In a Press Conference held on 20 August, Rada Kistnasamy and Rajni Lallah, denounced the lack of a coherent housing policy under the Labour-PMSD Government. LALIT representatives suggested that one of the major causes of the severe social crisis in Mauritius is the high proportion of people living in housing, often overcrowded housing, with no security of tenure protected by law. Present for LALIT there were another eight members, some of whom had participated directly in conducting a neighbourhood “enquiry” into the state of housing near their respective LALIT branches. For the Press present were Top FM, Radio Plus, Weekly, Le Mauricien and MBC-TV.
The Government says “88.9% of people are home-owners” and that there is therefore not really a serious housing shortage in Mauritius, Rada Kistnasamy, presiding for LALIT, said. “Our Press Conference is to show that there is, in fact, a serious housing problem, despite this Government figure.” He said that the LALIT neighbourhood enquiry had also thrown up another serious problem, also under-estimated, of unemployment and under-employment.
Before embarking on its neighbourhood enquiries, LALIT had asked the question “How does the Government get this figure of 88.9% of people are home-owners?” The reply to this question is the key to understanding the issue. And it was on this point that Rajni Lallah exposed the fatuous nature of the Government’s own statistics. It is not easy, of course, to know who “owns” a house and who does not when all you have is the simple questionnaires drafted either by the Authorities or by LALIT. But the precise question that is asked makes all the difference:
“Do you pay rent?” the official survey asks. And the minute you say “No,” you are assumed to be not a tenant. Fair enough. But then nearly everyone amongst those who do not pay rent is just categorized by the authorities as therefore being a “home-owner”. You do not rent accommodation therefore you own your home – unless you explain some other rare category – according to the logic of the Authorities.
While it is true, Rajni Lallah said, that if you do not pay rent, you are not a tenant, it is simply not true that you are necessarily therefore a home-owner. This is particularly relevant if you are relying on this statistic in order to evaluate whether or not you have a housing problem in the country. “And this is the problem we are exposing in this Press Conference,” she said. “There is a serious housing problem, and it is masked by the official statistics.” The reality is that of grown-up sisters and brothers who have each formed their own respective families, each with children who inherit from their parents or grandparents a small house and who work out at best and fight out at worse who gets to live in the “lakaz zeritye”; of a family who had emigrated to Australia and because of economic crisis there, returns back to Mauritius and claims part of the “lakaz zeritye” that is already being lived in by a sister or a brother’s family; of a widow and her children whose in-laws have reluctantly “taken in” because they are no longer in a position to rent a house. All these “zeritye” then fall into the statistic of “88.9% of people are home-owners”. They therefore, it is assumed have no housing problem. But clearly they have a very serious housing problem. And not just a housing problem, but a potentially massive social problem, too.
When LALIT branch members conducted an inquiry into housing in their respective neighbourhoods, Rajni Lallah said, “we relied on a more specific questionnaire designed to find out if there really is a housing problem or not.” She said that LALIT found that, while the Party got a similar percentage as the official census for the question on whether people paid rent or not, implying that our sampling was passable (see below), we found that only 38.7% actually had proper security of tenure as proper home-owners.
The deduction made by the Authorities that “non-rent payers are home-owners” in the sense that they do not need housing, is thus erroneous.
The land or house contract was very often not only not in their name, but often inextricably tied up in “inheritance” labyrinths, leaving many of the people in this category of “non rent payers” in serious need of housing. Where they live now, at the time of our enquiry, is dependent on relatives not coming and kicking them out, or not succeeding in getting them evicted. Sometimes the home actually belongs to a large number of siblings and their spouses and their children, who are merely tolerating the residence of some amongst them in the house. There is also a great deal of over-crowding masked by this grand figure of “9 out of 10 Mauritians are home-owners”.
LALIT’s aim is not to perfect surveys. Nor is it our aim everyone be a home-owner.
“Our aim,” Ram Seegobin explained in answer to a journalist’s question, “is to expose one of the main reasons for the social crisis that everyone knows exists in Mauritius.” He said that when people live in housing where they do not have any legal protection or security of tenure, when they live in over-crowded houses with complicated inheritance issues locking them into this housing, this is obviously one of the underlying causes of the social crisis. “People need legal protection either as tenants or as home-owners,” he said.
“The official figures are masking a reality that is just boiling under the surface in Mauritius,” Rajni Lallah said.
During question time, LALIT member Lindsey Collen also said that all the crimes we learn about in the media that are taking place within the family, each one exposing further anomy, all the murders within households, are more easily understood if we realize and admit the existence of insecure and overcrowded housing. So, when Labour Party or MSM or MMM politicians call for more policemen, or for “law and order” in order to decrease “criminality”, they are not addressing the real issues causing the social crisis. One of these real issues causing the social crisis is clearly the need for more housing at affordable prices.
LALIT, in order to understand this serious housing crisis, had also prepared a few questions on the peoples incomes in the second part of its Questionnaire. “These questions were included because Government housing requires people to have a “pay slip” that shows how much they earn, and therefore how much they can repay the MHC for an NHDC house,” Rajni Lallah explained.
Here, too, we found that the Government’s official statistics are having the opposite role from that of useful statistics. The State presumably keeps social statistics not in order to prove how wonderful the Labour Party is, but in order to get a true picture of social reality. Statistics should be pointers to good future policies. They should not be used to hide the problems that need to be addressed.
The definition of someone “in employment”, according to the Authorities, is someone who has worked, wait for it, for ONE HOUR during the past week. This is what LALIT’s correspondence with Statistics Mauritius has exposed.
So, when the Government says 8.7% of people are unemployed, this figure means that this percentage of people did not work even for one hour the previous week (not counting if they were on sick leave, local leave, waiting to start a new job, which the official questionnaire carefully deals with). This one hour could even have been paid for in kind. It could also be the sale of a few objects resting on a gunny bag on the side of the road, or a tant bazar of eggs,if either of these resulted from over one hour’s work the previous week.
Well, if this is the Government’s definition of “employment”, we can certainly say that we confirm that their statistic is accurate. But is this what we mean when we are trying to work out why there is a social crisis in Mauritius, particularly in the country-side, where people are stabbing and strangling one another within the family at alarming rates? Does someone feel “employed” or gain any of the effects of being “employed” by working ONE HOUR in a week? Or are we just kidding ourselveswith statistics that dupe us.
The CSO, Statistics Mauritius, says it bases itself on the ILO definitions. This, too, is a misleading reply to LALIT’s question. We find absolutely no reference to such an amount as “ONE HOUR per week” in the ILO guidelines on their official site or anywhere else. They refer to a certain amount of time in a given reference period.
LALIT in its neighbourhood enquiry found that in reality almost half of the people in the 142 ordinary households we visited suffer inadequate employment. So, in fact, gross under-employment is rife.
“First, we found people living in the precarious situation of being one amongst many ‘zeritye’ claiming a home. Then we found that they had gone to the NHDC for a house and could not get one because they did not have a pay-slip,” Rajni Lallah said. The LALIT neighbourhood enquiry shows that 49% of those 142 households could not produce a pay-slip for the purposes of a house, or for any other purpose because they do not have one.
CONCLUSION: The LALIT neighbourhood enquiry has thrown up two main problems in the country: housing and employment. The size of the problems, in both cases, is masked not by falsifying figures, but by inappropriate definitions, respectively, of home-owners and employed people.
LALIT calls for statistics that reflect reality as it is and do not cover this reality up. The official questionnaire, if the Minister of Housing, Abu Kasenally, genuinely wants to know how many households are “home owners”, should include an additional question along the lines of whether the family could access a loan by using their house-contract. If they hesitate or say, “not yet”, or say “No”, they are clearly not “home-owners” with any security of tenure. And the questionnaire on employment should present how many people have secure employment and how many do not.
BACKGROUND: The context in which LALIT undertook this enquiry is that we all already knew, from our own experience, that it is misleading to say 9/10 people are home-owners. Then one of our LALIT branches, the Curepipe Branch, wanted to see if this “9/10 people are home-owners” was true for two very ordinary areas of Curepipe. The Branch spent a month or two preparing a questionnaire, and had it checked by other party members. They then in June, 2013 did a survey of some 60 households in Cite Malherbes (straight down one street, the street chosen randomly “depi enn bagal”) and also straight down one main artery into Curepipe proper, also leaving out no housing unit. The exercise was so revealing that one or two other LALIT branches followed suit, doing about 10 houses each, in the month of July. So, we ended up with samples (also down one street leaving out no house, in each case) in Site Richelieu, in St. Pierre, in Montagne Ory, in Bambous. In Camp Le Vieux Rose-Hill, we asked questions in all the flats in one block, which was also randomly chosen. In all these areas, the number of people not paying any rent is just as Government says it is: around 9/10. However, in these 142 households, the number of actual home-owners (in the sense that the Contract of Ownership was in the name of one of the members of that house-hold) was less than 40%. In the two Cites, there was even less actual home ownership, although hardly anyone at all paid rent. People were unable to sign up for housing schemes because nearly 50% of the 142 ordinary households we visited were either unemployed or worked somewhere so precarious that they did not have a pay-slip (bat-bate, short-term contracts, zurnalye, or part-time). This figure means that, for the purposes of acquiring a loan to purchase a house, there are many, many families who are completely stymied.
Our sampling for its neighbourhood enquiry was elementary. We left out places like River Walk, where the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have their “first homes” as we did all “campement” and other pockets of luxury, and we also left out Africa Town and all other very precarious housing, tied housing, illegal “squatting”, or pockets of poverty in any area.
Our sampling for the neighbourhood enquiry was thus elementary. You will notice that we left out places like River Walk, where the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have their “first homes” as we did all “campement” and other pockets of luxury. Similarly, we left out of the survey all very precarious housing, tied housing, illegal “squatting”, or pockets of poverty in any area. We surveyed the houses in the ordinary streets around where our members live.