Government losing its grip on the political and social situation

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

The present regime is gradually losing its grip on the political and social situation. After its attempt at using broad legal provisions to sharply limit the freedom of expression of citizens and bloggers, it has been seen in recent days losing its nerve and imposing a mix of authoritarian tactics and repression of dissenting voices. The authorities are being caught unawares by the growing sense of political apathy and discontent in the country.

The rapid descent into political ineptitude of the Government is quite remarkable. Besides the fact that it has become more difficult to make a positive case for its economic stewardship and that some big projects are running into the sands, some small issues were allowed to run out of control.

First we had the inhabitants of Cottage taking to the streets to protest against the absence of initiatives from the authorities after the floods that had caused a lot of damage. The inhabitants lost almost everything during the rising waters: furniture, food, appliances and even vehicles. Then there was the demonstration of the inhabitants of Cite Atlee who had no running water for almost three days. The situation was allowed to degenerate and the police had to call in reinforcements. Then we had the incident at the Mont-Choisy Hall in Grand Bay involving protesters brandishing posters “Pa fer politik ek nou rélizion” meant for the Prime Minister. Thereafter the repressive tactics used following the recent incidents in St Paul where furious residents took to the streets after the sewage flooded the area following heavy showers only fanned the flames of dissent and revolt. 

We have also seen on social media and blogs anger and discontent brewing and spreading with many enterprising citizens blasting the government’s clumsy handling of these events. Government may have been dismayed at the predominantly negative coverage in the media but the truth is they are mostly to blame for the mess. What does all this mean? Is it merely a series of unfortunate events, or is there a deeper malaise pointing to the slow slide towards something more serious that a repressive and authoritarian State is at pains to stamp out?

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Climate Change: “Keep going, you are making a difference”

Extinction Rebellion’s attempts to clog the heart of London and other cities across the UK have undoubtedly driven the issue of climate change up in the news agenda. As a solution to the “climate breakdown and ecological collapse that threaten our existence”, Extinction Rebellion is proposing three key steps. The government must, in their words, “tell the truth” about the scale of the crisis the world now faces. Second, the UK must enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025. The third step is the formation of a Citizens’ Assembly to “oversee the changes” that will be needed to achieve this goal.

Here, the eco-socialist party, Rezistans ek Alternativ (ReA) is taking the fight at a still higher level by demanding the freeze of smart cities projects, a Climate Change Bill and like the Citizens’ Assembly, a special Climate Change National Consultations and an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) Bill.

For Stephan Gua, the spokesperson of ReA, Mauritius is increasingly facing natural disasters; it is clear that the government is overwhelmed by the events. It is not being able to provide an adequate response to the problem of floods affecting thousands of our inhabitants. Monetary compensations will not do, the ReA wants the government to freeze all Smart Cities, hotel and other major construction projects along the coastal regions, especially near wetlands, as well as on agricultural lands (especially Smart Cities) which pose a risk to the environment. “Today is the time to act,” says ReA.

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Employment creation is now at its lowest since 1991

The Prime Minister was boasting about the unemployment rate having dropped to its lowest level since 2001, that is, since the past 17 years. But what he did not tell us was that the main reason for the drop in the unemployment rate is due to lower activity given our ageing workforce and more people going into retirement. We should be comparing employment creation over time rather than unemployment rates.

Between 2017 and 2018, the activity rate decreased with the fall in the labour force falling by 3100. Thus with employment falling by 1400, the unemployment rate dips from 7.1% to 6.9%. If the activity rate had remained unchanged, the unemployment rate would have increased from 7.1% to 7.4%.

With the exception of 2011, employment creation in 2018 was one of the worst since 1991. Between 2014-2018, the Government has created on a net basis only 5400 jobs whereas the previous one had created 25,000 jobs over the period 2011-2015. The present government has also failed to improve the youth unemployment rate. In Q1 2015, about 46% of the unemployed were aged below 25 years whereas in Q4 2018 it has increased to 47%.

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 Labour Day gatherings

All the political parties are getting ready the 1st of May mobilization of their partisans. As usual, it will be more of a show and many people do not take it seriously. Some leftist parties/organizations have decided to organize Labour Day 2019 differently; the idea is that it should be a special celebration, involving participation and interaction, different from previous years. Various organizations (General Workers Federation, Joint Negotiating Panel of the Sugar Industry, Rezistans ek Alternativ & The Center for Alternative Research and Studies) have invited the public to walk together for Labour Day 2019 from Belle-Rose (at side of the St-Jean Church) up to the Spiritual Park, Ebene River, Belle Rose. The proposal is to walk together with a common vision: the right to work, the right of nature and the paramount importance of our lives“The Right to Work means to promote the rights of all those who work to live and support society. Together we demand that all social and economic rights, as advocated by the United Nations, be enshrined in our Constitution.Law of nature — to value nature/ecosystem, without which there is no life. Together we demand that the law of nature, the protection of biodiversity, and the commons be enshrined in the Constitution.Our Life — to value the political vision that life goes before profit. Together, let us promote the eco-socialist vision of placing human life, as well as any other form of life, as the foundation of the new human civilization.”These organizations have invited every citizen and organization, to walk together and put forward their own claims/struggles. They have proposed that each organization brings its colour for a convergence of the struggles in order to contribute towards the foundations of the transformation/socio-ecological transition necessary in our era. Indeed this new approach to Labour Day will not be a mere show but an opportunity for workers, women and men, young people, retirees to be heard and to put forward their claims and visions. It will be their show. 

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MK: Why targeting one person?

Back in n 2012, in these very columns, we had posted an article titled ‘MK: rescued again and again!’ Stories of airlines in trouble or brought crashing down to earth in a financial fireball have become commonplace. The situation at Air Mauritius is no better, the only difference being that the nosedives are continuous as well as the rescues. Some knowledgeable columnists believe that the nice sound bites about rescue plans will end up being mere slogans.

Already in 2012, Raj Ramlugun had, in an interesting article – ‘MK: Is this serious Management’ (L’Express, 25 April 12) – had expressed doubts as to whether the national airline “with basically the same people in the driving seats” could come out of the rut. We also had commented that the same discredited management and “board that was caught napping by the trail of scandals” (like the unsound hedging activities that swallowed billions of rupees and burdened the national debt) are still at the helm. It is the same old wine in new bottles. But it is turning out to be quite onerous for taxpayers. Another correspondent (Icare: ‘MK: neuf mois pou enfoncer des portes ouvertes…’ in Le Mauricien, 24 April 12, commented that after Consultants Mc Kinsey 1, Mc Kinsey 2, Lufthansa Techniks, “Seabury et ses recommendations… s’y fracasseront à leur tour”.

If we fast-forward to 2019, what’s new? This is exactly what Raj Ramlugun and others, including us, have been saying. So why the lawsuit of Rs 50m filed by Air Mauritius against its former executive Raj Ramlugun for criticizing the company’s management? Prakash Neerohoo, writing from Canada, draws our attention to tactics used by politicians or companies – Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) – to sue those who criticize their action or their method of governance in order to silence them. They have targeted Raj Ramlugun, from amongst all their detractors because he has dared to say more than others by addressing his criticisms to the Prime Minister. The lawsuit against him sets a bad precedent as it might amount to legal intimidation tactics. From now on, all those who intend to criticize any company will have to think twice about the legal consequences of their actions before taking any action. This is the message to the public.

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The politicization of institutions: Where will it stop?

We had earlier seen the director of the Mauritius Examinations Syndicate, a SP of police and lately the General Manager of the State Trading Corporation (STC), proudly exhibiting themselves at political meetings of the Mouvement Socialiste Militant (MSM). The politicization of institutions has become more prominent with this current regime which is least bothered about the complaints of citizens and the media against this growing trend in many public institutions.

There are laws concerning public institutions like the MBC Act, namely Article 15 thereof which stipulates that no employee of the corporation shall engage in any political activities. But this government only claims to operate through systems that are fair, equitable and transparent but such claim remains relative because fairness, equity and transparency may only be a privilege only meant for those lucky ones within the circle of political cronies, or those with ties to government.

The politicization of government institutions or attempts thereof targeting the Electoral Commission, the Gambling Regulatory Authority, the Central Bank, the FSC, Landscope, the State Bank of Mauritius, the National Empowerment Foundation, CWA, IBA, MBC TV… have continued unabated over the past four years. It is alleged that even the police would not be spared.

Politicization of government institutions amounts to sowing the seeds of one’s country’s destruction. Such politicisation takes its toll on the effectiveness of such institutions. How could one expect the head of an institution selected by politicians to hold his politician bosses accountable?

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Closure of Future Textiles: Need for an enquiry?

There was indignation and anger amongst employees of Future Textiles following the liquidation of the plant. “We are thrown on the pavement with an uncertain future; our bosses are building castles in Rose-Hill. This is unacceptable! An investigation on the assets of our bosses is needed!”

Readers will recall the largesse of the Stimulus Package dished out in a recent past by the Mansoor-Sithanen tandem to numerous fat cats in the textile sector, including the likes of RS Denim and RS Fashion, while acknowledging that government was not sure of recouping the money! The Stimulus Package had no mechanism to ensure commitments by the enterprises in the export sector to productivity enhancing measures. It was just a transfer of wealth from the public purse to the private sector with absolutely no control over what recipient companies would bring in terms of corrective measures. We see more of the same with the present government. But we hope that the enquiry will this time ensure a transfer of wealth in the other direction, that is, the workers so that they finally get their dues.

* Published in print edition on 26 April 2019

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