Touria Prayag's Blog

L’express Weekly 22 April 2011

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on April 22, 2011

Weekly 22 April

More action, less acting

Some were better actors than others; some were more talented at
simulation than others; some were more ready to play the game
than others but the performance we attended at the Legislative
Assembly last Tuesday was theatrical: smiles were in order, some
outbursts of forced laughter and some rather strained attempts at showing one’s wisdom teeth. The producer did a superb job, though the rehearsal time may have been short. When the play ended, we resisted the intense, almost uncontrollable, urge to applaud and congratulate the actors for their wonderful performance.
As the production progressed, all the members of government, united,
even joined in the boos and the applause. If the maestro was satisfi ed
with this grand performance, he did not show it. He did not look particularly amused but he did, however, look relaxed.
All is well then. Government is united. Very well. Good on them.
Good on the country for, much as we are taxed with wanting to break up
the government to make room for the MMM, we really have no interest
in doing so. A government which was elected by the people should carry
on with its mandate until the people decide otherwise in the right democratic forum. Instability has never been good for any country, least of all for investment of which we are badly in need. And, let’s face it: having a strong opposition is much better for the stability of the country than having a weak, virtually non-existent one.
Our quest for transparency and our angst about corruption should
not be confused with playing the game of the opposition. We will not.
We are not interested in the spurious claims hurled at government, the
“scandals” or “mega scandals” they are brandishing or the frenzy they are
whipping up to serve on May Day. However, unless we choose to live in a
cave and have our fi ngers fi rmly thrust in our ears, we cannot help being
peeved about the MedPoint saga and, more recently, the scrapping of the
implementation of the system meant to regulate the criminal activities
of book makers. When the audit report comes out, who will be able to
explain the Rs. 5m gone down the drain to save the fraudsters of this
country, who enrich themselves on money immorally wrung from the
poor? Who will explain why they are being given even more opportunities
to keep the ill-gotten money for themselves? These criticisms were not
voiced by the opposition or by some moral-hand-wringing brigade but
by members of the government and they, therefore, deserve to be looked
into. The press has a moral obligation to take them seriously. Ignoring
them would help spread a climate of impunity and, as politicians get
away with serious malpractices, a noxious message is passed to the rest
of the population. It is our responsibility to take up concerns of national
importance. Those we have elected to serve our interests and who have
used every opportunity to fi ll their pockets should be sanctioned.
The image our leaders seem to be so anxious to send us about the
unity of two or three partners who share nothing but ambition is beside
the point. It is frankly not our problem. All we want is for parliament to
overcome its reluctance to tackle corruption and show that it is working
in our best interests. And for that, the guilty heads MUST roll. Government can then carry on with what it has been elected to do. No show is needed to justify that.

L’express Weekly, 15 April 2011

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on April 18, 2011

pdf Weekly 15 April

The Soodhuns
of this world

Our dear minister of commerce and industry, Showkutally
Soodhun, has once again proved his mettle: 100% pure
stone age! Charging along like a steam roller and brimming
over with primitive connotations, he takes out the
heavy artillery against Rajesh Bhagwan by accusing him of being
…a woman. Losing face with what he meant as perhaps the worst
insult in his repertoire, he tries to backpedal by fl oating the idea
that he meant it as a compliment. How nice of you, sir! And in case
one were looking for a real insult, how about the expression, “enn
vrai soodhun”. It needs no explanation and there is unlikely to be
any ambiguity.
Well, while one of our lady MPs took this opportunity to study
her fi ngernails, perhaps fi nding it hard to hear from her soundproof
caravan, and others said nothing but then again they never
do, we commend the ladies who zeroed right in on the Honourable
Soodhun and showed that they could give as much as they took.
They plied him with protests which forced him to withdraw his
unfortunate comment.
Thank you Nita, thank you Sheila and thank you Françoise.
You really are the best men in that Legislative Assembly.
Once the word “soodhun” has entered our common parlance, I
would like to suggest that we vary its use according to the degree of
the insult offered. For MPs who are slowly coming out of the Stone
Age, like Vasant Bunwaree, for example, we could use the expression,
“enn tigit soodhun” for, when addressing the speaker, he talks about
MP Nita Deerpalsing in these terms, “I’m well-aware of what she has
said.” And “She can do so herself…” You will not have failed to notice
that while all the male MPs are entitled to be addressed as “Honourable
Member” or “Honourable Minister” (don’t forget to sound the ‘h’), the
females in the Legislative Assembly have to make do with ‘she’ until we
come out of the Stone Age.
In the middle of this debate about what manners should have
been taught at home and at school, we should not forget the central
issue which has triggered the entire furore: the project of the control
system to regulate the activities of bookmakers. Why was it frozen?
How much did it cost the taxpayer to abandon it half-way through?
Above all, whether there was any pressure exercised on the ministry
of Finance to do so, if yes by whom and if not in whose interest was
it to abandon the project? Questions which, naturally, Mr. Bunwaree
dodged one after the other and which, no doubt, Pravind Jugnauth,
when he is back and has to answer for his decisions himself, will
skirt with the same arrogance. It seems that the Legislative Assembly
is now a forum for asking questions which will remain forever
unanswered. Some will hide behind the ICAC about issues which
the latter has no business even investigating and others will simply
answer the questions which were not asked. The smart ones will use
the forum to go off on a campaign-style tangent until the speaker
stops them and their time to answer is up. For accountability, we
could hardly do worse.

L’express Weekly, 1 April 2011

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on April 12, 2011

Weekly 1 April

A topsy turvy world

We were not sitting on the edge of our chairs in anticipation
of any revolutionary measures to be announced by the
minister of Education at his press conference last Saturday.
And we did not uncork any champagne when we
came out. Yes, there has been a slight but steady improvement in the
CPE pass rate since 2004, though thinking that is enough to warrant
self-congratulation is rather misplaced in a country which still throws
over 30% of its children out of the system. But more than the system itself,
it is the cosmetic measures introduced which warrant our attention.
Of course, like his predecessors, Vasant Bunwaree did not dare go
anywhere near the sacred cow of the “catchment area” which leaves
our children with a deep sense of injustice from a very early age. Oh
no, perish the thought. Let the children who live near star schools walk
miles in rain and sun to get to the schools they have been allocated.
And let the children of those who are well-connected always stand in
the front of the queue. He has not attempted to reduce class sizes to
enable the teachers to give more attention to the pupils. That would not
do. Nine-year schooling is forever at the experimental stage. There is no
hurry. What we will retain one day of the minister’s stunt in Education
is the enhancement programme and the introduction of Creole as an
optional language as from 2012.
The enhancement programme did not exactly turn out to be a success
story: having kids sit in 40-pupil classrooms for eight hours a day, far
from putting an end to private tuition, actually institutionalized it and gave
the tuition wallahs great arguments to legitimize it. What Bunwaree has
achieved is to shift tuition from schools to various garages in the vicinity.
The introduction of Creole as an optional language now seems to be
the minister’s hobbyhorse. Forget about the haste which even the most
fervent advocates of Creole are opposed to. Forget about the 60 teachers
to be diverted to teach Creole when they could be used to reduce class
sizes. Forget about the training or lack thereof of these teachers. What
worries us is who will sit in these classes to learn Creole? Not many
parents we have met have signaled their intention to have their children
go down that route.
Vasant Bunwaree is probably aware of this, which is why he insists
that a campaign will start soon to convince parents to make this choice.
This sadly sends us back to 1984, when a Select Committee, presided
over by Jean-Claude de l’Estrac, recommended the introduction
of “Cultures and Civilisations of Mauritius” (CCM) as an option to
Oriental Languages at CPE level. This would, according to the committee,
allow children to be “aware of the rich cultural heritage of Mauritius
in order to preserve that heritage and encourage understanding and
mutual respect.” The proposal was rejected by the General Assembly on
the grounds, amongst others, that parents “would opt for CCM which
is linked with acquisition of skills, concepts or ideas directly related with
perception of scope for further studies, employment or the economic
importance of the subject.” In other words, the subject was rejected
because it was seen to be so good that parents were likely to opt for it!
Now we are offering a subject which parents may not want to choose
but resources will be put in place to ‘encourage’ them to do so. The
world has been turned on its head!

L’express Weekly, 8 April 2011

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on April 12, 2011

8 April

Homegrown Wikileaks

et’s rise above the unwarranted insults and accusations and be
rational about the “Mega Scandal” revealed on Wednesday by
L’express in relation to the Patel Saga. The name, to begin with,
did not come from L’express but from the Leader of the Opposition,
whose job it is not to show any concessions towards the government
in place. Now, the revelations of our homegrown wikileaks are serious, by
any standards. Publishing them, therefore, is what readers would expect
any responsible newspaper to do. They are, without any doubt, of public
interest and of interest to the public.
We concede that the Neotown development may, depending on the
conditions agreed, be good for the country and we are satisfi ed that Rupen
Patel, the CEO of Patel Engineering, tells his associates that “what
differentiated PRIL [Patel Realty India Limited] from the rest [is that]
PRIL gave out actual hard numbers…as to how much the Government
will earn in taxes with this project, how far and by what percentage we
will promote tourism, how much revenue will be generated in the form
of taxes and income tax, how much employment this project will provide
and how much FDI it will entail for the Government of Mauritius.” If the
deal was based on these considerations, then we can only commend our
offi cials for being focused on our interests.
What has to be answered for, however, is why “For the fi rst time in
Mauritius the Government changed its law, went to cabinet and gave
somebody land on lease for 99 years!” The authorities would also have to
explain why Pravin Malkani, the President of Patel Engineering, “often
jokes that ‘Rupen, FSI [the Floor Space Index] cost is cheaper than the
tiles you put on it,” a joke which we would have found funny if it were not
our heritage being talked about.
Naturally, no one rules out the possibility that the leaks are an exaggerated
version of a businessman bragging about his achievements in a
desperate attempt to convince an inquisitive board of how shrewd, perspicacious
and competent he is in looking after their needs. Nor is one
ignorant of human nature.
The problem a responsible journalist is faced with each time is that
information, any type of information, is considered the private property
of those who govern us and is therefore classifi ed. And those who decide
that the information should be classifi ed are those very people who have
every interest in keeping the information to themselves. And it is this very
situation which is incongruous.
In a democracy, citizens are entitled to know the decisions made by
the public body and why. We all understand that there should be checks
and balances and that some information may very well need to be classifi
ed. The problem is that in this country, those who decide are judge and
party. And for as long as every decision is shrouded in secrecy, every leak
which comes our way is a lifeline towards information; the only window
towards the truth.
When secret information sees the light of day, inevitably the reaction
is the same the world over: any red herring to skirt the issue and persecute
those who brought it to light. We are following precisely the same script.
Why doesn’t the government let the information out through the main
door, through the Freedom of Information Act? By the end of the day,
the question is, “If there is nothing to hide why do we have to learn things
through leaks?”