Is Mauritius becoming the dream Welfare State ? In these times it would seem so. The system and the mentality here seems to promote it. Either willingly or not the authorities are offering so many social facilities to people at the lower-end of the income scale.
However, is the system fair about distribution of free or cheap services. Many are beginning to question a system which has an impact on national budgets but also attracts fraudsters.
In their fight to eradicate extreme poverty the government, through the various ministries, offers cheap housing facilities, vocational training, low-interest loans for self-employment, access to land/property ownership, just to name a few.
The mind boggles at the thought of the impact on national budgets. In a country that already provides a National Health system, automatic fixed old age pension at 60 years old regardless of personal contributions, free public transport to school children and old age pensioners, you have to question how it is possible to sustain extra costs in other social areas.
While the cost aspects must be a real headache for those in power there are other concerns in the minds of the citizen. One big question a working person asks is if the system is fair?
Those employed, where both husband and wife are working to pay off their mortgage over 20-25 years would argue that it is not fair. Unfortunately, the policy to eradicate poverty also attracts those that just want anything gratis. We have many examples.
One such example is about squatters on private or state land. The definition of squatting is; to settle on unoccupied land without legal claim or to occupy a given piece of public land to acquire title to it. The authorities in Mauritius show that there are over 1,125 squatters on state lands and that these squatters are spreading over forty-five different sites.
The legal system has a hard time to enforce the removal of squatters. These people usually plead poverty and exert pressure on politicians to get favours. In many cases they receive social housing or even legal property ownership of land. While there are obviously genuine poverty cases there is also an attitude of playing the sympathy game for free services.
In a latest play for public sympathy locals of one historical area are trying to claim ownership of lands just by stating that these lands were owned by their ancestors. They demand that the State return to them what is their rightful gain without even having any legal documents to prove ownership. Just another example of a group of people putting pressure on the authorities to try to get property and defy regulations.
In a separate incident, we recently have seen the Welfare State attitude in full operation. The offices of the AREU (Agricultural Research and Extension Unit) was invaded by a huge crowd lining up to claim aid to buy kitchen utensils. Weird situation, so what motivated them? This was the result of misinterpretation of a Family Farming Micro Project run by the Agro-Industry Ministry. The aim of the scheme was to provide aid, to the public, for gardening tools and promotion of flower, fruit and vegetable cultivation. This is a part of the government’s food-processing strategy. Needless to say that the authorities had to freeze the exercise because of the huge crowds that had been misinformed on the real aims of the scheme. Apparently, the scheme’s claim forms were being downloaded from internet, printed and illegally sold in local markets. However, mention aid and this is the response you can expect.
Are the authorities going just a little overboard in their goals? The answer is probably yes. They seem to be giving too much, too quickly and without the necessary investigation and follow-up. In the case of poverty eradication there should be a thorough case-by-case analysis as well as social mentoring. At the moment some, that receive aid, quickly become discouraged or are not motivated to fulfil their responsibilities. The same can be said of the squatter problem. The authorities are seen to be giving-in too easily to pressure from numbers.
Unfortunately, the Welfare State mentality is growing and being firmly ingrained in the culture. So much so that people expect to receive gratis from the State. Perhaps the State has been guilty of promoting this culture themselves in their way of receiving international aid. Being a country that has relied on grants and low-interest loans from international partners it has probably mirrored this in the same way with the population.
The crunch will come in the near future when the country loses the developing country status and officially moves to the rank of an economically viable country. It will lose certain privileges such as many EU grants. Once economic autonomy is reached the State will have to re-think many of its expenditure points. This, in turn, may bring about the closing of the Welfare State tap as we know it today. That will certainly come as a shock to those still under the tap expecting gratis welfare to flow.