As successive governments boast about measures taken to promote entrepreneurship, which they claim will be the spine of our future economy, I wish to share for the benefit of all, some ground realities I have personally experienced. This testimony is also the unsung song of many, some who are still around and others departed to a surely much better world. By J. Jayprakash
The sector I work in, is far from those flashy bling bling, banking, financial or corporate services. Obviously that’s one of the reasons why the main stream media would not show too much interest in what’s happening in there. I deal or to be factually correct, I had been dealing in exports of scrap metal, the once thriving business, so meaningful to the lives of many. Without indulging in a lame blame game, my intent is to merely portray to what extent decisions drawn by policy makers affect entrepreneurs, to the extent of dragging them down to their grave. Yet, nobody is held accountable, despite jobs being scrapped, businesses ruined and families shattered.
A few years back, the limited number of operators in the scrap metal business, made it quite lucrative. Nobody really dared to venture in this lackluster sector until it drew the interest of an Indian businessman who caused an unimaginable turmoil by introducing methods devoid of ethics and triggering a cut throat competition which has resulted in bleeding to death the whole sector. By spraying cash, the Indian businessman succeeded in drawing packs of hungry wolves to a feast that would not last. With so much cash poured into the purchase of scrap metal, projects started popping out all over the place. Enterprises generating waste and having to bear the huge costs of disposal started to generate revenue out of these same expensive thrash. It was too good to be true and curiosity prompted me to dig into the real motives of the Indian businessman. That was when I ended up in a factory in India converting our scrap metal into fresh construction steel bars. The booming construction industry in India calls for an uninterrupted supply of materials. I was stunned by the demands from the Indian counterparts. They were willing buyers to everything we could sell.
Gone were the days, prior to 2004, when I had to struggle to get containers booked through P&O Nedloyd shipping company. Within a few years the business of scrap metal hit its peak and more Indian businessmen poured into this tiny market where red carpet was spread out to greet them. Containers were flocking to India at an unbelievable speed. Betting on the high rate of unemployment and avidity of our people, they reaped huge benefits without the least regret, our country was being ransacked. The social impact was left unmeasured, with many of our youngsters indulging in loot of every possible metal made object. Right from historical objects to hand rails were shipped in containers. Under the cover of Clean up programs, generously carried out by local government institutions, these operators benefitted from free scrap metal. The success was such that many of these operators considered Mauritius as a god gifted haven. Some settled down by tying the knot to Mauritian girls while others ended up tasting the free delicious food of our central jail.
Having sucked out every potential from this niche sector, the Indian brotherhood had moved away to other countries, taking capital raised in Mauritius along. Some of us did pose resistance voicing out our anger, which was obviously shut down brutally. Backed by power from our own representatives who swore allegiance to this country and vowed to fend for its people, the Indian brotherhood proved its supremacy over and over again. Those having resisted, still face dire consequences of long dragging lawsuits following arbitrary arrests and coerced closures.
In 2007, the government at that time came up with some clear regulations concerning the business of scrap metal thereby a law cropped up in the name of scrap metal regulations Act. It should be noted that provisions have been made for alteration or cancellation of activities at any time if the permanent secretary or Minister as far as I may recall deem it necessary to put a halt to all or most activities pertaining to this business. As a result of the new regulations, recommendations were set as to how these activities should be carried out in proper and disciplined manner for the smooth running of this sector. It was then a recognised field where proper permit were issued and Indians or those of Indian origins won’t be allowed to bear any permit by their names. The game started well and locals inspired to start business afresh where those handful Indians were being controlled and governed by all those people doing their local business. A sense of patriotism arose whereby the local operators started to breath afresh. At that given time, it seemed to me, the government had some sound intentions by regulating the sector. However years down the line, betting on the loopholes and complicity of institutions, the race was again spin in a way to favour the same old Indian brotherhood, reverting us back to square one. That is nowhere.
Some realities disclosed may not apply to all people all the time but I a way or other it does impact on the country as a whole. Running through an article by Prof Micheal Muthukrishna “Bribery, cooperation and the evolutions of pro social institutions” (http://evonomics.com/corruption-cultural-evolution-cooperation-bribery/) which I would strongly recommend to you all, gives me an astounding insight matching realities I have sadly experienced. Here is an extract which might prompt interest for further reading and opens up the can of worms we are living in “There is nothing natural about democracy. There is nothing natural about living in communities with complete strangers. There is something very natural about priotising your family over other people…there is something very natural about helping your friends and others in your social circle. And there is something very natural about returning favors given to you. These are all smaller scales of cooperation that we share with other animals and that are well described by the math of evolutionary biology. The trouble is that these smaller scales of cooperation can undermine the larger scale cooperation of modern states. Although corruption is often thought of as falling grace, a challenge to the normal functioning state – it’s in the etymology of the word – it’s perhaps better understood as the flip side of cooperation. One scale of co operation, typically the one that’s smaller and easier to sustain, undermines another”. As we keep discovering new facets of nepotism and cronyism on a daily basis, Prof Michael Muthukrishna helps us understand how inclusive fitness and reciprocal altruism undermine cooperation at state level and meritocracy. Institutions expected to act in transparency are soaked to the bone in a thick sludge of favoritism.
Over the last 50 years, successive governments have pledged to bring down the inequalities or as in their own terms described as “reducing the gap between rich and poor”. Laws have been introduced, old ones amended, institutions set up, exiting ones reformed, yet every one of these actions has been like, gliding the scalpel along the spine of the wrong patient – the Poor. A scenario which reminds me of one of the works of nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, on “Inequality and economic growth”, a testimony of pure truth “In the middle of the twentieth century, it came to be believed that a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’: economic growth would bring increasing wealth and higher standards to all sections of the society. At that time those with lower incomes were rising more rapidly. Today the trend to greater equality of incomes has been reversed. Contrary to the rising tide hypothesis, the rising tides have only lifted the large yatchs, and many of the smaller boats have been left dashed on the rocks”. Indeed today’s disparity is a result of exploitation, discrimination, disruptive monopoly of power which together accentuate the inequality process.
Getting back to the core of this article, you will all certainly recall, the Competition Commission of Mauritius(CCM), a dedicated Public Institution was set up with the objective of enforcing the provisions of the competition Act 2007, implying investigation of possible anticompetitive behavior by businesses. The impotency displayed by the CCM on the issue of, ban on scrap metal exports which has led to a monopolistic situation, symptomizes the deep-rooted illness affecting our institutions. While such institutions run by public funds are meant to uphold laws, regulations and pave way for righteousness, they are in fact the very sharp blades which stab mercilessly the backs of entrepreneurs, bleeding them to death.
To rub salt on our wounds, the Indian brotherhood is back to paradise island. With red carpet rolled out again and permits issued is such silly ease, they are running acres of land, turned toxic sites, without being the least bothered by our government institutions on the environmental hazards and safety related issues.
For centuries we have believed in the Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest. But in today’s world of the scrap, it’s only the filthiest who can live and survive. I confess my stupidity for having believed, after 50 years of so called independence, justice and freedom could grow on this barren mother land of mine.