Touria Prayag's Blog

The Antipode – L’express Weekly, 28 May 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on May 28, 2010

For five years, Xavier Duval sold the glamorous side of Mauritius and associated with the jet set and 5-star hotels. He now has to leave that position to Nando Bodha (a cultured and well-read man who deserves it no less) and be responsible for the antipode: the facet of Mauritius we hide from the tourists, brush under the carpet and pretend does not exist.

Different classes have different worries. For some, it is traffic jams for others, it is the star schools they want their children to go to. For those that Xavier Duval will be dealing with, it is where the next meal will come from. At least 8% of our population belongs to this category and requires the minister’s attention. That underlines the magnitude of the problem he will have to face and shows the importance of the role he could play not only in alleviating poverty but also in consolidating the nation. He may have lost the glamour but he has gained the opportunity to become the Messiah of the poor.

Expectations are very high and deciding where to start might turn out to be the greatest challenge the minister will face. He might be tempted to seek the help of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).

While some NGOs are doing excellent work, a few have been accused of being rife with fraud and others have become experts in self-service. And, oh, who can criticize them? Look at the great and selfless work they are doing!

While some social workers are devoted to what they are doing and are in the profession because they genuinely want to improve the condition of their compatriots, for others, it is a great opportunity to have a job for which no proof of qualifications or experience is needed, and to travel extensively and offer tickets to their friends and relatives with no questions asked. More often than not, they have a great salary, a vague job description and no working hours. Those who have to compete to get a job and work for a salary can see that there is nothing noble or altruistic about a great chunk of the nonprofit or voluntary sector in this country. The lack of proper checks and balances, the donors’ fickleness with their money added to the fact that those who give are not the ones who receive the service make accountability difficult. This is one of the reasons we have not been able to make a dent in poverty in this country.

Of course, pulling the needy of our society out of poverty, stigma and helplessness is a long-term process which takes a lot of stamina and requires looking at more than one facet of poverty. How do people get trapped in the vicious circle of impoverishment and how does one come out of poverty? In the absence of an in-depth sociological study, the obvious reasons come to mind: education, a regular income and adequate housing. The Empowerment Programme managed to produce the results it did under its then president, Jean-Claude de l’Estrac, precisely because it looked at all these aspects and set up a follow-up programme not only for the families concerned but for their neighbourhood too.

So, here is a piece of advice for which I am not going to charge: the newly-appointed minister might perhaps benefit by looking at those real success stories and drawing lessons from them. It only takes a little humility to reap the benefits!

-by Touria Prayag

L’express Weekly, 28 May 2010

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