Here are the slides I had prepared for my paper presentation at the Conference “Mauritius after 50 Years of Independence: Charting the Way Forward” which was held from 28 to 30 June 2017 at the University of Mauritius in collaboration with the Mauritius Research Council.
university of mauritius
I have recently been embarked onto a research project entitled “Revisiting the linguistic and ethnographic specificities of Rodrigues” together with sociolinguists Arnaud, Yannick and Yani and ethnographist Daniella. The project was officially launched in Rodrigues in September when we had our first visit. We also conducted a workshop with potential collaborators there as well as some preliminary fieldwork for the research.
The last time I had been in Rodrigues was in 2000 for our honeymoon. So this 2016 visit was an opportunity to meet a large variety of people and talk about life on the island and how it has evolved over the past few years.
Somehow, since I was the only one who brought a decent camera thanks to Avinash, I turned out to be the official photographer over the 5 days we spent there. Though I do not master the techniques as much my husband, I enjoyed capturing the ambiance and expressions of people within their natural environment. I ended taking almost a thousand pictures (which led to much headache for selection and processing). So, here are a few interesting pictures from these encounters:
This 72 year old small shop owner recognised his family on a picture taken in the 1970’s by French researchers.
We went past the bead curtains into people’s living rooms.
This man’s face and eyes carry so much intensity, in contrast with his very quiet and serene environment.
This man seemed very intimidated in the beginning but turned out to have a very smiling and open expression for the camera.
I loved the idea of taking portraits on people’s doorsteps under their dainty curtains.
The oldest woman I met during the trip opened up to me about her life story, how she waited for her husband throughout war, and how life was hard, yet she courageously went through the challenges.
The old man and his boat. He was mending fishing nets in a very windy weather when we met him.
This dynamic woman with her grandchild eagerly accompanied us to meet her brother (the old man near the sea).
Local chicks strolling by under posters of foreign chicks at a hairdressing saloon.
I just loved this article snippet which says everything and nothing at the same time!
The famous “boudoute”, literally a very tough cookie that should be soaked in tea and tastes a bit like “pain d’épices”.
The “Chasive sur pattes” is having a siesta!
A tiny corlourful house in a vast area of empty rocky lands that gives a strange sensation of freedom.
Finally, our team with officials of the Rodrigues Commission for Arts and Culture.
At the MACOSS workshop on the Introduction of a Freedom of Information Act in Mauritius which was held on Friday 26th February 2016, three resource persons from South Africa were present, namely:
- Maxwell Kadiri, Legal Officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative
- Chantal Kissoon, Provincial Manager of the Gauteng Office at the South African Human Rights Commission
- Lola Shyllon, Programme Manager: Freedom of Expression and Access to Information at the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria
What I appreciated the most was the fact that they were all very thorough in their presentation of the South African experience, listing all issues they faced, the strategies they used to address those issues (such as prioritising grassroots access and incentivising public officers to adapt to FOI) and also the mistakes and lessons learned. They were very honest in their assessment of their own strategies and acknowledged that no system is perfect.
This is possibly the most important thing we, Mauritians, need to retain from our South African peers. There are many of us who wish to make things move forward but we can only do this if we do it together (without trying to take all the credit separately or trying to discredit others as is often the case) and if we are more humble and adopt a can-do, learning-by-doing and learning-from-mistakes approach.
After the presentations and Q&A sessions, we were asked to form working groups to brainstorm on issues and potential recommendations to follow up on the workshop.
I was the rapporteur for the first group and you can read below the report of our discussions and recommendations.
Overall, it was a very enriching experience which will hopefully be built upon to move forward towards a FOI Act in Mauritius. For context, you can read some of my previous publications on FOI and the related topic of media regulation here.
Proposals on the introduction of a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) or Right to Information Act (RTI) by working group #1
- Strengths / opportunities
Freedom of expression is already enshrined in the Mauritian Constitution as a fundamental right.
- Successive governments have promised to introduce a Freedom of Information Act but this has never materialised. However, it is the first time that a government has published an official announcement by the cabinet of ministers, going beyond political party manifesto or PM and president’s addresses:
Cabinet has taken note that the Freedom of Information Bill, as announced in the Government Programme 2015-2019, is being prepared. The main objective of the Bill will be to promote transparency and accountability in public administration
This represents a tremendous opportunity to move forward and all stakeholders should lobby collectively towards its realisation with extensive consultation and participation.
- There is already much information which is published online by government agencies though they are not always presented in a user-friendly way and updated in a timely manner.
- There is already a Data Protection Act and a Data Commissionner. The office could be consolidated and asked to collaborate on the FOI.
- There are structures such as Citizens Advice Bureaus but they need to be disconnected from the political and used as a real nexus for information to citizens.
- There is some media regulation through the Independent Broadcasting Authority but it needs to be disconnected from the political and reclaimed as a really independent body.
- Mauritius has a system of representative democracy with MPs who are supposed to represent their constituencies and they do put forward questions to governing parties on behalf of citizens but this is limited. This role should be reinforced and citizens should have better access to their MPs for requests for information.
Issues/challenges and potential solutions
- Timeline for the law: One main issue is that promises are often made but rarely fulfilled. For FOI to really happen, there should a clearly identified timeline for the different stages, for example:
- Consultation with all stakeholder groups
- Presentation of Bill, voting of Act and enactment in Government Gazette
- Setting up of process and training of civil servants
- Setting up of independent appellate mechanism (for requests that are denied)
- Deployment (including regular monitoring and adoption of corrective measures
- Review of conflicting laws: There are laws, regulations and practices which can potentially hinder the application of FOI in Mauritius, for instance:
- The Official Secrets Act
- The human resource management manual of the civil service 5 which prohibits civil servants from giving out information
- Sections of the Criminal Code relating to the dissemination of information such as the ones relating to publication of false news, defamation and sedition as well as laws relating to contempt of court and public gathering, etc.These need to be reviewed in order to harmonise with the application of a proposed FOI Act.
- Protection of private information: Currently, there is little protection for citizens whereby the latter would be made aware of any data relating to their own selves held by either government agencies or private entities. All individuals should be allowed access and knowledge of such data as in France (CNIL – Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés) in order to avoid any abuse of personal information.
- Delays to process requests: Very often, response to requests from the public take a very long time for many reasons (e.g. delaying tactics, inefficiency, etc.). The FOI law should specify reasonable timelines/delays to process requests from the public as well as to provide the information requested.
- Preference for electronic data: Regarding payments for requests made, it is understood that there would be a fee for filing the request and a fee for the printout (to cover costs and to encourage sensible and responsible use of the service).
One possible solution would be to reduce the costs associated with the printout by primarily providing the data in electronic format. This would also reduce ecological impact and facilitate further use by the citizen.
- Assistance for fees: However, it is also understood that the imposition of a fee may deter underprivileged citizens from exercising their right to access information. It is thus proposed that a public fund be set up to assist in payment of the fees for processing and printout in case the citizens are under-equipped for data in electronic formats. This would go towards enhancing equality of justice for all.
- Appeals against rejections: Some agencies may abuse of clauses for protection of access to data which may be of public interest. In order to ensure this is not the case, there should be an independent appellate mechanism to examine the validity of requests which have been rejected, as is the case in South Africa. However, in a small country like Mauritius, it may be very difficult to identify really independent people to examine appeals. It is proposed that the entity should encompass representatives of multiple stakeholder groups and interests to compound possible lack of indepedence.
- Avoiding manipulation and stigmatisation: In a tiny country like Mauritius, controlled leakages and abuse of confidential information about individuals or partial information (resulting in manipulation / bias / sensationalism) may lead to stigma for individuals concerned. There is a need for regulation in the public spehere but not merely by a single entity and certainly neither solely by the State or by media companies. The preferred model is that of independent co-regulation of the media. There should in fact be sanctions for inaccurate information which may be published and which can cause stigma.
- Literacy and awareness for grassroots: Very often, elite groups are the ones which benefit the most from systems which are supposed to benefit all. In order to ensure that there is equality in access to information, there should also be solid literacy and awareness actions for grassroots levels, right from school and at all customer care offices in the public service.
- Eliminating language as a barrier: Another deterrent to use of facilities given by FOI may be language. But ordinary citizens do not necessarily have a good command of English or French. The use of the Creole language, our mother tongue, should also be admitted for filing requests with proper assistance and while taking care to avoid stigmatisation.
- An inclusive working group: We strongly believe that it is important that the working group which will be set up tp lobby for the FOI should encompass all stakeholder groups with a collective agreement and a positive mindset in order to be able to move forward. The media should be taken onboard as well as more grassroots level organisations. There should be no backbiting or competitive attitude as FOI is not for a few but for the benefit of all citizens
Download the report on proposals of Working Group #1
Voici une copie du support utilisé dans ma présentation aujourd’hui lors du forum organisé par le Media Trust à l’Université de Maurice.
Les autres intervenants étaient Ashok Beeharry qui a brossé un large tableau de la situation de la MBC, Ritvik Neerbun qui a évoqué des anecdotes parlantes de l’histoire de la MBC et Jayen Chellum qui a défendu la cause des citoyens. Ashok et Ritvik ont parlé avec beaucoup de franchise de la malheureuse situation dans laquelle se trouve la radio télévision nationale. Le forum était modéré par Lindsay Riviere.
Thursday was the day of shooting for all the participants based on the story ideas they had worked on. I had also made up my mind to make a short movie too but unfortunately, that was not possible as I had to stay home with my sick daughter. The idea was to make a short film using only 5 shots with no discernible dialogue but including sound design (music and/or contextual noise).
The organisers of the film festival Île Courts, Porteurs d’Images, brought over 4 very able actors (2 men and 2 women). Students on campus were also spontaneously asked to be the extras when needed. The scenes were all shot on campus using Tim Skousen’s DSLR and one from Porteurs d’Images (one participant used his iPhone too). They also used tripods from our Mediacom Studio.
On Day 5 (final day), I was able to come back to the workshop and we all moved to our Mediacom Studio to use the iMacs for editing the rushes and turning these into proper visual stories. I assisted participants in their editing process where possible and we discussed the different ways of making the most of the images which were shot.
After a very typical Mauritian lunch at a snack serving chinese noodles (where we discussed Raiders, the state of Mauritian cinema and the history of government policy for cinema inter alia), we spent some 3 more hours in the Mediacom Studio to polish the edits. We then moved to LT2 where we viewed the 5 products together with some of the festival organisers and guests. I have to say that the participants all did a great creative job in just two days work.
Sunveek, who has studied storyboarding in the UK and has also collaborated with Azim Moollan for Zegwi dan Pikan, was clearly well prepared and he was also very conversant with iMovie tricks.
His film, Diversion, is a nice funny sketch which shows two friends who have to decide who gets the last chocolate from a box they’ve been sharing. The scenes were shot in the green area near the cafeteria.
Olivier was very secretive about the ending of his film called The Last Words, which shows a young guy who is figuring out how to invite a girl.
Only Ketan was allowed to see the ending before the screening, and we all really felt it was a clever one too when we finally saw it (with a nice ‘mise en abyme’ effect). The scenes were shot near RBLT and the famous blue caravan.
Cédric’s film, Eye Opener, tells the story of a couple. The husband, who is blind, has some doubts about his wife’s love. The film is a poetic and semi-mystical romance, nicely performed in a transformed NAC classroom and in the small woods near the administrative block.
Ryan’s film, Smile, depicts a depressed guy who meets a seemingly depressed girl. A dark atmosphere is cleverly achieved for the first part of this allegoric rendition within the corridors of the Faculty of Engineering, while the sunnier part is shot near the former School of Agriculture stone building.
Naresh produced I am both a story about a confused young girl, an interesting incursion into duality and ambivalence.
He used his iPhone and edited on his own MacBook. He shot near POWA and in the university washrooms in just half an hour.
Hopefully, they will all post their short films online very soon so that they can be viewed!
Discussing the Mauritian short films
On Wednesday, we started by discussing the Mauritian short films which we saw at the official launch of the film festival, namely Phone Connection by Sophie Robert, Boutik by Damien Dittberner and Rod Zegwi dan Pikan by Azim Moollan.
We were all pretty impressed by the aesthetic style of Moollan and the technical feat of taking over 700 celluloid photos, processing them, chemically and physically degrading them to obtain an eerie/dreamy effect, the painstaking task of detourage and compositing to achieve the parallax effect as well as the sound design.
Viewing Safety First
We also watched the black and white comedy Safety Last (1923) by Harold Lloyd from the silent era.
Unfortunately, I was unable to watch until the end as I had to meet up with another workshop facilitator for our students. But I could see that Lloyd was an excellent director and actor with brilliant mise en scène and the use of incredible stunts. Lloyd is less known than Chaplin and Keaton as he jealously guarded copyright over all his movies and would never cede rights below his asking price.
Participants were later asked to present their story ideas for an assignment to be completed by Friday: a very short film made up of only 5 shots with a maximum of two actors to be shot on the campus. There were some very interesting ideas, which I will not reveal until the films are actually made…
Screening of Eco-Clips
At lunchtime, I ran to the Eco-Clip session being hosted by the Indian Ocean Commission. We saw short films made on mobile phones on the theme of sustainable development.
Participants came from Madagascar, Reunion, Seychelles, Zanzibar, Comoros and Mauritius.
Workshop with Mohamed Said Ouma
In the afternoon, Journalism Yr 3 and Communication Yr 4 students listened to the very wise words of Mohamed Said Ouma, a seasoned journalist, film director and festival organiser.
Mohamed explained that he considers himself to be a child of the Indian Ocean as he was born in Reunion to Comorian parents who came from Madagascar. He has studied and worked as a journalist in London. The key advice he gave to aspiring journalists is to be multi-skilled (in terms of technical tools) but to have a specialisation (in terms of area/beats) in order to demarcate themselves.
Screening of Tim Skousen’s documentary
The day ended with a screening of Tim Skousen’s documentary film: Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made which tells the story of three 11 year old kids who decided in 1982 to remake shot for shot the Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark. It took 7 summers of their life to do that except for one last scene which they shot after 25 years in 2014.
Tim’s film documents their passionate re-enactment of the Spielberg movie, an adventure rife with all sorts of funny events as well as major difficulties. Avinash, Anya and Kyan were also present and we all thoroughly enjoyed the film and liked Tim’s advice to ABC (Always Be Creative) and finish what you start and show it to the public.
Yet another long and eventful day at the film festival Île Courts 2015 on the university campus!