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Overview of Political Situation in Mauritius by Ram Seegobin


Ram Seegobin gave a brief overview of the political situation to a meeting of LALIT members on Sunday 24 March at the GRNW building, looking at the tendencies that are visible already in the economy, on the political scene and in society. Below is a summary in English translation.

After years of maintaining that, despite the crisis in the world economic system, Mauritius is “resilient”, all the economic indicators are hunky-dory and so on, the Minister of Finance has over the past two weeks shown signs of admitting that the crisis could be serious. He has admitted that the crisis in Europe is not only not over, but affects the Mauritian economy head-on. LALIT has been warning of this danger adding on to the existing systemic crisis with the end of protected markets for sugar and textiles. In particular, we have been signalling the serious problem of capital being used up stupidly without the creation of jobs.

Ram Seegobin said that capitalism in Italy, Spain and Portugal is still in crisis, while France and Germany’s production has slowed down, and the UK is expected to go into recession. All this means that the Mauritian tourism industry, always a fragile industry, is already affected, just as sugar and other exports like sea food have been directly affected. Textile factories and even the Subana biscuit factory have already closed down, while other enterprises are sacking workers. The sugar industry is decreasing production by 10% or more each year, while it is still going through the 36% price fall, and now even the remaining quotas are threatened as well. This means the 4 or 5 sugar mills left after centralization are now under threat. As you know, they need to produce 100,000 tons of sugar or so in order to be viable, but they are not getting enough cane, as small planters turn away from cane towards rice, wheat and fodder; or simply leaving their small plots untended.

Hotels have begun sacking people, starting with the big hotels like St. Geran. Although the number of tourists has stabilized at around one million per year, already too many to sustain, what has happened is that new hotels have mushroomed all over the place, causing the percentage of rooms occupied to go down. Hotels are being forced to lower their prices to attract clients. And, as we know, the hotel workers that are more marginal, like musicians and dancers, have gradually seen their pay falling, and then their jobs closing. Now other jobs in hotels are also closing down.

The Integrated Resort Schemes have seen a severe slowing down. And the Government has been relying on this kind of so-called investment from abroad in order to make the national accounts look OK. But it is a kind of investment that produces nothing at all except ghettoes for the rich, often unoccupied. Construction has also slowed down, and hardware stores that had sprung up everywhere are in trouble. The big shopping malls, so incongruous in Mauritius, are all struggling to exist, while shops in the towns bring down their shutters.

The only real economic activity is what the Minister of Public Infrastructure brings to life by giving contracts and tenders to private companies for new roads, fly-overs and drains. Mr. Baichoo is on the TV often, quoting by heart the millions spent on each “tronson” of road or “ronpwin” or “drain”.

And finance capital, rather than productive capital, being in power since globalization saw them take over, the banks, of course, make big profits, even as everything else falls into ruin. They seem the only ones who are pretty resilient -- at the moment.

The bosses are suffering the effects of their own crisis too. The fight goes on as the two big bosses organizations try to merge. The Mauritius Employers Federation, once dominated by the powerful Mauritius Sugar Producers’ Association which is now in decline, is trying to take over the Joint Economic Council, which has always been more pliant to the Labour Party in power, while the JEC, in turn, tries to be the one to take over the MEF.

Bourgeois parties in political crisis
Against this background, the main bourgeois political parties are also all in various forms of crisis. The PMSD’s crisis became evident when Minister Sik Yuen fired two staunch supporters of his party leader, Xavier Duval. Duval called on his Minister to resign, but with the support of the Prime Minister, Labour’s Ramgoolam, he just stayed on. Of course, when the PMSD is in alliance with Labour, every time Labour gets chatting or koz-koze with the MMM, the PMSD becomes a useless appendage. At the same time, Guimbeau’s MMSD, controls the Curepipe Municipality although it has only one seat, the other two parties having won equal numbers of seats. This also causes the PMSD problems, because Curepipe is supposed to be its last bastion.

Labour is also in crisis. The MSM has left Government, and it has, therefore to rely on a handful of “transfuges” for its majority. And now the PMSD is in crisis. Labour is not only cornered by charges and allegations of fraud, corruption and favouritism, not only having to manage a difficult economic crisis, but now it is having to do with a new Secretary General, Kaliani Jugroo, who is not really capable of fulfilling the difficult role. She insisted on getting promised the post at a time when Labour had a wobbly majority. Nita Deerpalsing, who was a fiery spokesperson, has been replaced by A. Hossen, a newcomer, while Ms. Deerpalsing has been demoted to looking after the youth section.

So, the PT-PMSD government really lacks any political coherence. It seems to have forgotten any political project it may have had.

So, Navin Ramgoolam, who seemed all-powerful until the last quarter of last year, now seems to have lost grip completely. He has to rely on his nightly parades on MBC TV.

The Opposition and its “Remake”
The MMM Opposition in its Remake of its alliance with the MSM, is also in some disarray. Although the Remake won 3 Municipalities, it was only by the skin of its teeth, and they had all clearly been hoping that their new alliance would bring wide, sweeping electoral support for them – at least in all the towns. So, they are disappointed. This has coincided with Berenger’s illness and treatment abroad, meaning that Alan Ganoo, a much less perspicacious personality, is now Leader of the Opposition, as Parliament begins next week. The Remake’s only strategy is to expose and allege fraud, corruption and scandal, and to change the subject from one scandal to the next every week, forgetting the last one each time a new one comes on to their radar. The last supposed “bomb” they let loose on the besieged Prime Minister was to do with the sale of land between a large landowner and Ms. Nandini Soornack, a business woman close to the Prime Minister, together with allegations of reclassifying some of his other land. Sir Aneerood Jugnauth, as head of the Remake, has already began some retreat on this dossier, as he made some mistakes when denouncing it, and the MSM has not had full support from its partner the MMM.

All the scandals brought up by the MMM are what we in LALIT have always denounced, and related to the over-developed nature of the post-colonial state. This powerful form of State can use discretionary powers in order to orient the economy, and in particular, in order to give distinct advantages to one set of capitalists at the expense of the others, or even to a set of cronies. A Minister’s signature put on one bit of A4 paper can turn 300 arpents of land worth a million an arpent into land worth billions.

CT Power and Coal
The MMM has also announced now that it is in favour of the CT Power Electricity from Coal project in Albion, because “there is no choice”. This project has descended into a communalo-racist confrontation, and the MMM clearly does not want to take on the burden of seeming to represent the sugar estates’ desire to maintain a monopoly, while at the same time running the risk of being blamed for any future power outage. The existing coal-to-energy stations were never commented on much by environmentalists or anyone else, with the exception, at the time, of LALIT. That would have meant them having to confront the powerful sugar barons. But, attacking the “new” project, not under control of the sugar oligarchy, has meant that opponents have had to establish that they are not supporting vested interests of the sugar oligarchy that wants to maintain total control of the IPPs, something they have not been able to do too well. Azir Moris continues putting “No to Coal” banners up on buildings, bridges and cranes, and one of their members was arrested for trying to open up a banner at the Anjalay Stadium during Independence Day celebrations. It is typical of the Ramgoolam Government’s guidelines to police, that the militant was completely wrongly kept in police cells for a week, before getting bail. Meanwhile a group of Albion landowners have put in a Supreme Court case to challenge the compulsory acquisition of some of their land. There has been a further complication: behind CT Power are two different connections, one with India, the other with China. So the fight for IPPs is now between the existing Sugar-Estate and French capital alliance against CT Power, either its India wing or Chinese wing.

United Nations Pronouncement on Declaring one’s Community
The UN Committee at the end of last year gave its views: it is not reasonable for the State to insist on candidates for general elections filling in one of the four communities when the State has, itself, stopped classifying the people into these four communities since 1972. Therefore, no candidate, they say, can be disqualified on these grounds. All that is to say that the UN Committee’s findings do not put any immediate pressure on the Government to do anything at all. The February “deadline” for the Government to supposedly act, was thus a flop. Navin Ramgoolam has nonchalantly announced that he will bring out a White Paper, open up a nation-wide debate, and then bring electoral reform to the National Assembly, where it can become law if it can muster a three-quarter majority.

Union Movement
Just as crisis has hit the bosses’ organizations so the Unions, the workers’ work-place organizations, have been hit by the worst crisis in a history of constant bickering. The public sector unions, divided now into 4 warring sections, are concerned only with the Pay Research Bureau, as it gets to the drawn out stage of Anomalies and Omissions. The private sector unions Confederation Syndical de Gauche-Solidarite has exploded, in a vitriolic fight, the CTSP, FPU and FTU on one side and the GWF on the other. So, at a time when the Labour Laws of 2008 need to be opposed and the new amendments coming this Tuesday also need to be opposed, the unions have not been united in a common platform. On the contrary, while the Platform kont Lalwa Travay Anti-Travayer fixed held its demonstration, as planned, yesterday, 23 March, the GWF announced its demonstration for one week earlier. Labour Minister Shakeel Mohamed has still not circulated the text of the amended Amendments due for Tuesday’s session of Parliament. He has however backed down on two of them. He will not introduce mechanisms for workers to unite and negotiate collective agreements without being unions, which in the Mauritian context would have been a mortal danger to the unions. He also insists on an Amendment to the effect that during the course of a collective agreement, new “litiz” cannot be declared on points that were not agreed upon during negotiations. However he is insisting that illegal strikes should, in all cases, lead to the bosses being able to sack workers concerned. Ashok Subron’s populist style of unionism meant that he was relying on the law exempting workers from sacking on a first strike. So, he is furious. He refuses to speak to the Labour Minister, and addresses himself directly to the Prime Minister. The fight between him and Jack Bizlall has become open warfare. All this shows that when the press refer to “la classe syndicale”, they are right, really: it certainly has interests that are not the same as that of the working class.

Social Reality
Every day, day after day, we read about dramas within families, and within neighbourhoods: thefts and frauds, cases of rape and abduction. We are not talking about an increase in banditism, as the politicians sometimes make out, but a social crisis that is very deep. And even when the Police proudly announce that they have dismantled one of the drug networks, another one just moves in. The social crisis remains. The social crisis is often amplified by the media, turning one problem into another additional one. The MBC, too, has taken on the most absurd role, turning the Prime Minister’s problems into worse ones. Recently, there was the abject 10 minutes of film during the main TV News of him being flattered by the very comedian he brought over from France for Independence Day celebrations. The MBC obviously edits its film of MSM and MMM press conferences in order to magnify any hesitation or error made by their leaders.

So, when a regime is in a corner, and feeling weakened as Ramgoolam’s is, it acts in dangerous ways. Its reflex is repression. It abuses all State institutions it can.

At the level of Lalit, our party has both a new dynamism within itself and also new links being created with other forces. What we need to do now is to develop the political weight that corresponds better to our credibility.

After, debate on Ram Seegobin’s paper, Rajni Lallah outlined how Lalit was implementing the Seminar decisions taken earlier this year. The Revi LALIT is growing, and works as a good means of recruitment, and way of getting people to share their ideas and experience. The fortnightly study group has been set up, and is at work. New members have been drawn in so as to contribute in leaflet distribution, like the one at the end of February. In the past week or two, she said, LALIT members have been speakers at a Secondary School, at the Confederation Travayer Sekter Prive, and at the Mauritius Alliance of Women international women’s day gathering against rape yesterday in Quatre Bornes, while LALIT members in JUSTICE have been called upon to work with victims of police brutality. She said our work on digitization of our documentation has also mobilized lots of support from people around the Party, who are helping enormously.

She took the opportunity in the name of LALIT, of congratulating LPT, and those of its members who are also in LALIT, for the Linguapax International Prize 2013 awarded this past week to LPT.

Rada Kistnasamy, who was chairing the meeting, then proceeded with the elections of members to the new Central Committee for 2013-2014.