While Mauritians are generally law-abiding citizens, there is a small but significant minority who regularly flout environmental regulations. Despite boasts before the UN General Assembly that we will shortly enter the global rich list (followed by a nonsensical plea for international funds because we cannot afford to pay for our own adaptation to climate change), when it comes to dropping litter or smoking in night clubs, we continue to act like primitive paupers. How many countries develop a first world economy with such a third world mentality?
For a long time, I have been lobbying the Beach Authority to fulfil one of its raisons d’être and prevent the illegal driving of motor vehicles on the public beach at Mon Choisy – something they have achieved with great success at numerous other beaches around the country. They finally accomplished this a couple of years ago. Recently however, a growing number of cars can be seen driving and parking along the beach on Sundays.
When I asked the police at Pointe aux Canonniers Station why they were not enforcing the law, they blamed the Beach Authority for not repairing fences and barriers that had been deliberately vandalised. I was told they did hand out contraventions on week days, when there were just a few offenders, but on Sundays there were simply too many, so they avoided going to the beach because they were afraid that drunken drivers might get angry with them.
It seems that some Mauritians have little respect for the law and are emboldened to break it when they believe they can get away with it, especially when the authorities are not looking. Ironically, the police at Line Barracks are watching them, using the numerous surveillance cameras installed along the beach, but it seems they choose to turn a blind eye. As I left the station, the Pointe aux Canonniers police asked me to sympathise with their situation.
On numerous occasions I have been pulled over by the Emergency Response Service and even the Special Mobile Force, not because I was speeding, nor because they suspected me of drink driving, but merely to check my insurance vignette and driver’s licence. If the Commissioner of Police can mobilise our elite forces for such trivial activities, they why on earth can’t he do so to penalise shameless environmental law breakers? Surely if he is unwilling to enforce law and order in our Republic then he should resign.
On the other hand, Gandhi showed us that it is sometimes our moral duty to break unjust laws, such as the oppressive Salt Tax in British India and engage in non-violent non-cooperation. However, who can argue that keeping our countryside clean, protecting ourselves from the adverse health effects of second hand smoke and preserving our beaches for future generations are unjust? And yet police stand idly by when these basic environmental laws are flagrantly violated.
So do Mauritian law-breakers always enjoy safety in numbers? Clearly not! Remember when the brave amongst us protested against the oppressive law prohibiting the use of marijuana for medical, spiritual and relatively harmless recreational purposes (compared with alcohol and tobacco)? We all know what happened next…
This week, Richard Branson, a member of the drugs policy commission, alleged that the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was poised to embrace decriminalising personal possession and use of all drugs. Apparently one nation had actively opposed this dramatic U-turn by the vanguard of the war on drugs, perhaps because at least one of its clandestine agencies gains significant funds from international drug trafficking. Might Mauritius’ equally intolerant policy on drugs reflect an unhealthy dependency on drug dealers for funding political parties?
While the UNODC has denied Branson’s allegations, a briefing paper was released, clarifying the organisation’s position “to inform countries to promote a health and human rights based approach to drug policy”. It concludes that “the international drug control conventions do not impose upon Member States obligations to criminalise drug use and possession for personal consumption. Member States should consider the implementation of measures to promote the right to health and to reduce prison over-crowding, including decriminalising drug use and possession for personal consumption”.
What if every responsible adult who benefits from the medicinal properties of marijuana were to grow one plant for their own personal consumption? Would the authorities grant them the same immunity from prosecution as environmental law-breakers? Would they benefit from safety in numbers? Perhaps the Mauritian government, like the British Raj before it, would bow to common sense and public pressure and change our draconian laws, in line with the recommendations of UNODC, human rights organisations, medical professionals and public figures like Richard Branson. Or would the Mauritian government would simply demonstrate its duplicity?
If we want to progress then we must be progressive. The choice is ours. Will we continue to pollute or protect our common environment? Will we continue to prohibit or promote our human rights and fundamental freedoms? Will an altered state free us from our Mauritian mindset?