The NGO I work for is actually a charity that a friend and I founded at the end of 2008. Its goals include promoting human rights as well as protecting the environment, expressed as environmental stewardship and social justice. The two are fundamentally linked since the poor destroy the environment out of need and the rich destroy it out of greed. Moreover, the UN Human Rights Council has long been seeking to establish the human right to enjoy a healthy environment. My experience to date has been an exploration of what this actually means in the Mauritian context.
2. What do you understand by sustainable development?
Ideally, “sustainable development” extends the right to enjoy a healthy environment to future generations. However, development has three connotations: property development on greenfield sites, the economic development of a country and the general development of society. The first two are unsustainable insomuch as they depend on the exploitation of finite resources. Indeed “sustainable development” implies that much of our past development has been unsustainable. Since developed countries have, by definition, already engaged in significant development, it may be better for them to engage in “sustainable redevelopment” and correct the mistakes of the past. Hence, we can think of property and economic redevelopment: revitalising urban neighbourhoods and transitioning to a closed-loop economy where non-renewable resources are fully recycled.
3. What precise cause(s) have/are you fighting for?
Before engaging in confrontations we seek to collaborate and so we are often called on to advise on environmental initiatives, for example, we have contributed significantly to Maurice Ile Durable (MID). Only when this approach has failed do we engage in “fights”. Unfortunately these have not been few and far between, and we have opposed the destruction and over-exploitation of the northern islets, public beaches, wetlands and ornamental fish. While we address specific issues, we work prefer to operate at a strategic level and are currently engaged in a project to develop a strategy for Sustainable Mauritius because we have been disappointed with the evolution of MID.
4. What are the challenges to this/these cause(s)?
The main obstacles are indifference, corruption and political interference in enforcing environmental law. For example, the northern islets have been let or sublet to individuals with strong political connections. The National Audit Office and our own monitoring have revealed multiple breaches of the lease agreements but the offenders are being protected. When I made an inspection visit to Islot Gabriel I was physically assaulted and when I sought assistance from the National Coast Guards, they harassed me and stole my mobile phone on which I had recorded a witness’ account of the assault. There was no prosecution and a complaint against the coastguards went nowhere.
5. What do you think of the public response to your campaigns?
Most of our “campaigns” do not require a public response as we generally seek to force the authorities to comply with and enforce the law. Sometimes we will join other groups in marches for specific issues which seek to raise awareness but these are not our main modus operandi. We have no funds for communication, so our only channels are free ones. The internet is great and we have built up a following of some 13,500 people on FaceBook. We have recently been able to publish our views in the Forum of le Mauricien, but in general the private and state media avoid us like the plague.
6. According to you, to what extent are Mauritians ecologists?
Ecology refers to ecosystems, which are by nature very complex. Few people in the world are true ecologists in the sense that they seek to comprehensively protect their function as well as their form. In Mauritius, only a handful of people understand our terrestrial ecosystems. Much less research has been conducted on our marine ecosystems so it is doubtful that anyone properly understands them.
7. What has been your ENGO’s influence on Governmental decision up to now?
While we have had some successes, our influence in creating positive change has been disappointing. The government makes lots of “decisions”, especially with respect to the environment, but few seem to be properly implemented.
8. What are the limits of:
(a) a Mauritian ENGO’s power of action,
Theoretically the only limits are those set by our laws. At the end of the day, environmental protection can be enforced by the courts and taken to the Privy Council if necessary. The only constraint is the funds to take such legal action. However, in practice, most finance comes via the CSR Fund and if an NGO criticises the Government too much it risks losing its income. This is what happened to us in 2010 when we criticised the CSR Fund itself and since then we had to shift our work from positive interventions within the community to interventions direct with the Government.
(b) a Mauritian ENGO’s power to influence Governmental decisions,
Government decisions can be influenced in two ways: legally by forcing them to comply with law and lobbying to make them fearful of losing the next elections. While these are useful they are unsatisfactory in today’s world where participatory democracy is something that the people are beginning to expect. The public consultations in MID were steps in the right direction, but the results continue to be politically manipulated.
(c) a Mauritian ENGO’s capacity of raising ecological consciousness among Mauritians (the limits of sensitization campaigns)?
Again the limits are budget, ingenuity and the cooperation of the state and private media.
9. What do you think of the measures (Law Acts, MID project) taken by the Government of Mauritius to protect the environment? Is the Govt. doing enough?
While our environmental laws are more or less in line with international norms, protection is severely hindered by a lack of political will especially in the face of cronyism (politicians favouring their supporters). The MID project was good in principle, disappointing in practice.
10. If not, according to you what else should be done?
Incompetence, indifference and corruption within the Government needs to be eliminated through transparency, accountability and a truly independent ICAC. The MID process needs to be repeated – properly this time – including measures to change the way our democracy operates and bring a real democratisation of the economy so it serves the people instead of primarily the economic elite. In fact this is exactly what we are working on.
11. Which political party would you define as the most Green among the various political parties in Mauritius? Why?
The FSM. Its colour is green. This is the closest any political party gets.
12. (a) What do you think about the emergence of a Green political party in Mauritius?
We are in favour of participatory democracy. Political parties, by nature, are opposed to this, which is why we believe they should be eliminated from our democracy.
(b) What would you expect of such a political party?
If one existed, it could use its political platform to raise awareness amongst the public.
(c) What kind of popular support would such a party receive according to you?
Mauritian politics and the minds of the people are dominated by dynasties so it would depend who led the party. The youth are more liberated, but they are afraid of being out-spoken because of the effect on their career prospects.
13. What are the possibilities of your ENGO’s transformation into a political party? Explain your answer.
We are a charity, therefore we are unable to engage in politics. However, this does not prevent us as individuals from establishing our own party and in fact this is what we have done. But it is for the purpose of reforming the electoral system, not to promote green issues. It is the party to end all parties!
14. Considering our present economic system, how to go for green without generating more societal issues like poverty?
We are not a poor country. If we have pockets of poverty it is because we are failing to effectively redistribute wealth. The only proven way to do this is to provide the best education to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In every country the middle classes are the best at protecting the environment because they are not pre-occupied with survival, nor are they driven to accumulate more wealth. If we focussed on our quality of life rather than financial measures, we would learn to use the economy to improve the environment.
15. How can Mauritius compete on an economic level with countries like Brazil while adopting an ecologic stance?
We do not need to compete with Brazil. Anyway, we can never match their economies of scale or low labour costs. We must find niches where we can deliver goods and services of value to the world and excel in them.
16. As an ENGO, do you have solid models on which to base your work?
We are innovators. The only model we use is action learning where we continually experiment with our modus operandi to suit different situations and in light of past experience.
17. Do you advocate any policy that aims at changing the Mauritian economic system and society, so as to defend the environmentalist cause?
We advocate radical reform to change all our systems. We are not out to “defend the environmentalist cause” but to protect and restore our ecosystems to improve the quality of life for present and future generations. An integrated strategy is required and this is what we are working towards. We live within ecosystems, therefore we need to think systemically and not about individual policies.