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Those who read l’Express Dimanche last Sunday may have been surprised to find a feature about freemasonry in Mauritius. What is surprising to us is that masons in Mauritius have waited so long to come out of the closet. In 1984, the United Grand Lodge of England declared it was becoming an “open” organisation to dispel the myths that have grown over the years. Their website provides a great deal of information about the principles and history of freemasonry. (Try following the link to the Mauritian equivalent.)

However, this did little to allay widespread concerns over the pervasive presence of masons in positions of public trust. In 1997, a the Home Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons produced a report into masons and the judiciary. Subsequently, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, made it a legal requirement that all masons declare their membership on appointment to the police force and judiciary (including judges, magistrates, crown prosecutors, police officers, prison staff and probation officers).

Jack Straw declared: “Membership of secret societies such as freemasonry can raise suspicions of a lack of impartiality or objectivity. It is therefore important that the public know the facts. I think it is the case that the freemasons said they are not a secret society but a society with secrets. I think it is widely accepted that one secret they should not be keeping is who their members are in the criminal justice system.”

Comparing the principles of freemasonry with the practices in Mauritius reveals some disturbing discrepancies. According to the article in l’Express Dimanche, freemasons in Mauritius actively recruit people of influence in politics, law and commerce. This contrasts with standard practice where people from all walks of life are welcomed. The fact that people from every social strata, race and religion meet on equal terms as “brothers” in a lodge is one of freemasonry’s more endearing features as eulogised by Rudyard Kipling in his poem “The Mother-Lodge“. Perhaps this irregular practice in Mauritius stems from the embedded racism and elitism that is a legacy of the days of slavery. But who can be sure that there is not a more sinister motive?

Another prominent irregularity is the admission that freemasons in Mauritius will always prefer a fellow mason over a non-mason for a job or contract. While it is commendable that “brotherly love” expresses itself as helping any fellow mason in distress, it seems that this principle has been corrupted in Mauritius. Instead of only helping in times of need, they appear to be satisfying each other’s greed. Moreover, genuine freemasonry has always been concerned with the care of orphans, the sick and the aged. In addition, masons in England are openly declare that they donate large sums to national and local charities. With the combined wealth of all the masons in Mauritius, is it not surprising that such charitable giving is not more evident here?

Freemasonry is supposed to be about the inner personal development of its adherents. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to exploit the privileges of belonging to a clandestine group of influential people for one’s own selfish interests. Until the membership of freemasonry in Mauritius is made known to the public, the fears that men who lack integrity are gaining unfair advantage from “big brothers” in high places will continue to flourish.

Should it not be the case that a judge or prosecutor at least declare a potential conflict of interest when prosecuting a fellow mason for a crime? Moreover, the pervasive presence of members of a clandestine society in the executive, the legislative and judicial branches of government can lead to fears that the fundamental checks and balances of democracy could be undermined. If masons are influential in all three, how can the separation of powers be guaranteed?