Yesterday 14 June, LALIT held its twelfth meeting in a series of grassroots neighbourhood gatherings organized so as to build a movement to put an end to the Lepep Government’s politics of “gated communities”, so-called “Smart Cities”, and windfall gains for the sugar plutocracy through state-engineered land speculation.
“This”, LALIT member Ragini Kistnasamy, who was presiding at the most recent meeting held in Beau Bassin, said, “is not development. It is destruction! And it will soon be irreversible.” The 28 people present, gathered in a semi-circle for the neighbourhood meeting, were shocked at how advanced this destructive capitalist strategy has already got. She gave a list of all the places where neighbourhood meetings have already been held in this movement that LALIT is building in order to stop the selling off and “concreting” over of land.
LALIT member Alain Ah-Vee was the first speaker. He said that people know the fragility in which many people live. Just this weekend, he said, a man was burnt to death in a poorly constructed tin and wood house in this very constituency. He is just one of thousands of people awaiting housing. The Minister Soodhun, he said, admits to some 39,000 people being without housing, most of whom earn less than Rs10,000 per month, thus having no hope of earning enough to buy or build one. A recent study shows that every year the NHDC builds only 225 houses. Even the Government aim of 1,000 per year is ludicrously low, he said.
The same Minister, Shawkatully Soodhun, who is in charge of this meagre social housing recently announced that he is the Minister in charge of the Smart Cities. “How ironical!”, Alain exclaimed.
At the very same time, Alain Ah-Vee said that the Government no longer supports housing for working people, as it did when there was the Central Housing Authority, and even for “widows” (as single women’s housing was euphemistically named at the time), it spends a fortune in subsidies on the very rich and their IRS and RES investments in land speculation. “Integrated Resort Schemes” and “Real Estate Schemes” have been amalgamated into a single plan by Government and this is named “Property Development Schemes” now, he said, but it is the same harmful gated communities strategy.
Now, since 2015, there are Smart City permits too. These give even more public money as subsidies on the rich land-owners to sell off their land and cover it with concrete and golf-courses.
So, the Lepep Government, he said, is subsidising housing construction for millionaires from abroad. While “lepep” (the people) are left without housing at all, and those few who get it, are left with a life-time of repayments. These repayments are extremely onerous when the Government has allowed most permanent employment to be converted into short-term contracts, and even daily-paid labour.
And while spending Rs600 million on just a motorway for the first-ever Smart City permit to Omnicane sugar bosses in the South, the Government spends a 10th of this on subsiding housing for the poor.
Alain Ah-Vee also compared the massive use of land for golf courses and gardens for these very rich people from abroad in the gated communities, with the total lack of bicycle paths, of proper pavements, and of space for children to play in. Arts and sports are also without any proper infrastructure, he said, at the neighbourhood level. And this while all the bits of land used for informal games of football, basketball and petanque have gradually been taken up with concrete and tarmac.
Alain Ah-Vee then drew attention to the Government’s own Smart City, “Heritage City”. This, he said, is absolutely absurd. It is a kind of dilapidation of public funds. Has anyone heard that there is some problem with the building that the National Assembly meets in? Never. And it is free of rent. Has anyone ever heard that there is a problem with the Treasury Building where the Prime Minister’s Office is, he asked, sarcastically. Recently millions – some 80 million rupees – were spent on renovating the place. So, why are these, and other Ministries being moved to a new Smart City in Ebene? It is part of the infernal logic of finance capital – a logic that is bound to lead to disaster.
Lindsey Collen, the other LALIT speaker, said that the Government had been elected without predicting victory. The Labour-MMM alliance was supposed to win, and win all the seats. The cobbled together Lepep Alliance got the votes against the Labour-MMM, and not in favour of themselves. They did not even have time to agree on a program before the elections, so were effectively elected without one; they had just a shopping list of 12 items.
This lack of a program, she said, threw them into the hands of the big capitalists and land-owners, who suffering from the shrinking price of sugar, came up with a further extension of the land-speculation rip-off in the form, this time, of Smart Cities. The Lepep Government adopted this. And that is the danger.
We, ordinary people and even those of us with constant political thinking, ignored the IRS/ERS strategy. The gated communities were out-of-sight, hidden away in cane-fields. We all made the mistake of ignoring these grotesque, destructive “developments”. She said, our relationship with them is a bit like people in Germany’s relationship with concentration camps; they knew they were there, but somehow managed to ignore them. But now we have already had Warning Class I and II, and ignored them, she said using the cyclone-warning metaphor. It is now Warning Class III. We cannot ignore it any longer. Some projects like those in Baie du Cap and Le Morne are coming down into the heart of villages, with clear intent to eradicate the entire village. We can no longer ignore it.
What has happened is that the State and the bosses have got together and destroyed tens of thousands of jobs, instead of converting them, she said. They have, criminally, spent all the Capital provided by Europe in order for the Mauritian State to “re-structure the economy” after the protection for the sugar regime became illegal under World Trade Organization rules, in order to subsidise the sugar bosses in order to destroy employment. Over the past generation, 50,000 permanent jobs has shrunk to 3,500 in sugar. Labourers have been hounded out of jobs on the land, quite literally with the heavy-handed “Voluntary Retirement Schemes” literally bribing them to get the job closed down. The Trade unions are in such disorder and decline, so wrapped up in bureaucratic procedures set up by the State, that they have been part-and-parcel of this operation, and still are.
And the Government has NO plan for job creation. This Smart Cities (and other land speculation) strategy does not aim to create employment. It aims instead at making profits through windfall gains – for the bosses. Jobs that have been created by IRS and RES, once construction is over, are for work as servants.
LALIT, she said, proposes that the Government immediately stops all the PDS and Smart Cities permits. Halt them all, she said. And pass laws so that the land-owners are obliged over the course of 7 years, to re-organize their sugar plantations so that they free up inter-lines for food production in the totality of the sugar cane land. And this has to go hand-in-hand with the setting up of food preserving and transforming plants all over the island, so that the first harvest has an industrial buyer. If the sugar bosses do not want to employ labourers, they must cede the inter-lines to “land-renters”. If they do not want to set up food preserving and processing plants, the Government must do so with the resources of the estates. This way there will be labourers’ jobs, factory jobs, research jobs, insurance jobs, jobs in transportation and marketing, in all manner of intellectual pursuits. This will be proper job creation on a massive scale, instead of the abject politics of promoting emigration on a circular basis, the Lepep policy. This way there will be food security and even foreign exchange on a long-term basis.
This way, she said, we have a proper political strategy for four simple and essential pillars:
- The land
- A roof over one’s head
This way, we can put a stop to the new kind of “colonization” that we just are beginning to feel the pain of.
It is a kind of colonization just like Israel’s colonization of Palestine: force people off jobs on the land, rich people from abroad buy up land, there are gated communities with armed guards, communities that are linked to each other by motorways. Meanwhile, we the people live, like Aborigines, in the interstices of their lives, seeking out a livelihood however we can get it. The settler colony model, based on genocide, as still perpetrated by Israel on Palestine, is now generalizing to other countries, like Mauritius. And when we seek dignified conditions, we are told to go work abroad, as is already the case for tens of thousands of Mauritian working people, as cut-price workers in Europe and Canada. Then, workers by the tens of thousands, as is already the case, are brought in from Bangladesh, India and Madagascar, to work at cut-price rates here. Slavery-like and indenture-like patterns of labour-transfer – also reminiscent of the earliest centuries of colonization – are back.
Lindsey Collen said that the word “colonization” is not exaggeration. IRS and RES buyers from abroad qualify for Permanent Residence. Smart City investors qualify for nationality. So Nationality is not what you are born, or something you acquire through long residence or through marriage. It is for sale. “The scope of Government plans is clear from the architect Gaetan Siew who is in charge of Smart Cities for the State: he estimates that there will be 150,000 people from abroad.” The Smart Cities aim to attract professional elites working in IT, as well as the super-rich. She read a list of the 17 applications already in for Smart City permits and “tax gifts”. It reads like a list of sugar estates, she said. That explains all.
When Ragini Kistnasamy opened debate to the floor, there was a silence as people thought about the enormity of the Government’s strategy, and of the Government’s simply not considering “the people” at all in its plans.
Then, a participant said that with a Government like the Lepep one, and an Opposition like the present one, there seems certainly no hope in those two, on the political front, and he said it is a political issue. He agreed that the situation was extremely serious. LALIT leading member Ram Seegobin, in rejoinder, said from the floor that the Government has no other strategy for job-creation or land utilization than this one, and the Opposition criticizes only the Heritage City part and remains completely silent on the sugar estate land speculation deals that cover the whole of the Mauritius Island.
And this set the stage for debate on the political issues and how to stop the Government’s selling off and destruction of land.
The meeting ended at 9pm. Anyone wanting to organize a neighbourhood meeting to join in this campaign, can contact us in LALIT.