Weekly (Port Louis)

29 October 2012

Mauritius: Becoming Rich at the Expense of the State


Allow me to steer you away, if I may, from this talk about electoral reform the scale of which, you will concede, has been blown well out of proportion.  Allow me also to steer you away from the PRB talk, a folklore exercise which yields the same results every time. If our top civil servants are happy with their increase, good for them.

Will this lead them to perform better and become more accountable? Not if past experience is to go by.

More than the people who represent us in our national assembly, more than the salaries and dazzling benefits of some of our top civil servants and those who hold the levers of power, I would like to focus on things which intentionally or unintentionally get drowned and almost forgotten. As our politicians dangle the carrot of progress, the PRB has given the workers on the lowest rung of the social ladder a symbolic increase which will not change their lives.

In this context, I was wondering whatever happened to the Declaration of Asset Act? You know, that act which would allow us to have the same transparency that they have in more advanced democracies. Anything you have earned through your hard work is something you should have no problem bringing out in the open. So, what exactly happened to this Act?

Sitting in our national assembly today are a few honourable members and holding the levers of state power are some top civil servants who have benefi tted greatly from the "sacrifice" they have been making; that of servi pays and all the privileges that go with such a great "sacrifice". Some of them have acquired wealth at the expense of the hard-working citizens of this country and some have benefitted from state land, for themselves and their relatives. As these honourable members go and relax in their massive bungalows paid for by the taxpayer, I wonder whether they have thought of those who have to dig deep in their threadbare pockets to be able to see the colour of the sea and touch the blue gold which is becoming more and more of a rarity.

When they and their in-laws build hotels on the choicest spots of the coastline, do they even think about how quickly they have contributed to dilapidating the wealth of the nation?

The colleagues of those who have become rich at the expense of the state are just as guilty. They may not be as corrupt but they are sitting and watching this happen. Instead of asking the right questions in parliament, they waste their time and ours concentrating on massage parlours, absenteeism in schools and other trivial issues.

Seriously, are these the biggest problems that threaten the integrity of our country?

To those honourable members, I take the liberty of quoting below an extract from The Declaration of Assets Act 1991: apart from members declaring everything they own, "the declaration shall, in relation to children of age, specify any property sold, transferred or donated to each one of them in any form or manner."

I would like to see this apply to all those who are involved with public money, including some who are permanently sitting on our national boards thanks to patronage. Let us refocus the debate. If members of our communities are corrupt or are benefi tting from undue advantages, in what way can that make us feel better?

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