Port Louis needs a break

The presence of the French representatives of the Louvre Museum reminds us of the massive investment in the transformation of the ancient palaces into a museum which took place, in the aftermath of the French Revolution at a time when the economy of France was in ruins. It has remained a cultural heritage of great value for France and, undeniably, it tops the list of the greatest museums on the world stage.

Economic hardships are not a deterrent to massive investment in wide-scale construction of modern buildings provided that the entreprise would serve national interest in the long run. In olden times, monarchs and emperors ordered gigantic constructions which reflected their vision for their country.

Barring individual and corporate initiatives to invest massively in huge projects, decision-taking related to grand style projects today rests upon the shoulders of presidents, prime ministers and ministers. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a man who could barely walk due to polio put America back on its feet by proposing a New Deal to the nation, starting a series of construction works across the country in a bid to address staggering levels of unemployment and alleviate sufferings. Similarly, French Presidents Mitterrand and Chirac had a national library, a theatre and a museum built, reflecting their personality and vision. Highly cultured and well-read leaders leave invaluable cultural legacies to their people.

Do we have all the data to judge whether Heritage City and the Smart City projects are going to plunge the country into an abyss of bankruptcy for future generations? Of course, there is nothing democratic even in advanced democracies in the way mind-blowing figures amounting to several billions of spending are announced to the public without due information on the terms of the debts and the long-term refund to the investors, the Saudi government in the present case.

But what we know is that the Capital cannot take it anymore and the country needs change. The country has to move on and people should adapt to change. Generally, people do so notwithstanding a few stakeholders and media spokespersons who claim to express public opinion. Port-Louis is too small to take in a soaring crowd of workers, office employees, school boys and girls, traders and vendors; its narrow streets and pavements are in a sorry state, and jostling one’s way along them is getting more and more stressful. It no longer has the capacity to take in the incessant fleet of cars, big and small, old and brand new, limousines and taxis, noisy buses and lorries loading and unloading goods. Not to mention the daily traffic jams to get in and out of the capital. It is suffocating, and it is high time to give it a breathing space.

Moving the ministries to Ebène is a laudable alternative, a solution to traffic jam as most employees hail from the towns of Rose-Hill, Quatre Bornes, Curepipe, Vacoas and its vicinity. Logically, Parliament should be part of the package though the usefulness of a second House raises eyebrows. At least, it will not be flanked by the statue of Queen Victoria! It is all right to celebrate Port-Louis by Light by highlighting the colonial past. It is equally a legitimate initiative to build a new town using modern and diverse architectural designs, relocate key public buildings, and boost economic dynamism by setting up trades and shops in new places with adequate planning.

Special attention should be given to the type of architecture that best fits the local landscape. It need not necessarily be mimicry of whatever is done in advanced countries. The airport has a close resemblance to Shanghai airport, with a predominating greyish colour which suits Shanghai and Paris but looks out of place in Mauritius. The narrow greyish seats in the lounge lack generosity, warmth and comfort compared to the comfortable sofas of the domestic airport of Cochin in Kerala, for example.

Towers are less space-consuming though they may not appeal to one and all, there is no other choice in a small island, is there? A government is expected to take decisions in the national interest and show determination in its policy. Debates are welcome, polemics are inevitable. But the government cannot be dictated by street protests or intimidated by editorialists who do not have to face the polls every five years. One cannot jump to the ceiling and cry foul every time the government comes up with a plan. Yes, government is government and government decides. And this cannot be distorted irresponsibly and randomly labelled as dictatorial by opponents. The Light Metro project and the relocation of ministries at Ebène have been shelved away since 1995! It was high time to take decisions without dilly-dallying.

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Re-thinking Port Louis

No doubt, quite a number of stakeholders and lobbies are in a panic at the prospect of a capital which is going to lose the big crowds of functionaries who have filled their coffers, eating out and doing their shopping five days a week for decades. Prosperous and thriving businesses have led some of them to adopt an arrogant attitude, considering the town as their private territory, and welcoming other Mauritians only as consumers to fill their pockets.

However much Port Louis is the soul of the country for all the past history and stone buildings it harboors, let us face it. It is shabby and chaotic. There are enough brains in the country to carve out a new role for the town. Promote culture, drama and music festivals, exhibition and galleries. Revamp China Town and other areas, make them attractive for people to leave overcrowded places and settle there. Organize package tours for tourists to visit the old buildings, the Citadel, Parliament once it is emptied in five years’ time, the theatre, the museum and so on. And above all, give it a nightlife which will draw crowds and keep business afloat. That will reassure those who have started complaining already.

Port Louis needs a break. Its uneven cobblestone pavements and paved streets need some respite until further use. Better anticipate a different life for the capital in a few years, innovate and create than whine and complain.

Media people and other stakeholders who have started shooting arrows at Heritage City before it has come off the ground usually worry for their own social class. Rarely do they take position on the havoc created by unbridled capitalism and the widening gap in salaries impoverishing more and more people.

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Game over for the dimwits

Have you noticed the effect of government policy of inquiring into enrichment above ten million rupees around you? Well, it has already created a panic among those who are well known for enrichment through illicit means. Some of them are having sleepless nights trying to invest and buy off other businesses to look cool and regular, and escape government scrutiny. Other idle drug peddlers who have benefited from the lax half-measures of the previous government and led a cool life at the expense of drug consumers are forced to take up a job now that it is becoming more difficult to have it all too easy.

We should be thankful that the government is addressing corruption and inefficiency at the NTA. Indeed, game over for the dimwits and those corrupt officials operating in the fitness centres. Undoubtedly, other sectors deserve close inspection and strict supervision to make them more effective. Do we intend to keep the old rattling buses on the roads?

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Is it the MBC’s new policy to devote about twenty minutes to religious festivals during the time allocated to news in French? It has been going on for some time now. If there is so much time available, better use it to sensitise the public on environmental issues, reasonable use of electricity and water, respect for the environment, develop clean habits, act responsibly in public places, not litter beaches with wastes, abide by traffic rules, cultivate politeness and courtesy. Be more civilized. At least then, the television license fee will be worth it.

Nita Chicooree-Mercier

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