontent through water shortages to the plight of many sections of the population with cascading price rises, not all due to the Ukraine crisis, to the recent “exfiltration” by the police (against a stay order from the Supreme Court) of a Slovak national with an Occupation permit to a waiting plane, and the reactions of or the management by the authorities of such events. While some observers are still trying to figure out the communiqué from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) about this matter, many questions are yet unanswered and may be the subject of more controversies or revelations in the days ahead. 

Our purpose here revolves around the official prose that may be related to such handling and the first questions concern the residence and/or occupation permit officially granted by the Economic Development Board (EDB) to the Slovak national since 2018 when any cursory vetting or application examination should have revealed that he was under the radar for alleged drug fabrication or sale in his country. This in itself should wake the authorities up to what really happens behind the scenes at an agency that seems to deliver and follow up such permits with a levity that astounds and raises national security concerns if the PMO or the Passport and Immigration Office (PIO) are not involved.

The EDB began life as a statutory body on 15th January 2018 following the merger between three promotion agencies, the Board of Investment, Enterprise Mauritius and the Financial Services Promotion Agency, each operating in its own sphere. The purported rationale would have been therefore to ensure greater coherence and effectiveness in implementing policies and going further, as postulated by the EDB on its website, “draw the vision for the economic development path to be adopted to reach a high-income economy status, through sustainable and inclusive growth, whilst ensuring economic independence.”

Whether that centralisation policy was both useful and necessary and how far it indeed succeeded in drawing that broad vision to ensure our “economic independence” is better left to independent analysts and economic policy historians, but we can observe that its reporting ministry being the PMO, there was obviously high importance attached to its functioning, regulatory role and investment deliverables.

We can recognise that the EDB website is a model of transparency, both informative and well-structured with various schemes and their conditions, requirements and downloadable forms clearly available for all visitors, Mauritians, expatriates or potential investors alike. Some might consider this a strict minimum to expect from an Agency that had become our island’s sole destination marketeer (with the exception of hostelry and tourism that have succeeded in retaining autonomy of their marketing structures and processes from the nascent behemoth) but at a time when public agencies, regulators and corporations seem to be less than forthcoming in transparency, this effort deserves mention and inadvertently sets benchmarks, we dare say, for all other authorities.

Yet and despite this commendation, the EDB has been no stranger to controversy since its inception, some amusing, others disquieting. We need not recall here the vagaries of permits (including investment banking) and authorisations offered with gallant ease to one of the reputedly greasiest fellows of the Angolan establishment, Senor Alvaro and his well-introduced local contacts. The authorities and the EDB having finally back-pedalled on his mega-property deals, the matters are now in court against local businesses which have declared bankruptcy, not the sort of high-profile events one would boast of.

Unfazed, the EDB came into more hirsute prominence with the glitzy eldorado of over-the-counter passport sales proposal in tandem with commission agent Henley & Partners to rich oligarchs wanting the security of a third or fourth place of residence. Thereupon, followed the rows over the first selected CEO, forced to vacate his job after barely a year in office. The PM’s allegations about the drug and other criminal dealings of the expeditiously “extracted” Slovakia national, of his EDB occupation permit, of the waiting plane for his exfiltration and the manner such operation was conducted by the police despite a stay order from a Supreme Court judge, leaves room for numerous questions.

As the EDB falls directly under the purview of PMO, we fail to see who will investigate the Agency’s operations or bell the cat before we welcome more undesirables onto our shores.

* * *

Principles and Practices

Other agencies feel little or no need to explain their standard operating procedures (SOPs), still others pay lip-service to customer expectations and rights, if any of course, their occasional pamphlets being more of an excuse for peddling the importance of the Minister and his coterie of cadres than about actual customer rights, mechanisms and processes.

A cursory examination of the Ministry of Health website will reveal such a grandiloquent gargle entitled proudly Customer Charter, Dec 2020.

We do not want to be overly critical of young or older scribes of the Ministry saddled with such a heavy burden as writing a decent Charter in English prose, but a marvel that begins its launch into what should be well-charted territories with “The Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOH&W) Customer Charter indicates the core services that it provides and defines its commitments and obligations, its customer’s rights and obligations, as well as explicit mechanisms to address complaints.” would have been sacked by any college language teacher.

The rest of the prose is worthy of the start and deserves no further mention. On a less amused note however, not every Mauritian would have heard of such a Charter, but they surely know of the recurring scandals at Health procurement or the deaths at the Souillac dialysis centre, where the Fact Finding Committee Report has been buried to all intents and purposes.

As for human rights, to take a couple of other websites at random, that of the Human Rights Commission which you and I might assume to be in priority concerned about the state of human rights in Mauritius and mechanisms for grievances and addressing them, may leave us rather dumbfounded by its antiquated look and feel, referring most matters it seems to its Human Rights Division (HRD), not to be confused with the similar HRD operating under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade. The latter feels necessary to grandstand its Minister and his career highlights before enunciating: “Human rights are basic rights and freedoms that belong to each person in the world, from birth to death. They apply to each individual, regardless of the his/her nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, religion, language or any other status. Human Rights are universal, interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.”

Brightly said then, but you would be foolhardy to look for an actual definition of what human rights cover in 21st century Mauritius, rather than the dry list of acronyms and treaties we have become signatories to. But they can be forgiven, for the site does compile in no particular order, a dozen or so relevant legislations, from our Constitution to the Chemical Weapons Convention Act 2003. Although we are nowhere closer about a simple workable definition of human rights that apply to Mauritian citizens or residing foreigners, whether under normal or pandemic conditions.

At least the Mauritius Police Force website, whose senior officers having probably followed University of Mauritius courses, do display prominently a Principle of Police Ethics which includes such likeable statements that Police Officers have to

  • Display self-control, tolerance, understanding, and courtesy appropriate to the circumstances in their dealings with all individuals, both outside and inside the Police Force.
  • Uphold fundamental human rights, treating every person as an individual and display respect and compassion towards them.

We have all been witnesses to the principles and practices of the police force in numerous recent instances that test their own writings. Administrative prose and public agency websites are a reflection of our levels and aspirations often to an internet-savvy world, including expatriates and foreigners, even if we will all concur that behind the style and the words, what really matters is whether the agencies do walk the talk they sometimes feel obliged to display. Popular wisdom has it that you cannot build castles on sand.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 6 May 2022

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