One thing is certain: we are in an electoral year. In only 11 months’ time, the National Assembly will stand dissolved if elections have not been called. Yet, everything is suspended, waiting. How can alliances even begin to be negotiated when we don’t know who will be doing negotiations?
MSM and Labour without Leaders?
What does judgment in the appeal to the Privy Council hold in store for MSM’s leader Pravind Jugnauth in his Medpoint case due on 15 January? Badinn or menot? ICAC’s scrambling to Jugnauth’s aid means that the Prime Minister is worried sick it may be menot. If it is, who will lead the MSM? Nando Bodha? SAJ? What fate awaits Labour leader Navin Ramgoolam in two criminal cases, Roches Noires and kofor? If he is found guilty in either, who will lead Labour? Arvin Boolell? For lack of proper political programs, it’s as if the police, prosecutors and judges are defining the pro-capitalist parties’ political strategies instead. What a confusing way to start a New Year.
MMM and PMSD weakened, both
Meanwhile, the MMM continues to weaken inexorably, and this since the 1981 Boodhoo alliance. Bérenger’s only hope is that, if there are no alliances, a three-way split might save him. The PMSD – after Xavier Duval’s delusions of becoming Prime Minister ended when his candidate came 5th amongst opposition parties in his own constituency in the 2017 bye-election – is playing the anachronistic role of zoli mamzel awaiting a suitor, to quote their own spokesman.
And as all these guys fiddle, Rome burns.
Death Throes of Sugar Industry
The sugar cane industry continues to hog all the good land, while cane is actually running at a loss. Government goes on pouring subsidies into these companies and a lame duck industry.
Real Estate: Strategy for Disaster
To ward off bankruptcy, the companies see no other strategy than to sell-off the finest agricultural land as real estate. This means concrete villas for millionaires and endless golf courses eating up land and water – in a land-hungry and water-thirsty country. These real estate scams, too, are subsidized by Jugnauth to the tune of literally billions of Rupees.
This disaster is what the people of Mauritius have to sort out, collectively. These are the issues that political parties must take on in 2019.
Economists finally wake up, politicians not yet
At long last, most economists are worried about the economy not producing anything. From Mr. Basant Roi to Mr. Dinan, from MCB Focus to UK’s Economist Intelligence Unit. The little growth there actually is, they agree, is not sustainable. The fact now being recognized is that there is no new production. The statistics are being used to mask this.
Metro Express: Shakes Balance of Payments
Even Metro Express, another one-off enterprise, means massive imports of steel and other materials, no exports at all. Jobs in it, are temporary.
People left without work
There is no proper employment in the country. The land and the sea that is ours to look after have got outside of political control. The owners of land and of capital do as they please. The Government aids and abets them. Big capitalists, like sugar estates and banks, just take their capital outside the country, to where workers are “cheaper”. Nearly half of workers in work in Mauritius now, work for small businesses, where 80% go bankrupt within four years of being set up, and where work conditions are outside any labour law. Mauritian young people are forced to flee to work as foreign employees all over the globe – technicians, unskilled workers, musicians, nurses, accountants, doctors, brick-layers, plumbers, you name it. Bosses, meanwhile, bring in workers, indenture-style, for the few industries left: these workers are “dependable” for they have no funerals to go to, nor weddings, they need no time-off to accompany a child on the first day of school, no leave for nights spent in hospital with a sick baby, and if workers should fall pregnant, or dare go on strike, well, they are simply repatriated. Mauritian workers abroad, like Bangladeshi workers here, are workers without full political rights.
Trump will rescind AGOA?
Now, with Trump in office in the USA, the privileges that Mauritian textile capitalists get through AGOA risk cancellation. Their spokesman Mr. Vigier de la Tour is worried.
Food Security in times of crisis
Meanwhile, food security is nil. This, even as the world teeters towards new crises – nuclear war, societal collapse through economic crashes, environmental disasters – that can threaten food imports.
Housing crisis worsens
The housing crisis deepens as more and more heirs inherit smaller and smaller shares in a house on an already tiny bit of land originally owned by a now-dead grandfather. The Government, in its official statistics, defines as “home-owners” all these families, thus masking the problem.
So, what does LALIT propose?
That the Government must:
1. Prohibit the selling-off of sugar estate land as real estate and prevent concreting of arable land.
2. Put a stop to selling land on the international market, like New Zealand is.
3. Separate the markets for agricultural land and other land in the country.
4. Rescind contracts with multi-national companies fishing in Mauritian waters.
5. create a Ministry of Economic Planning that will work on how to:
a) Force big land owners to invest in food-preserving and processing factories, while also forcing them to free up the totality of their cane interlines for agricultural diversification, and to take on workers for both sectors. Each factory (e.g. sun flower and peanuts for oil, canning for beans, maize, rice, tomatoes, peas, soya, etc.) must be ready to buy up any excess in the first harvest in these interlines, thus stabilizing prices for planters. All kinds of employment can be created: agricultural, industrial, in transport and marketing abroad and in research.
b) Organize capital investment in fishing vessels.
c) Plan to build housing with a legal framework like the CHA had. Some housing can be alongside agricultural production, which can diversify agriculture on abandoned cane fields – thus creating jobs and giving housing.
If the Government won’t act, we, the people must make it act. If the capitalists invest in things that impoverish the masses of the people, they must be made to hand over their land.
Problems Caused by Unemployment
The unemployment and under-employment crisis, as well as the housing crisis, in turn bring serious social problems. For a start there is the very real drugs problem. Pravind Jugnauth has nothing to offer but repression and police surveillance. He set up a Commission of Enquiry which has backfired on him politically, costing him a Minister, a Deputy Speaker and his own lawyer in the key Medpoint case. Instead of looking at the trend abroad towards decriminalizing gandia, and simultaneously getting the health care system to take care of those dependent on opiates, Jugnauth persists with his fines, jails, cameras and repressive laws. Even the USA, inventor of the catastrophic war-on-drugs strategy, has abandoned it. Half U.S. states have legalized gandia, and all are addressing the opiates crisis. In Mauritius, alcohol consumption has been further criminalized under Jugnauth. Four working men can’t drink a beer over dominoes under a tree anymore. They get fined. They risk their sertifika moralite. Now, you cannot drive after a beer anymore. Fines and jail follow. Jugnauth always turns to repression. Yet, there are unintended consequences to this, in turn. Men turn to undetectable “synthetic” drugs. Those who can’t afford restaurants, drink in someone’s house. This in turn increases risks of domestic violence, even sexual abuse of children, as the women’s movement has signalled. So, social problems caused by unemployment engender further problems.
Not Repression but People’s political action
It is time for us all to turn to proper political organization in a party that develops around a program and that operates at grassroots as well as national level. People must reject Jugnauth’s proposals for government funding of, and control over, political parties. We must realize that movements like that in Tahir Square in Cairo and the Gillets Jaunes lack a genuine, democratically set up, political party to guide people’s demands forward. It is not enough to desann dan lari and hope for the best. Just as it is not enough to wait around for a general election. We need to think together, constantly build a shared platform, and act with this common understanding as our guide.
This is what 2019 calls for. As everything will suddenly speed up once the Medpoint case is judged, and we head for elections, we need to demand political programs on the basic issues: How the land must be used. How the sea used. How work and housing must be organized for all. Full rights for workers from abroad! Freedom not repression! These are the issues that are the very minimum for a program to be a program.
Ram Seegobin & Lindsey Collen
for LALIT 10 Jan 2019.
First published under the title, The Year Ahead in Le Mauricien of 11th January, 2019.