Protecting Mauritius by controlling illegal infrastructure development

‘Mauritius was made first and then heaven; heaven being copied after Mauritius.’

While this famous quote by author Mark Twain is as true today as when it was first spoken, not everything in Mauritius is in a dream state.

One of the country’s major challenges is illegal infrastructure development, which is having an adverse effect on the nation and its people, including the most vulnerable in society. While progress is desirable for any developing country, it must be handled well to avoid creating new problems that can be difficult to resolve.

Kevin Koonjul Dharam is Head of the Land Use and Planning Department in the District Council of Black River, one of the Republic’s 12 local authorities.

‘The increase in the number of construction and development projects means increased demand for public infrastructure,’ says Kevin. ‘It’s important that we continue to protect our country by building this in line with legal requirements and regulations.’ 

‘All development works require a permit from the relevant local council, although not all developers apply for one or comply with existing guidelines and legal norms. Magistrates can prosecute those behind illegal developments, impose fines or even ask for a development to be pulled down,’ says Kevin. ‘The Mauritian Government hopes these and other measures will act as a deterrent for developers to do the right thing.’

An Australia Awards alumnus, Kevin earned his Master of Arts in Sustainable Urban and Regional Planning at Murdoch University, graduating in 2013. 

When he returned home, Kevin was motivated to see development well planned and implemented in line with the letter of the law. ‘Without proper development control, the river beds, rivulets and coastal areas of Mauritius will be increasingly negatively affected,’ says Kevin. 

While at Murdoch University, Kevin says participating in sustainable urban and regional planning workshops and seminars made him realise that the development laws in his home country, first enacted in 1954, were outdated and needed modernising. 

‘I was surprised to learn about the laws, regulations and enforcement involved in assessing land-use planning application in Australia, which are designed for sustainability and to protect the environment,’ says Kevin. ‘I was determined to transport this type of thinking back to Mauritius. I knew it would be challenging but was convinced I could use my leadership skills to advocate for change and make major improvements.’

Kevin put his skills to the test when he influenced a draft environmental proposal from the Ministry of Environment.

‘I recommended including a provision to build at least 600mm above ground level to avoid flooding,’ he says. ‘It’s often difficult to bring change to an existing system, so I was fortunate to be able to contribute.’

Kevin’s work is challenging and rewarding. Responsibilities include ensuring that new construction and major renovation projects meet high development standards, that application decisions are made within the legal 14-day requirement and meet approved plans.

‘We work hard to protect the environment in sensitive areas and the coastal zone against climate change issues and unlawful development and we encourage residents to be law-abiding citizens when it comes to development,’ says Kevin. ‘Every day I rely heavily on the system-thinking techniques and leadership skills I learned in Australia to inform my work.’

Despite the challenges, Kevin thrives in his career. 

‘I get to meet public officials, developers and architects on development plans and land use, encouraging them to draw their plans according to guidelines and sharing my knowledge on the importance of sustainable development for future generations,’ he says. 

Kevin also finds it rewarding to motivate the public to conserve and use building resources efficiently: ‘Education is a big part of change so I spend a lot of time encouraging the use of renewable resources and energy, and educating and building awareness about how the building sector contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.’ 

Kevin is an active member of the Australian Alumni Association for Mauritius, Murdoch University Alumni Association, the Planning Institute of Australia and the Planners of all Local Authorities (Mauritius).

‘Bringing home my learning to help my country is so satisfying,’ says Kevin. ‘So too is being able to continually learn and share my knowledge, experience and expertise with so many others.’

Feature from Alumni News Volume 27. Click here for full Alumni News.

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