Genuine empowerment Click to read L’express Weekly
When it comes to the educational reforms announced both at primary/secondary as well as tertiary education levels, there is good news. Or at least there are good intentions and a coherent logic behind them. But as we all know, good intentions, no matter how logical the thinking behind them may be, do not necessarily make for good decisions.
The figures the Mauritius Examination Syndicate churns out every year are enough to chill the blood of any parent thinking about sending their child to school. Of the children who join our schools every year, only 41% will get through Higher School Certificate (HSC)! Worse, 32% will not even get their Primary School Certificate. Nothing to be proud of. Absolutely no room for complacency. I have therefore full sympathy with the two ministers’ declared intentions to get more students through HSC exams and the grand ambition of having one graduate per family. I am not questioning the aim.
Where I have a problem is the means suggested for getting there. Vasant Bunwaree seems to hold the view that anyone with a School Certificate (SC) should be allowed into HSC and Rajesh Jeetah intends to open the doors of our universities to every HSC holder, irrespective of the number of credits. Now, if our objective is to increase HSC holders and university graduates, that is fine. If the aim of a degree is to stand on stage, wear a gown and have photos taken with parents, then let’s please go ahead.
If, on the other hand, we aim to genuinely empower people through education, then we should think again. Because the aim of education is to produce people who have acquired sufficient knowledge to be productive citizens of society. What is being offered is a system where we will, one day, boast much improved but thoroughly meaningless statistics; a system where those who succeed will be no better off than those who used to be left behind. Many students will be encouraged to chase a degree which has little or no marketable value and which serves no other purpose than the frustration that it will not get them anywhere.
If we are serious about education, there is only one starting point: initiating research about the reasons why so many of our children drop out of the system every year. And it is only through tackling these that we will be able to lift children out of ignorance. Failure can only be addressed if its causes are known. Otherwise we would all be shooting in the dark.
Also, to genuinely empower people, one has to look around at countries where they have been able to reach out to students and offer them a second chance and a good education. Next-door to us, Australia is an excellent example where two programmes have worked wonders: the foundation programmes and the Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutes. The flexibility they offer, added to the close monitoring of students’ progress, have helped thousands of students acquire a relevant education suitable to their needs. Our system cannot afford to continue to be a strait jacket. It needs to become sufficiently flexible to reach out to low achievers and late developers and provide them with the necessary tools to live up to their full potential when they feel ready to do so.
In civilized societies, children are not written off. They are offered different pathways while the level of education remains high. And this really has nothing to do with academic snobbery.
Editorial Click here to read L’express Weekly
Media Commission or Freedom of Information Act
The tug of war between “La Sentinelle” and the political leaders holding the levers of state power has come to an end. Or has it? Well, the out-of-court settlement has been agreed. But it has left us with a terribly bitter after taste and a few legitimate questions: did we really need a court judgement, a judge, a string of lawyers and the Attorney General to tell us that journalists should be allowed into government offices for press conferences held by government ministers in a country which misses no opportunity to boast about the freedom of the press and access to information? Did we need a court judgement to tell us that a minister should not mistake a government office for his own personal property? That a minister, no matter how powerful he may think he is, is paid from taxpayers’ money and is accountable to tax payers for all his actions?
I derive little joy from this denouement for, while we showed a great deal of good will by listening to all the criticism and grievances levelled at us. While we tacitly and with a great deal of humility accepted that we may not always have been right. While as I said at the last press conference (in an intervention from which the MBC cut and chose what to broadcast), though we try our level best to present objective information by seeking it from various sources, at the end of the day, some of our politicians continue to treat information as if it were something one has to deserve, leaving us with no option but to publish the information we get from the sources willing to give it. It is a simple sort of logic. If one side feels so aggrieved, why don’t they provide the solution?
The out-of-court settlement initially stumbled on whether only the media judged “independent” should be entitled to access information held by those who are paid from taxpayers’ money. The chairman of “La Sentinelle” insisted on having the word “independent” removed from the agreement because it is not our fight only; it is a fight for freedom and democracy. For, we are in an era where excesses are the order of the day and we cannot keep on running to court for judges to rule. Our political system is clogged up as it is and our judges have far better things to do than waste time ruling on the whims and fancies of those whose first contribution to the country has been to drag the government to court or to remind journalists of how vindictive they can be. We should welcome the agreement and its contents as a safeguard against any possible excesses. It is in the interest of everyone, under all governments. It is a great contribution to democracy and freedom.
This tug of war may also have brought to the forefront the good old debate about a “Media Commission”. I genuinely have no problem with this. The only thing is that this is the worst possible time to even start thinking about regulating the press. The wounds are still raw. Maybe the time is more suitable for talking about the Freedom of Information Act!
Privatising gains and socialising losses Weekly 11 June
Well, the needless panic about our currency has seemingly subsided. Now that the dust has started to settle a little and people have had time to take a step back and think rationally, they have come to realize that a willed engineered devaluation of our Rupee, which export sectors were clamouring for, arguing loss of their export revenue, denominated in Euro and Sterling, is neither desirable nor advisable.
For starters, competent fi nancial management of anything, from a household to a country, requires recognizing that the economy moves in cycles (boom and bust). What goes up will come down and nothing stays down forever either – after rain, comes sunshine. Hence, popular wisdom suggests “make hay whilst the sun shines”, implying one should store hay for the wintry cold, cloudy and rainy season. Even housewives and homemakers adhere to this wisdom of constituting reserves for when times are hard, and hard times there will be. When, for years, the Euro and Sterling were stronger than now against our Rupee, export sectors raked in buckets, even truckloads, of windfall gains. Some invested for productivity gains in their sectors (manpower training, equipment renewal and modernisation, process improvements, etc); others diverted their super profi ts to investment in other more lucrative sectors, such as property development and retail. Now that they are experiencing a temporary setback because of relative Rupee strength – in reality Euro and Sterling weakness – they plead vocally for what are effectively public subsidies.
Rupee devaluation is tantamount to a transfer of wealth from the larger community of defenceless savers, wage earners, pensioners and taxpayers, to a handful of business owners. These business owners are not the only stakeholders in the economy. Rupee devaluation would cause infl ation to surge out of control. It is effectively an insidiously and perniciously impoverishing tax on the public at large.
It is known that, unless there are serious fundamental macroeconomic imbalances which dictate devaluation as a last desperate resort which, I am made to understand, is far from being the case in
Mauritius, the permanent benefi ts of currency devaluation accrue only to a handful of exporters to the detriment of the toiling masses.
Even countries which live in the backyard of the Euro zone, like Morocco and Tunisia, have allowed their currencies to free-fl oat, thereby letting market forces and economic fundamentals determine their exchange rates.
Euro and Sterling weakness are due to the daunting, some might say self-inflicted, macro-economic problems of Europe and the UK (spiralling fi scal defi cits, high public debt, private corporate debt, domestic debt, external debt; banking insolvencies and bail-outs, credit crunch, housing crisis, household debt; etc). We mostly do not have these problems here. Therefore, as Governor Bheenick rightly says, let’s not make their problems (Europe and the UK) our problem to save the skin of a few, who did not save for lean days.
Besides, even if it were desirable to depreciate our Rupee, it is theoretically impossible. Manou Bheenick talks about the impossible ‘trilemma’: an open capital account, a free-fl oating currency and an independent monetary policy. ‘You cannot have all three in the same world,’ he sums up.
As Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz puts it in his recently published book Free Fall, speaking of the lessons of the recent banking crisis, we ought to be leery of falling into the trap of “privatizing gains and socialising losses”. This is exactly what the exporters want the Government and the Bank of Mauritius to do for them. No way!
Basta!!!! Click to read L’express Weekly (PDF)
Until such time as robot-operated newspapers are invented, asking the press to be totally independent is asking its journalists to let go of their humanness. When it comes to expressing opinion, a degree of bias is inevitable in every position editors take, in every thought they express, in every word they lay on paper. This degree of bias in opinion does not absolve us of the responsibility of being fair, of tackling issues instead of criticizing personalities, of making sure that the information presented is objective.
The tug of war between the political leaders currently holding the levers of state power and La Sentinelle is most saddening. Accusing us of making mistakes is a criticism we are happy to accept, and learn from. Claiming that our opinion leaders have a political bias is something I am personally not prepared to refute. It is not out of character as human beings. But for a press group to be the mouthpiece of one particular party, which is what we are being accused of, all its editorialists should have a demonstrable affinity with that party. Can anyone who has been reading our editorials since the beginning of the campaign honestly look us straight in the eye and say that all our editors have expressed the same views and/or biases? Can anyone even suggest that we have written about the same issues?
While my colleague Raj Meetarbhan expressed his confidence that Pravind Jugnauth will do well as minister of finance because of his track record, my recollections did not give me the same comfort. While he, based on the information he was receiving from his journalists, was talking about a “close fight,” we were depicting Navin Ramgoolam as “the most popular politician in the country” and Darlmah Naeck was chastising Paul Bérenger for his “communalisme scientifique”. Rabin Bhujun and Gilbert Ahnee were dealing with totally different issues.
Jean-Claude de l’Estrac, the chairman of the board of La Sentinelle, has never denied his past or his present and his views were unequivocally expressed in his editorials. Apart from that, he was receiving the newspapers at the same time as our readers. Some of our views he may have liked, some he may not, but had he dictated what we should be writing about or how, we would all have dealt with the same issues in the same way at the same time.
Assuming all the criticism levelled against us is warranted, there are only two ways to keep us in check: our columns or our courts of law. Anyone who feels wronged can take legal action. And we did open our columns to our readers to express their views –uncensored. Some took the opportunity to vent all their anger at us. We have published their comments verbatim. That is the only legitimate way to fight back in a democracy. Not by ostracising journalists; not by cancelling a parent’s school invitation on the grounds that she is the editor-in-chief of a newspaper run by La Sentinelle and sending her child home in tears and incomprehension; not by withdrawing l’express from public libraries; not through boycott. And certainly not by denying journalists access to government property at a very official ministerial press conference.
I think it is time to say “Basta!” Pravind Jugnauth has crossed the line. La Sentinelle is over 600 employees trying to make a living for their families by informing the public of matters of interest to them. Depriving them of information, quite apart from being a blatant violation of democracy – which is grave enough in itself – puts their livelihood at stake. This flies in the face of every democratic principle this country has fought for!