opioid substitute which is used to treat drug dependence, to the list of substances that could be tried as capital crimes.
This smacks of populist campaign rhetoric. After all, just over a year ago Ramgoolam’s government co-sponsored and voted in favour of the UN Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty.
But it makes such proposals no less disturbing, especially considering Mauritius’ status on harm reduction in the region.
Mauritius is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa where needle and syringe programmes (NSP) are operating and only one of two countries where limited opioid substitution therapy (OST) is prescribed – in this case, methadone. Thus people on prescription may be tempted to add Mauritius to their travel itineraries, creating obvious risks if importation of their medication were suddenly to become a capital crime.
As the Prime Minister himself warned, “If you cannot live without Subutex, do not come to Mauritius. Go somewhere else.”
We can only hope as the Prime Minister ponders this proposal further, common sense will prevail and he’ll reconsider.
A local newspaper’s report on events is linked and below.
NAVIN RAMGOOLAM DETERMINED TO BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY
“Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam last night repeated his intention to reintroduce the death penalty for those found guilty of very serious criminal offences such as murder and drug trafficking, including the drug Subutex.
He also announced that the use of Subutex could be banned in Mauritius. The prime minister made the remarks at the launch of the National Policing Stategic Framework at the Paul Octave Wiehe Auditorium, University of Mauritius.
“We intend to amend the law to impose the death penalty for murder and drug trafficking,” said a determined Dr Ramgoolam, adding that the Dangerous Drugs Act was amended by his government to include Subutex on the list of dangerous drugs.
“Subutex is available on prescription in countries like France. Some are trying to do trafficking of Subutex here. If you cannot live without Subutex, do not come to Mauritius. Go somewhere else.”
Dr Ramgoolam explained that there has been a steady increase in the use of Subutex in Mauritius. “Between 2000 and 2004, there were 144 arrests by police in cases related to Subutex. There was a considerable increase between 2005 and 2009. During that period, 3,649 people were arrested.”
The prime minister said there is perception that crime is on the increase and argued this could be because some crimes that have occurred recently have been “more horrible” and have been given extensive publicity in the media.
“This could also be a deliberate attempt to undermine the Police Force. I reiterate my commitment to the Police Force that these factors will not be allowed to do this,” he said.
He added that some are trying to drag down the morale of the police. “There are political lobbies who are trying to say that the situation of law and order is anarchic.They are creating a psychosis and leverage on it for political mileage.”
He argued that crimes such as robbery and rape occur in other countries as well, pointing out that in the UK in 2009, there was a knife murder every 12 minutes, a situation led to the creation of a special unit in the British police to fight such crimes.
Law and order concerns everyone, including the opposition and the media. “It is a societal problem. We should use common endeavor to solve it,” said Dr Ramgoolam.
He criticised the media for making no mention of the decrease in attacks against tourists.
“Nobody talks about this. I wonder how giving front-page publicity to one attack of tourist can help the country?”
The perception that crime is on the increase could be also because the police are arresting suspects rapidly, he said. “Only the genuinely naïve do not recognise that police is acting rapidly.”
Earlier, Dr Ramgoolam said that one of the priorities of any government is the security of the country. “We want a safe and secure society. A society where people can walk and are not worried that they will be robbed of their valuables. A society where children will not come across drug peddlars.”
The country, he explained, has undergone profound social and economic changes that have improved the quality of life, but “this has also brought in numerous challenges”.
He recalled that during his first mandate as prime minister, from 1995 to 2000, he undertook to modernise the Police Force.
“We set up the Emergency Response Service and the Major Crime Investigation Team and we introduced a modern, automatic fingerprint computer system. We also set up the Police Complaints Investigation Bureau, the Police Inspectorate Division and a divisional system for commanding at district level.”
In September 1999 the BSc Hons in Police Studies was introduced, and there are now 314 degree-holders.
The consolidation of law and order is not possible, he explained, unless the Police Force is modernised.
“The budget of the police which was Rs3.1 billion in 2004/2005 has been increased to Rs5.2 billion in 2010. This represents an increase of 40%.
“Since 2005, Rs275 million has been spent on the acquisition of vehicles for the police, Rs160 million on equipment and Rs185 million on infrastructural projects. Rs104 million will be spent on other infrastructural projects for the police,” he announced.
Crime is on the decline, insisted Dr Ramgoolam.