Over the past week-end, LALIT has held two successful regional assemblies, as a pivot from the Joint Committees between LALIT and Housing Estate Inhabitants in some 50 areas of Mauritius over the past 6 months, and ongoing political work. The meetings were also responding to a demand from people in many of these areas to join LALIT, as a party.
Assembly in Curepipe
The first regional assembly was held in Curepipe Friday 2 November, public holiday to commemorate the end of indenture, and presided by Rajni Lallah. It was in the setting of her new upstairs hall, with well-nigh perfect acoustics, and the warm feeling of a music room. Some 30 people from the South and East were present. Rajni gave an introduction on all the politikay that predominate in the press and on radio stations, and said how, in our Assembly, we will look below and beyond these issues, as well as at these issues.
Assembly in Port Louis
The second, attended by people from the West and the North was held on Sunday 4 November at party headquarters in Port Louis in the LPT Hall, presided by Ram Seegobin, and there were some 40 people present. There were people from far afield, Grand Gaube and Goodlands, Tamarin and Riambel, Souillac and Mahebourg, Bambous and Petite Riviere, as well, of course, as from Port Louis, Rose-Hill, Vacoas, Curepipe, Beau Bassin. Ram Seegobin said how many people present for the first time have come straight from the housing issues and, in particular, from the serious problem of asbestos housing, and how behind these issues are other issues: who controls how money is spent in our country? Where does the power lie? With what class of people?
Ram Seegobin on Electoral Reform
In the Curepipe Assembly, Ram Seegobin said everyone is just watching for signs of alliances between the old parties: the MSM and ML, the MMM, Labour, the PMSD, and other small ones. These parties even use issues like “electoral reform” in order to concoct new alliances, that would otherwise not be possible. Look how last time Labour and the MMM came together with their koz-koze and then their New Republic idea, he said. They do not have the same way of looking at the subject that LALIT has. LALIT sees the only important thing about electoral reform is that it is as a way of possibly increasing democracy and we need to watch out that it does not decrease it! For example, there can be new Parliamentary Committees that meet permanently and that then control the Cabinet, on issues like nominations. He also spoke on the two Commissions of Enquiry, one into the ex-President, Ms. Gurib-Fakim’s abuse of power, and the other into drug trafficking, both having important political consequences. He said other cases also do: Pravind Jugnauth has his Medpoint criminal case for conflict-of-interest coming up in the Privy Council in January, and Navin Ramgoolam has a couple of criminal charges coming up next year too.
Rada Kistnasamy on the Land Question and Sugar Cane Lame Duck
At both meetings, Rada Kistnasamy gave a brief introduction on how the LALIT campaign to control the land and sea of the country is going. He placed this firmly in the context of the Pravind Jugnauth Government’s doomed policy of continuing to finance the failing cane and sugar industry, even as this gobbles up more and more public funds. In the past, he said, it had already literally hogged all the European union “accompanying measures” of capital grants for supposedly restructuring the whole economy for restructuring this dratted, dying industry. As he put it, the Government obsession with saving sugar cane at all costs made some sense in the days when it was assuring employment for 50,000 people, providing the Export Tax money for public funds, and ensuring foreign exchange: it now employs at most 5,000 workers, pays no tax, and the industry is now covering its debt by simply selling the country’s “jewels” – the very land of the country – to all manner of millionaires from all over the world, who set up rich man’s no-go ghettoes. In answer to a question in the Curepipe assembly as to what AKNL’s (Aret Kokin Nu Laplaz) struggle represents, there was some debate on sources of funding of organizations in Aret Kokin Nu Laplaz – they are funded by competing hotels, when they attack for example Le Chaland Hotel Project, their flagship campaign, and so represent vested interests, which undermines their credibility – and they always drum up a lot of media support for struggles that are marginal, in comparison to the struggle to control the totality of the land privately owned and wantonly wasted sugar estate land. No-one brought up the fact, which is also relevant, that AKNL has never replied to repeated public accusations of its forgery in AKNL submissions to the Environment Tribunal in their flagship case.
Kisna Kistnasamy on Chagos and Diego Garcia
Kisna Kistnasamy, also in both meetings, spoke on where we are today in the Chagos struggle – that is to say how finally the Government, while putting a case before the ICJ, and while finally uniting with the people displaced from Chagos, is still persisting in welcoming the USA’s military base on Diego Garcia. In answer to an interesting question raised from the floor in the Port Louis meeting as to how it came about that Theresa May could re-new the lease on Diego Garcia, when it is before the ICJ, the debate moved on to the way it is, in the final analysis, the balance of forces that decides international law issues, and that to some extent “might is right” still holds. However, all depends on much larger geopolitical issues, as well as on our struggles and even the Mauritian State’s case: when Britain decolonized Mauritius, it held on to 60 individual islands of Chagos which are part of Mauritius, and this was a time when the British state was bankrupt and withdrawing in disorder from all its colonies, ceding Diego Garcia to the USA’s military; today, in turn, it was said in the debate, the USA’s military power, its hundreds of overseas bases included, is threatened by the US economy being in dire straits: both the balance of payments and the Government debt are out of control. This disarray is one of the phenomenon that produced a leader with fascist tendencies like Donald Trump. So, the thief of the Islands, the UK, has re-newed the lease to the receiver of stolen goods, the USA, out of sheer might. But they have sacrificed the high moral ground, and this will come to haunt them later.
Lindsey Collen on Housing and Land Use
Lindsey Collen spoke in both meetings on the housing issue, and how hiding behind the urgent problem of asbestos housing, and now exposed, is the issue of Government’s display of complete ignorance in claiming that 9 out of 10 Mauritians are home-owners. The question put by Statistics Mauritius is all wrong. They ask, “Do you pay rent?”, she explained, and when you say “No”, and they see you are not a squatter, they put you down as a proud home-owner. In most working class families, and maybe in as many as ¾ of them, the reality is very different. With the absurd “forced heirs” laws that date from the Code Napoleon left over from French colonization, the deeds for small houses are now still in the name of long-dead fathers and grandfathers. Once Government washed its hands of social housing and sold off housing estate houses to individuals, this worsened things by pushing thousands more families into this already bad situation in the working class. In addition, when Housing Minister at the time, Jayen Cuttaree, finally closed down the CHA altogether in 1992, the Government stopped building proper social housing, and resorted to a two-tiered system: loans and a housing system that is run on profit-lines, on one side, and for those too poor to qualify, NEF housing, which has so far been a disaster, on the other side. With the real estate market pushing land prices up, the “lakaz zeritye” problem, has crept further and further up into the middle classes.
Alain Ah-Vee and Kreol as Mother Tongue
Alain Ah-Vee, in both assemblies, spoke on why it is that LALIT puts so much emphasis on the question of the Kreol Language – in schools, in Parliament, and everywhere. And how come it is that LALIT is the only party to do this. He attributed it to the fact that we believe that the mother tongue is our means, not just of communication, but of thinking. It is our means of analysing reality. It is our means of, together, working out what programme of action could change this reality, and make it more like what we agree the future should be like. On a more practical point, he said that it is LALIT members and others in LPT, that have handed the Speaker a copy of the Standing Order in Kreol, Stennding-orderz, when the Prime Minister said that there were “technical issues” outstanding that were the only obstacle to Kreol being used in Parliament as one of the languages. Instead of giving a time-line and a deadline, the Prime Minister just hides behind vague statements about technical issues. Well, one technical issue is the Standing Orders – and because of the action of LPT and LALIT members, it is no longer an issue!
Rajni Lallah on the two Commissions of Enquiry
At the Port Louis assembly, Rajni Lallah took up the issues Ram covered at the Curepipe Assembly, and spoke on the burning issue of Jugnauth’s Electoral Reform, which she saw as “for the form” and not having a hope of getting the three-quarter majority necessary. She also spoke about the political fall-out from the two Commissions of Enquiry. The Ex-President, being inexperienced, she said, fell right into the trap set for her by businessman-NGO, Alvaro Sobrinho. The former President then ended up using a credit card given by an NGO, Planet Earth Institute, for buying around a million rupees worth of jewellery, make-up and clothing. Supposedly by mistake. And the Drug Traffic Commission of Enquiry fell very much into the old pattern of more and more repression, even as repression gives more power to existing mafia.
Both Assemblies had interesting debate from the floor. And both ended in small groups planning neighbourhood meetings in all the different areas for the next month. Some are existing branches and others will be new embryonic branches.
Both Assemblies ended with something to drink. In Curepipe, the branch had prepared home-made lemon grass tea – chilled and off-the-shelf, sugared and without sugar. In Port Louis, bergamot juice was served, as well as coffee and all kinds of tea. People then chatted together, making a lot of nice noise and bursting into laughter, everyone talking about everything under the sun.