The St Brandon Affair


The unexpected solo sortie last week of the Attorney General Maneesh Gobin (and accessorily Secretary General of the ruling MSM party) about leading a relentless battle to reclaim the “permanent lease” granted in colonial times to Raphael Fishing Co Ltd over what is called Cargados Carajos or Saint Brandon, despite a Privy Council decision in 2008 that had confirmed the validity of the lease, has made headlines. It has transpired since that this is a pristine archipelago of more than 30 sandy islands and islets, a few of which go under with bad weather or high tides, and the granted colonial lease covers only 13 of these islets for a nominal annual rent of One MRU.

The other fact is that it is government through the Outer Island Development Corporation (OIDC) that grants fishing and exploitation licenses to any vessels wishing to operate or accost in the area and they had maintained two National Coast Guard (NCG) outposts and a met station on one of the Raphael islands built and installed with the concurrence and assistance of the latter company. Over the past ten years there have been a few unwanted beachings of Taiwanese fishing vessels, the latest, the Yu Feng, only a few days ago and, as with the previous ones, is still hanging out miserably on the reefs threatening to spill its oil at any time without any effective preventive action conducted.

In a stark reminder of the Wakashio marine disaster at Pointe d’Esny two kms from our coastline, it only highlights the dramatic inability of government to come to grips with our maritime nation, its fragile coral reefs and sandy islets and islands, whether close or remote, or their pristine environment. Neither the recent Yu Feng beaching nor the 2008 Privy Council ruling offer us therefore clues to the real intentions of government through the fiery discourse of Maneesh Gobin.

The Attorney General/Secretary General is not unaccustomed to somewhat surprising stands on various issues where he brings his legal mind to bear, to explain or to justify government’s actions. Following the Commission of Inquiry into the Britam sale where allegations had been spread but were eventually unproven about a Rs 2bn loss, he had announced a legal chase half-way around the world that would rope in Interpol and some agency of the United Nations, to recover the missing billions the Commission had failed to uncover. In Opposition he stood for freedom of expression and that of the press, in office he has forgotten the issue and rightly or wrongly has been associated with proposals to capture internet traffic or otherwise through IBA/ICTA to interfere with media and journalist freedoms. We may therefore respect his office but suspect that there may be more than a sudden itch to reclaim a dozen islets at St Brandon through as yet unknown legal mechanisms.

A generous soul might wonder whether at a time when the heavy taxes on fuel prices and high price at the pump hitting inflation, individuals, elderlies, small businesses and the distribution network, and NGO or consumer actions are in the offing, there was an urgency in high offices to drag the public attention to other matters. An observer more attuned to the powerful family and crony businesses gravitating in high spheres of power and extracting their pound of flesh (cf the Mauritius Turf Club and Champ de Mars affair) at any costs may start wondering what hidden appetite lurks behind the high-octane sortie of the AG. This is precisely the sort of questions raised in yesterday’s issue of l’express by Alain Langlois, a former director of Raphael Fishing Co Ltd and to which answers to the population should be forthcoming.

Bluntly put, is an exclusive private resort location on the beachy sandy islets being hungered after? One might be shocked that such a pristine and fragile environment, rather than being protected, might be the object of airport, airline and associated infrastructure for a remote resort. It would be easy enough for the AG/SG to dispel such an intention as far-fetched and declare that the archipelago would remain protected from any developments beyond a well-equipped NCG patrol station. The authorities should come clean on their real intent.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 27 January 2023

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