Yesterday a dozen or so concerned citizens were battling to defend the rights of Mauritian citizens and to halt the privatisation of the public domain. Led by General Georges Ah Yan, the freedom fighters were battling the Beach Authority at the District Council in Mapou. Vassen Kauppaymoothoo, from Special Ops, joined the fray just in the nick of time, straight from his glorious victory against the Ports Authority, who wanted to water down the environmental protection laws that govern them.
The background to the conflict is as follows. The Beach Authority (without the authority of the District Council or the Ministry of Housing and Lands) had been busy converting the old toilets on Mont Choisy public beach into a restaurant. It is widely known that they had promised to lease it at a bargain price to the infamous gangster and owner of Cafe de la Plage in Grand Baie, Mr Achee Leung. This privileged crime lord has also been gifted (along with political stooge, Mr Jayraj Woochit) with Ilot Gabriel by the Prime Minister.
When the Ministry of Housing and Lands found out, they issued a stop order, forcing the Beach Authority to make a belated application to the District Council for a building permit. The Beach Authority argued that the matter was not under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Housing and Lands as they were simply renovating some existing buildings. In fact, they were extending the area the buildings occupy by a factor of at least four. They further argued that they had the right to lease disused buildings to raise income for their operations and quoted the instance of an old building on Belle Mare Plage that is now a shop selling locally made handicrafts.
Quite reasonable it seems, until one digs a little deeper. The reason the old toilets on Mont Choisy public beach are no longer in use is because the Beach Authority had constructed a new block right next to them. The beach has a length of several kilometres and is extremely popular at weekends. One wonders why the Beach Authority did not renovate the existing toilets and then build the new block at an appropriate distance to serve other parts of the beach. Had they been scheming all along to put the old toilets out of use and lease them as a restaurant to Godfather Leung?
Where is the business case for this project? The renovation is impressive, employing a significant amount of wood and expensive roofing materials to create attractive verandas. How much is the total investment? How long will it take to pay back this amount before the Beach Authority actually gets any net income?
The final question is where is this privatisation of the public domain leading? With the lease, at bargain basement prices of Flat Island, Ilot Gabriel and Ilot Benitiers, we Mauritians are already, in practice, denied access to our common heritage. Now that the fire-sale has hit the mainland, what can we expect? On our public beaches yesterday we found shops, today restaurants, tomorrow hotels? Not if we can stop them! The freedom fighters are determined, not just to prevent the future privatisation of the public domain, but to regain the territory that has already been lost. “Viva la revolucion!”