The government has a responsibility to protect and a duty to care for its citizens. Anyone with an objective mind and some capacity of analysis, will tell you that the government is failing to do so. Any reasonable person, like the hundreds of people, asking relevant questions such as; ‘why was the Wakashio in our territorial waters, where were the coastguards, why couldn’t other means be deployed to make contact with the ship, why was the radar at Souillac not functioning, why did the government not pay attention to what the local communities and experts were saying, why did some say that ‘everything was under control’ when nothing was?’ are getting angry. Questions left unanswered lead to a lot frustration and anger. Opaque governance has no room in a democracy!

Those crying out their hearts on seeing the ecological disaster provoked by the Wakashio oil spill, are angry but grieving. We are angry because the current regime chooses to spend more time and energy on trying to ensure that they retain power, rather than looking into the priorities and interests of the nation. I am also very angry/disappointed at the government’s incompetence, inaction and inefficiency. This has triggered my setting up an online petition via Facebook, asking for the revocation of the Ministers of Environment and that of the Blue Economy. Any political figure who respects herself/himself and has an iota of dignity should resign. There are a number of examples of political figures, across the globe who have done so. In addition to the often cited case of the Indian Railways Minister who resigned after a major train accident, there are others who have done so on  principle and conviction.

Brazil’s Environment Minister, Marina Silva, who under the Lula government, resigned. Not because she failed the population but because of colleagues within the political class who privileged the destroying of the Amazon forest in the name of development, contrary to all her attempts and efforts to save the ‘lungs of the world’. More recently, we had the case of Nicolas Hulot who quit because of ‘inadequacy of steps to tackle climate change.’ These are people of conviction and who know that meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals regarding the environment requires that policy makers do not run away from FACTS and the TRUTH.   

Lack of expertise

Our resources are scarce, Our Commons most precious. We are not prepared to allow them go waste and be destroyed as a result of the sheer incompetence and negligence of the authorities. Mauritian born Sunil Dowarkasing refers to the 12 days of inertia by the Mauritian authorities regarding the Wakashio shipwreck as a crime against the environment. Systemic damages resulting out of this crime: citizens’ health being affected, loss of livelihoods particularly for those depending on the ocean, the risk of extinction of rare species,  destruction of marine biodiversity, the worsening ailments of the tourism industry on the heels of the corona virus with frontiers being closed, school closures with ‘disadvantaged’ children losing out even further, women informal sector workers losing their jobs and unable to bring food to the table highlight the suffering of fellow citizens.  All this trauma is certainly not an opportunity for photoshoots, or for ‘blame game’ as the Minister of Environment notes. But it certainly calls for an interrogation around whether the Mauritian state is in violation of the Right to a Clean and Safe/Healthy Environment under Articles 16 and 24 of the African Charter of People’s Rights, ratified by Mauritius. Increasingly, the nexus between a safe environment and development forms part of the International Human Rights Architecture. That the rights of the people are crushed as a result of this catastrophe is undeniable and yet this ecological disaster could have been averted, if it was not for the slackness of the government.  Establishing ‘locus standi’ to file law suits etc may be possible but would lead to a complex litigation landscape and be very time-consuming. Moreover, no compensation either from government and/or Nagashiki, the Japanese Shipping company, owning the freighter, will ever be enough to comfort the nation and remedy the damage done. The grievances of the people cannot be justly addressed even if Section 32 (a) of the Environment Protection Act, speaking to issues of compensation in cases of marine pollutants, was successfully applied. 

It is therefore in everyone’s best interests that the Minister of the Blue Economy and Fisheries and that of the Environment resign so that the risk of further mistakes be minimized. Mauritians are already in great suffering due to COVID, with the repressive and unjust laws that have been passed and now the oil spill.

A social explosion is brewing! Mauritians no longer wish to contribute to the fat salaries and privileges of incompetent and grossly negligent Ministers. And hearing the PM can only exacerbate their anger: ‘…li malere, mo bizin avoue ki nou penan lexpertiz…’. This constitutes an affront to our local/indigenous knowledge system. True, we may not have ALL the expertise required to deal with such a catastrophe but there are certainly some people, knowledgeable enough, who raised the alarm bell, acting as an Early Warning System. But the authorities chose not to pay heed, describing it as fake news. The PM shamelessly speaks of lack of expertise when his government and cronies kill meritocracy and expertise on every step of the way. The recent appointments of Dulthumun at the Museums Council and Boygah at the Mauritius Standards Bureau speak volumes about the government’s commitment to building and retaining expertise in the country.

Commenting on the oil spill, The Guardian of 7th August 2020 notes that “… a government environmental outlook released nearly a decade ago, said Mauritius had a national oil spill contingency plan but equipment on hand was ‘adequate to deal with oil spills of less than 10 metric tons’. Did ‘les assises de l’environnement’, organized with great pomp, earlier this year, evoke the question of how to upgrade the contingency plan and to build our preparedness for calamities?

Distrust of the people in this government…

The legal settlement to the Government Gazette of Mauritius no 34 of 16 April 2016 (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act) notes that ‘disaster is a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts, which exceed the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources….’ And that ‘Disaster risk reduction and management’ means a continuous and integrated multi sectoral, multidisciplinary process of planning, organising, coordinating and implanting measures aimed at – preventing and reducing the risks of disasters.’ No point in playing semantics on ‘catastrophe’ and ‘disasters’. Scholarly literature shows that they can be used interchangeably when lives and livelihoods are at stake.

Local experts saw the impending danger and risks associated with the shipwreck and the oil spilling out, but those ruling and refusing any scrutiny whatsoever, argued that ‘tout est sous contrôle’.  For 12 long days the government exhibited its inertia, contrasting starkingly with the rapidity with which medical purchases were made from Pack and Blister. Needless to say that the latter narrative has increased the distrust of the people in this government. The distrust is also leading to distress as the government leans on S 34 of the Environment Protection Act to declare an environmental emergency and decreeing certain zones as restricted areas. But standing in solidarity, the true patriots defied the authorities by their  resistance, resonating with Gandhi’s Satyagraha. They were out there in the field to save Our Ocean.

The environmental emergency on the night of 7th August, infuriated many people. Stefan Gua from Rezistans ek Alternativ reminded the PM that the country does not belong to him and to let ordinary citizens help out.  Joanna Bérenger, of the MMM, speaking out as an ordinary citizen noted that the government ‘tried to immobilize the population but the latter is fully mobilized’. Yuvan Beejadhur, former World Bank Ocean Expert notes : ‘Chaque minute que l’on perd affecte notre pays pour les jours, les semaines, les mois à venir…’ Hats off to all those coming together as ONE to try and save our Commons. We cannot thank you enough and we are with YOU! A big Thank You also to all friendly nations for their support.

By the way, does any one know where are the President and the Vice president of the Republic? They could perhaps at least assist us in rapidly getting a ‘Freedom of Information Act’,  A ‘Recall of MPs Act’and an ‘Antifloor Crossing Act’. These could go a long way in preventing potential upcoming politicians from losing credibility as well as bringing some form of morality into public life.