Sheila Bunwaree

As I write this article, the government has still not made it clear as to what its response is regarding the setting up of a Land Court to address the ‘land injustice’ that Clency Harmon and a number of other fellow citizens have been victims of. And yet this was an electoral promise made by ‘L’Alliance Lepep’.

I was delegated by my party, the MMM, to bring our support to Clency Harmon. I visited him last Tuesday and again in the afternoon of Sunday 7th April. I am pained and worried to see Clency Harmon’s plight and even more so, to see the government continuing to run its affairs unperturbed. The persistent indifference of the authorities is shocking and all the more so when we see the PM, going around, pontificating about how he has a ‘conscience’ and wants to lead by example. He does not stop telling us that he is working to promote social justice and leave no one behind. But the reality on the ground is a different one. The work undertaken by the Affirmative Action group is a stark reminder of how discriminatory and unjust our society has increasingly become in the last few years. The Truth and Justice Commission (TJC) could have paved the way for a more just society and assist in healing the wounds of the past but we are well aware of how the recommendations of the TJC have been pushed under the carpet. This is perhaps why Clency Harmon lashed out at the leader of the PMSD. The latter had raised hope amongst the ‘ti-dimounn’ but with no effective follow-up action, leading to their hopes being dashed.

Land injustice

Racial and ethnic tensions, the PM should know, often arise out of injustices. Land injustice is also a very serious form of injustice. Land, needless to say, is central to getting people out of poverty, to ensuring social mobility and allow for recognition. True, the land question and related issues can be very emotive, contentious, complex and may hamper development as seen by some, but this in no way justifies the attitude of the current regime.

Perhaps there are a few lessons to learn from President Uhuru Kenyatta, on a state visit here. Kenya has successfully revised its constitution in the aftermath of its ‘Truth, Justice and Reconciliation’ Commission. Section 60 of Kenya’s constitution identifies the following as key principles informing Kenya’s land policy: (1) Equitable access to land, (2) Security of Land rights etc. The questions to ask in the Mauritian context are: Do we even have a coherent land policy? Are those whose lands have been ‘stolen’ getting justice? Can we stop the rampant land speculation deepening the chasm between rich and poor? Are all citizens treated equally when compulsory land acquisition takes place? The price one senior minister obtained for his land as compared to others in the same locality, speaks volumes about the rot in our system.

Clency Harmon, a victim of dispossession, is one of the many who deponed in front of the TJC. The latter had, amongst its various functions : ‘To enquire into a complaint other than a frivolous and vexatious complaint, made by any person aggrieved by a dispossession or prescription of any land in which he claims he had an interest’. Such dispossession may constitute what Amartya Sen calls a ‘remediable injustice’. In his book ‘The Idea of Justice’, Sen notes: ‘…What moves us reasonably enough is not the realization that the world falls short of being completely just, which few of us expect, but that there are clearly remediable injustices around us which we want to eliminate.’ But is there a will to address the remediable injustices, let alone eliminate them?

Incestuous relationships within our political system, turncoats rendered possible as a result of the persistent absence of an ‘anti-defection’ law, as well as unhealthy and immoral alliances can easily make the pursuit of justice become incoherent and difficult to sustain. A brief analysis of the Hansard debates pertaining to the setting up of a land court highlight how some voices go silent or get muffled once they cross the floor or enter into some kind of alliance.

The Mandaree Report…

In 2015, to a question put to the then Ag Prime Minister regarding the dispossession of some 42 families for which there is clear evidence, he responded: ‘… we have to realise that the committee headed by Mr Mandaree, had to look into 224 cases and another 131 cases that have come up after… if the Honourable Member has any time, he can please put himself at the disposition of these people and help them’. The sarcastic tone with which such a sensitive subject as land justice and the rights of the downtrodden were dealt with, raises some very serious questions about some of our politicians and ethical governance. Moreover, it is legitimate to ask where is the Mandaree Report.

In November 2017, an MP elected under the banner of the MMM who later joined MP and more recently returned to MSM, his ‘lakaz mama’, was initially very concerned about the plight of the victims of ‘land injustice’ as the Hansard debates testify: ‘ …I know the minister is replacing the Attorney General. My question is mainly related to the creation of a land tribunal. I do not know whether the minister is aware that, if we go back to 2016 where I put a similar question, we had the same reply whereby the master and registrar stated that the judiciary would welcome the setting up of a dedicated land tribunal. I know that a year later we do not have a time frame. Can the Hon. Minister convey to the Attorney General my worries with regard to that and if possible, inform whether the Judiciary will go ahead with the land tribunal and, if yes, what would be the time frame?’
Now that the MP has reached new heights and well protected by ‘lakaz mama’, we do not hear his voice. Some seem unable to appreciate that the fight for social justice needs to be ‘sérieuse et soutenue’, as rightfully pointed out by Paul Bérenger and which Tancrel and Cangy aptly cite and refer to, in their well-documented book ‘Spoliation des Terres’.

That land restitution, redistribution or compensation are very complex, cannot be denied. There must first and foremost be a predisposition/determination of society to acknowledge and recognize a collective moral obligation. But when leaders themselves can so easily pull out of such moral obligation; ensuring Justice and Reconciliation becomes even harder. The forthcoming general elections will be a great opportunity to cleanse the moral chaos and political rot we are entrenched in. The first step towards this is to ‘go it alone’, with a solid programme, infused by a humanist ideology. And this is exactly what we shall do! Meanwhile we call upon the authorities to act fast so that Clency Harmon’s suffering comes to an end.