The Sugar Industry and The Government

Mauritius Times 60 Years

By Jay Narain Roy

The entire nation is made to sacrifice for the need of the industry, but the nation does not derive corresponding benefits. The lion’s share flow into the pockets of the few. Moreover, Government’s readiness to appreciate the point of view of the employer is too patent. When the Government makes the case for a loan or for protective duties or of breaking strikes, it is totally blind to the other side of the picture.

The industry was given a new lease of life under the first English Governor. The series of dinner-parties following the princely compensation for the abolition of slavery shot up production. The connivance of officials at the infringement of slave and immigrant laws and the shabby treatment meted out to labour champions like Jeremie, de Plevitz, Manilal Doctor and Anquetil are part of the history of this land. It is also a known fact that constitutional reforms in this century have come in the wake of labour unrests and that the Constitution of 1948 was only spurred on by the unrests of 1937 and 1943, unrests which claimed human lives including those of a pregnant woman and children as their toll.

While constitutional reforms were being talked of, facilities were being accorded to the industry to strengthen its might and to spread its tentacles deep and wide into the economic life of the country and ultimately to become an all-swallowing ogre. The move for the centralisation of factories and consequential measures were encouraged by the Government on the plea that it was the national industry and that our financial stability and prosperity depended on it.

The same plea was found to be plausible when the need arose to make substantial loans or to set up the Agricultural Bank which provided considerable credit facilities for development. Wishing to ensure the diversified development in the industry, the Imperial Government set up the Rehabilitation, Price Stabilisation and Welfare Funds through a levy on sugar. It was with considerable difficulty that the planters were able to obtain a small fraction of the first fund. The third fund meant exclusively for the welfare of workers have also passed under the thumb of the industry with the result that the bulk has been used either as easy loans for the building of houses of workers on the estates or for the building of housing schemes in places to make labour plentiful to certain estates.

The boom period has also coincided with the establishment of the Cyclone and Drought Insurance, the introduction of new varieties of canes with higher sucrose content, technological progress in agriculture and processing and a long period of respite from serious cyclones. It has naturally also coincided with a long period of stable prices of sugar, guaranteed quotas and market, with the expansion of the Chamber of Agriculture, the Sugar Syndicate, and other paraphernalia of the industry financed through a sugar levy, and which are run practically as private concerns for all purposes. These organisations form the citadel of the industry, and a senior politician is generally selected to be the Syndicate’s representative of the industry in London. He keeps his ears close to Whitehall and Westminster for the needs of the magnates.

The industry is a state within a state. It is highly improbable that even a Governor can muster sufficient courage to visit the estates without permission. Such permissions are sought weeks in advance and hundreds of people are employed to tidy up things to appear ideal, and the Governor or any other official are shown what the authorities wish to show. Here is the veritable Iron Curtain about which we often hear so wildly. I have, in an earlier article, dealt with the conditions under which the workers are made to live on the estates. The officers of Government too, like the estate workers, are under the dread of the chimneys. They generally think that they should not touch the estates if they must remain in the good books of their superior officers who may belong to the same section. Quite a few classes of officers do not seem to decline annual presents offered by the estates. So that the law simply does not operate on the estates. Any visit without notice will reveal dozens of contraventions but who, from top to bottom grade of officers, can muster sufficient pluck to bell the cat?

At the top, in the industry, there is an imposing band of lawyers, chartered accountants, secretaries, managers and senior overseers enjoying special privileges. They run the legal, financial and technological aspects of the business, prepare their figures for official consumption and so keep the shareholders humoured. Naturally they have to be kept humoured in turn and that is why the industrial organisation is irrationally too top-heavy. And that is not all. There are far too many blue-eyed boys and girls in sinecure offices, and to this must be added the fearfully staggering lot of middlemen, contractors, brokers and what not that hang round the fringes of the industry, like veritable leaches. sucking and sucking, obviously without any reason but just because they belong to the fraternity.

Take the income of an estate manager: his fat salary plus commission on the total profit plus bonus at the end of the year plus a lump sum at the retirement plus house, furniture, servants, water, electricity, cars, campement, petrol, drivers, vegetable garden, palmiste, camarons, etc. It cannot be an economic income, surely not on the scale of things in Mauritius. All told, he gets more than twice the pay of the Governor. Compare their qualifications, responsibilities, experience and all that. There is surely something behind it. What is it? In the same industry where the upper categories of emoluments are immorally too high, the lower categories are immorally inhuman.

The Central Board is supposed to adjudicate on the complaints of planters. The miller invariably has an upper hand as they do not only have the entire band of senior technicians from their selection, but they are also said to succeed in influencing the appointment on the board of some planters who are too handy to them. Some such members belonging to no visible organisation are mysteriously appointed year in and year out. It is because the planters have no confidence that they had to import a technician of their own.

What facilities that technician will get and what will the Government do about it, we can easily conjecture basing ourselves on the two hundred years of the history of this country. Nothing has changed, and nothing is likely to change, and I am alarmed to see that advisers of the industry who should know better are gradually bringing things to such a pass that friction and strife must result. How so-called intelligent guys cannot see beyond the tip of their nose or how they are lunatically puffed up in an airy pride is obviously the greatest calamity that history will record.

What conclusions do we draw from the above?

  1. That the State has little or no de facto jurisdiction over the estates of the sugar industry, and that feudalism has continued in the industry that employs most of the people.
    2. That far from having control, the State officials have come to nurture some dread just because of the influence and ramifications of the industry in the services.
    3. That the entire nation has been compelled by the Government to sacrifice but the benefits have gone to a few families.
    4. That the entire angle of the industrial organisation is to save as much as possible on the back of the workers and planters.
    5. That the machinery for adjudication of complaints either of planters or workers is by the very nature of things bound to be ineffective and cannot enlist the confidence of people it is meant to protect.
  2. That the organisations and bodies set up from a levy on sugar and weighing upon both planters and workers have virtually become like private concerns to the industry.
  3. That the higher stratum of employees and its appendages get not an economic salary but are made to share in the distribution of profits that should otherwise have gone to the Government and the workers.
  4. That between the Government of Mauritius and the sugar industry, it is the latter, in conjunction with its banking, commercial and allied operation that really holds the key of the finances of the country.
  5. That reduced to this position, the government of Mauritius has become a spineless, superficial and totally ineffective organisation.

These are indeed the lines of an economic enquiry from abroad if Mauritius can at all claims to be advancing. Otherwise, we should tug the Secretary to Place d’Armes and stop talking of progress.

5th Year – No 220
Friday 24th October 1958

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 10 March 2023

An Appeal

Dear Reader

65 years ago Mauritius Times was founded with a resolve to fight for justice and fairness and the advancement of the public good. It has never deviated from this principle no matter how daunting the challenges and how costly the price it has had to pay at different times of our history.

With print journalism struggling to keep afloat due to falling advertising revenues and the wide availability of free sources of information, it is crucially important for the Mauritius Times to survive and prosper. We can only continue doing it with the support of our readers.

The best way you can support our efforts is to take a subscription or by making a recurring donation through a Standing Order to our non-profit Foundation.
Thank you.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *