A few days ago I was in a cafe in downtown Toronto. It was a beautiful summer day, Canadians and visitors alike enjoying the afternoon. Then, to my amazement I heard a couple of people talking about the gruesome murder of Lara Rijs. These people had just returned from Mauritius and vowing never to visit again for fear of their lives. In July, it was the murder of Janice Farman that made headlines, weeks later, Lara met with the same fate. My sympathies to their families and friends. The country is being described as the “death destination”. Sadly, paradise island is losing its reputation. A nation that is building its economy on the tourist industry, is being asked if it can assure the safety of visitors. There have been several incidents in the past twelve months that have targeted overseas visitors, incidence of robbery, theft, sexual assault and scam on the beaches that have tarnished the image of Mauritius overseas. It is not pleasant to hear the negative comments on a country that has built its reputation of being a safe place to live in.  From paradise island to drug trafficking centre and crime destination, what has gone wrong?
The simple answer is a breakdown of law and order. Mauritius now reminds me of tourist destinations that once had to deal with the safety of visitors. Islands like Jamaica has taken measures to reduce crime. Bali, another popular tourist spot, is enforcing laws to curb down crime and drug trafficking. It seems that Mauritius is unable to protect its own citizens, let alone visitors, as the rate of crime mounts. Just open the daily newspapers, and one gets the picture of where this society is heading. To begin with, one has to accept that there is a serious problem of law and order. It does not help if one denies it and continues to throw statistics to prove otherwise.
The MPF
There have been calls and proposals to address the breakdown of law and order in the country; progress has been slow. The results are staggering. It has been almost six years since Michaela Harte was brutally murdered. I understand the investigation is still going on. Policing in Mauritius has failed. If one is serious about reforms, this is where we start. One has to examine the police force and how it enforces law and order. The leadership within the force has to be examined and a major clean-up operation within the force is immediately required. A police force brings confidence to the people and provides protection to its citizens. The Mauritian Police Force must be trained and equipped to deal with the type of crimes that are common in the country. The police should employ professionals such as criminologists, psychologists, counsellors, and community officers who are not from the force. These are trained professionals who work with the force and the public institutions. The police training program and its curriculum must be reviewed.
The level of corruption is very high in Mauritius that impedes on the proper enforcement of the law. Public institutions are characterised by incompetence and mismanagement. There is a lack of trust by the public to deal with officials, who often give conflicting advice. What is being done to get rid of corruption? While there are instruments in place, the result is not that convincing. To an outsider, many who still holding public offices should have been removed on charges of corruption, mismanagement, conflict of interest, etc. If the system is not enforcing the law as it should, the level of trust in the justice system goes down. The justice system protects the citizen and the victims of crime. It is the lifeline of a democracy.
All sorts of reports exist on different aspects of crime, law and order. More could be commissioned in the future. Each government that comes to power proposes its own commission.  But to what purpose? Reports and studies made recommendations, but if they are not implemented, they are useless. In the same way, there are numerous experts giving advice on disruptive behaviour in schools, but the problem is getting worse. Crime among youth, especially petty crime and theft, is rising. Is it a school problem or a societal problem? Many believe that there is also a breakdown of moral values that are contributing to crime. Problems within the family are evident. Crime is a societal problem and it has to be dealt with at all levels of society. From white-collar crime to petty theft, a partnership is needed with all the stakeholders. In schools, parents must be engaged and become more active in the education of their children. Schools alone cannot deal with disruptive behaviour or improper discipline.
At the political level, a strong leadership is called for. Unfortunately, when senior officials show public tantrums or make abusive remarks, they add to a compounding problem. The country needs good leadership, role models and citizens that can restore trust, confidence and loyalty, which in turn strengthen citizenship and moral conduct. Many young Mauritians are disenchanted by what they see in public from their elected officials. Youth unemployment is high and those unable to get proper unemployment often become petty criminals and victims of crime. People need proper employment with a decent salary, adequate housing and better social services. There are pockets of underdeveloped regions in Mauritius, which are neglected. The focus is on smart cities for the wealthy. How often is there a national debate on poverty, youth unemployment and health, and how these are related to crime? To find solutions, these are areas that have to be addressed and ensure that the public is engaged. Leaving it to a few experts and incompetent bureaucrats will not resolve the problem of law and order in the country.
London in the 1970s
It reminds me of places like London in the 1970s, which faced a crisis of law and order, in which policing was central. The inner parts of London were marked by violence and people were scared to go in some areas of the city. Strong measures had to be taken to deal with the crisis. A major clean-up operation of the inner city started, with new policing measures. Education authorities, local councils, social services, and the police worked together to find solutions. I sat on a committee to deal with growing violence. There was a commitment by all the stakeholders to ensure the safety of the citizens. It took us a long time to deal with the problems. The task was not easy. As London was “burning”, we set out our long-term goals. New approaches to policing evolved, community leaders mobilised, and the media threw its support to find common grounds. The public needed confidence, and our task was to restore that confidence. Unless there is a well-defined plan of action, with resources and qualified and competent personnel, the task will remain daunting. For a small island like Mauritius, the problem should not be that complicated. At times, one feels the lack of commitment and desire to change. While there is plenty of talk and commentaries made, the situation is not improving.
Immediate action is necessary to restore the confidence of the public. To all the overseas visitors who are thinking of making Mauritius their next destination, the authorities must ensure that they are safe. A few token gestures and political speeches made with rage and anger, will not lead anywhere. The murder of Lara is fresh on everybody’s mind. Will the investigation take years as in the case of Michaela? One hopes not. A national campaign against crime and violence must be organised, which becomes a voice for the people calling for immediate action and reforms within the police and the legal system.
The headlines that dominate local newspapers are not indicating that the rate of crime is going down. On the contrary, it seems that the society is becoming more violent. The types of crime that are reported daily show an increased level of brutality and violence. Then there is also police brutality. To someone who is thinking of visiting, Mauritius could sound scary and unwelcoming. The nation as a whole must mobilise to change this image. Political speeches will not do. It is time to get real and serious. A major clean-up is needed immediately. The victims of crime need to see justice. Mauritians need better protection. Tourists and visitors must feel comfortable. Those taking a leisurely walk on the beach, should not worry about safety. Who is leading by example? I have yet to see someone taking the lead. The fight against crime must concern everyone. Most of all, the public institutions must be involved. The image of Mauritius is tarnished, serious efforts must be made to portray the country as a safe destination.