At the LALIT symposium held in Grand River North West on 30 and 31 July, Rajni Lallah presented a paper entitled “Love Bridge and Ecobridge: Bridges to Where?” This is the first part of her talk on the Love Bridge project (translated into English).
A bridge is a means to cross from one point to another. It implies that there is a void in-between or some kind of barrier that makes it very difficult for someone to cross over from one point to another point.
What kind of a bridge is the “Love Bridge” the capitalist class and the Government are jointly proposing? On one side, they see “the poor”. They define “the poor” as being some 6,400 households living on less than Rs6,200 revenue a month (now increased to some Rs9,520 for a family of two adults and 3 children that they propose to classify on a “social register”). On the other side, they see “ordinary people”, that is, those who live well enough, or at least, are able to survive, within the capitalist system. The “barriers” that they see need to be bridged are lack of education, housing, health, work and what they call “attitude”. They see “the bridge” as being “love” that private companies, and the rich have for “the poor”.
They admit that there are barriers in society, barriers that need to be bridged for survival. These barriers are the results of the class inequality that the capitalist system engenders. Yet they do not question this system that produces poverty. All they see the need for, is a bit of love from the rich to bridge the gap that the poor are up against in a system ridden with class inequality.
The “Love Bridge” idea comes from Harold Mayer, CEO of CIEL Textiles Ltd. He has publicly stated that he proposed the idea in a “National Empowerment Foundation” (NEF) meeting in 2012. A pilot project was started in Curepipe, and project went “national” in 2015. That was when the first Lepep government Finance Minister (there have been 3 in the space of 18 months) allocated Rs100 million for Love Bridge's national start-up.
There was a big scandal about this money in the National Assembly in May this year (Hansard No. 08 of 2016) when it was discovered that this money had been allocated with no conditions attached. None whatsoever. The Finance Ministry was unable to answer how public money allocated to Love Bridge was being spent. And that the private sector had only contributed Rs2 million in kind (not even in cash). So it comes as no big surprise that in his budget speech, Finance Minister Pravind Jugnauth (the 3rd Lepep Finance Minister in 18 months) carefully avoided making any reference whatsoever to Love Bridge.
What is the money for?
If you think that this money is to go into developing education, housing, health, job creation for “the poor”, think again. It looks as though a big proportion of this money is to go into employing Love Bridge staff. The Love Bridge infrastructure looks like a real “Ministry”, working parallel to State Ministries. With loads of staff (Love Bridge is presently recruiting a batch of 400 social workers). And without anyone elected heading it.
In fact Love Bridge is described by its website as being a “subsidiary” of “Business Mauritius”, the new re-branded name of the “Mauritius Employers Federation”. Finance Minister Lutchmeenaraidoo revealed in the National Assembly that Love Bridge is registered as, believe it or not, a private company (Hansard No. 41 of 2015, No. B/959). So it is run just like other private companies, by a national “Board”. In this Board, there is naturally Harold Mayer himself, Raj Makoond and Pradeep Dursun (heads of the capitalist organisations JEC and MEF), Hector Espitalier Noel (CEO of Mon Desert Sugar Estate), Jacques d'Unienville (CEO of Ominicane sugar estate), Anil Currimjee of the Currimjee group of companies, Dean Ah-Chuen of the ABC group of companies, ex-free zone association president Danielle Wong, Eric Adam General Manager of SOFAP paint company, 2 representatives of the Finance Ministry and (perhaps well needed) a psychologist.
Operating under this national Board's directives, are “District Boards” that include elected representatives of the people (municipality and District Council representatives), private company representatives, NGO representatives, and the Love Bridge National Co-ordinator and District Co-ordinator.
Then there are is a whole bureaucratic apparatus with hundreds of Love Bridge employees operating in each District implementing directives of the National and District Boards towards the “poor” they have chosen to offer a bridge to – not all classified as being “poor” get access to “the bridge”.
Who gets access to Love Bridge?
The National Empowerment Foundation (NEF), a State body, is supposed to “identify” which families are poor. Then it is Love Bridge that decides which 4,000 to 8,000 of them it will offer “the bridge” to in the areas of education, housing, health, jobs and “attitude”.
Who is responsible for ensuring that basic necessities of people are met? In Mauritius, the bourgeois Welfare State is supposed to ensure that everyone has access to education, health, housing and jobs – the minimum necessary for survival. With Love Bridge Ltd, we see a shift: the State shifting responsibility for ensuring basic necessities and services for “the poor” to Love Bridge. This creates a strange situation where the State ensures basic needs for everyone but the poor!
Secondly, Love Bridge Ltd undermines another principle of the Welfare State where direct tax is imposed on companies and the rich to fund universal basic services for all to have, as a right, unconditionally.
Thirdly, although the Love Bridge idea assumes that the present capitalist system produces poverty, it also promotes the absurd idea that the capitalist class can erase the poverty that it's system creates through a “bridge of love”. If the capitalist class loves the poor so much, why perpetuate a system that produces poverty in the first place?
Feudal relations perpetuated
Fourthly, Love Bridge Ltd establishes feudal relations between people and companies or even individual rich people. Rich individuals have the power to actually choose who they will “love”. The way in which this happens is that the whole Love Bridge Ltd apparatus gets a list from the NEF of who is classified as being poor. Then Love Bridge Ltd looks for either an individual, a group of individuals, company employees (50% paid by company as “encouragement”) to “accompany” one of the households on a long-term basis. This means regular visits to the household by this individual, group, or company employees to check on whether progress is being made in terms of “attitude”, say. This also means regular visits by “social workers” checking on the household. This is blatantly repressive.
There is a documentary flaunting the merits of Love Bridge that shows one of these individuals barging into someone's home, walking around in all the rooms of the family living there. Would this person be in a position to refuse this visit from someone powerful enough to decide on whether to provide educational, housing, health, work facilities? Would this kind of behaviour being reciprocal, that is, is it conceivable for someone from the “beneficiary” household go to the home of the “benefactor”, barge in, walk around in their private domain? The documentary shows just how feudal relations between “beneficiary” and “benefactor” gets within the Love Bridge framework. This kind of feudal relation is what is described as being “love”. The rich get their own little family, and a “poor family” gets their own “benefactor” who provides for them.
Even when individuals sincerely want to express love, Love Bridge Ltd distorts this love into even more inequality.The Love Bridge Ltd framework makes a mockery of love, of kindness, of good faith.