OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER Are Agaleans full or second-class citizens of the Republic of Mauritius?


Retour: Nouvelles Locales

L'Express

Tribune
Mardi 30 décembre 2003
No - 14922

OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER
Are Agaleans full or second-class citizens of the Republic of Mauritius?
Anticipating Paul Bérenger’s visit to Agalega at mid-January to look into the problems of the inhabitants, the author points hereunder certain aspects related to the islands.

I GATHER, from newspapers reports, that you are contemplating to introduce some reforms for the "émancipation politique et démocratique des habitants d’Agalega". Apparently, you have the choice of two formulas to implement these reforms :

a) having a representative from Agalega sit on the Outer Island Development Corporation (OIDC) Board; or

b) having some sort of elected Island Council.

a) having a "local", of comparatively less strong personality, sit amid the experienced political nominees forming the OIDC Board is worth less to nothing. These strong-headed, politically-biased, always intriguing Mauritian dinosaurs would soon over-awe, intimidate, overrule and bulldoze any progressive or revolutionary ideas coming from the "local".

b) Even if this second formula seems more promising, it would turn out to be a mere show of supposed-democracy, if the Island Council has to go through the OIDC with all its recriminations and proposals. This formula could only be effective and bring forth some real "political and democratic emancipation", if the Council would be free to forward its submissions direct to the Ministry concerned. Let this Council function as an independent body, without any outside control from the Board.

Before opting for either of these formulas, it is reported, that you intend very wisely to visit the Islands early next year, and see de visu the problems of the inhabitants and the near semi-slavery condition they are forced to live in. Perhaps you would be kind enough not to consider me too impertinent to suggest that you include the following, which I am sure, the Officials would take every care to hide from you in your agenda during your visit to Agalega.

1) Why Agaleans, contrary to their fellow-citizens in Mauritius, are not allowed to acquire ownership of private immovable property? Why they can never dream of having some place they can call their own home? Why are they shifted from one dwelling to another at the whim of OIDC Management?

2) Why are Agaleans compelled to work for OIDC, doing what, they are very well aware, are soul-shrivelling unproductive tasks? Why can’t they be free to choose their own vocation; doing something productive, something satisfying, of their own choosing? Possibilities are not lacking : small animals-vegetables farming, artisanal fishing, handicrafts, small trades and commerce etc. Their know-how, coupled with traditional "débrouillardise", is there in bakery, tailoring, shoe-making, mechanics, carpentry and "ferronnerie", in running beauty parlours, video-clubs and a lot more.

3) Because they are not given the opportunity to contribute to the economy of the Republic – through no fault of theirs – why are Agaleans treated by their mauritian counterparts as "un peuple assisté"? Why are they constantly called unproductive parasites, living off the labours of Mauritians? Why are they refused the dignity of considering themselves as full citizens of the Republic of Mauritius? With equal duties towards the Motherland; and equal rights like Mauritian-born citizens?

4) Your Minister of Social Security, who incidentally is the elected representative of Agalega in our National Assembly, seems to ignore that people of this island do get old and retired. They should have been entitled to some sort of retirement pension. What they get, after 30-40 years of loyal service, is at the most a meagre Rs 40 000 as compensation from their employer, OIDC. As inactive persons, no longer in the employment of the all powerful Corporation, they become no longer entitled to any housing facilities. Either they beg refuge from some generous neighbours or they simply get deported to unwelcoming Mauritius?

5) Do you know that there is no potable water in Agalega? The inhabitants have to collect rain-water for consumption; and rely on underground slightly salty water for washing, bathing and other domestic use. Such water is found at scarcely six feet below the porous sandy soil. Any impurities in the soil is easily drained into the underground water-nappe which water, it is important to repeat, is used for cooking of food, dish washing, laundry, bathing and even – when there is prolonged drought – for drinking purposes. And it is rumoured that you are giving permission to some greedy Mauritian entrepreneurs to "develop" vegetables cultivation on large scales in such a porous soil which would equate to heavy addition of chemical fertilizers and all types of poisonous herbicides and pesticides which in turn would equate to poisoning this domestically consumed underground water.

6) As you will yourself discover, Agalega is a green, pollution-free paradise. Our Republic possesses there a real jewel. Its faune and flora treasure some very rare, even I am told, some unique species. Till now ignored relics and ruins of our slave-period History abound there. Are we, in the name of "development", going to uglify this Eden of beauty, destroy into oblivion a part of our historical heritage? If development of Agalega is a must, can’t we set down strict limits to that development that would safeguard the natural beauty of the island, preserve its fauna and flora and its unpolluted environment and protect the vestiges of our past History found there?

I apologize for this longish letter, but I felt it necessary to bring to your attention certain aspects related to Agalega before your visit there.


Jagdish SEEBARUTH


"If development of Agalega is a must, can’t we set down strict limits to that development that would safeguard the natural beauty of the island, preserve its fauna and flora and its unpolluted environment..."