Touria Prayag's Blog

l’express Weekly May 25 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on May 25, 2012

The matrix of transparency

“ Mr. Speaker, Sir, I am going to give the letter, in fact, so that there is no insinuation of things that do not exist. Here is a copy of the letter, Mr. Speaker, Sir.” This was the prime minister’s reaction to the leader of the opposition’s question about whether there was any reference in the letter from the minister of justice of Madagascar to the government “ to contacts between a present minister of this government and people in Madagascar involved in this trafi c de Bois de Rose. ” And the letter handed over to the leader of the opposition put an end to the exchange, doubts, aspersions etc. Unfortunately, the prime minister chose to disclose the letter to whitewash one of his ministers. Had the letter contained information implicating a member of the opposition, I doubt that he would have been so forthcoming in dishing up the information. Nor would he have had to.

We do not want to gloat about this situation where our parliamentarians are accusing one another of the very same things. However, we cannot help but think how much better off everyone would be, including and perhaps particularly those of our parliamentarians who have nothing to hide, if a Freedom of Information Bill was tabled in parliament tomorrow. The press and the public at large would have real information to base themselves upon, which would automatically put an end to rumour- mongering and false accusations.

The last time Eric Guimbeau asked the prime minister if the government proposed to introduce a Freedom of Information Bill, the question touched off a rather long exchange about the major considerations which have up until now, hindered the introduction of such legislation. So here is our two- pence worth on this debate to help dispel some of the confusion it involves.

Let’s fi rst get rid of the fallacy that the Freedom of Information Act is a piece of legislation which would require that our public body is made totally naked for us to pry about in each and every corner of it. There is no country in the world where citizens have the right to access ALL the information they want when they want. Nor is it what anyone is asking for. Therefore, the fear expressed by the prime minister about “ data preservation, exemption, compliance and noncompliance issues and preservation of sensitive commercial information bearing in mind the provisions of the Data Protection Act 2004”, is not legitimate and has no validity. Some of the information would still be classifi ed by virtue of the statutory exemptions. These would apply to both the private and the public sector.

The prime minister also raised concern about the impact such legislation would have “ on the working procedures of the public service”. As it happens, countries where such legislation has been enacted have seen their public service work much more effi ciently as public servants become more rigorous in keeping records. Such legislation might even prevent the kind of situations we have had where civil servants pay the price for ministers who may have given verbal instructions instead of documenting them.

There are over ninety countries in the world which have adopted this legislation. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund make it a requirement for countries wishing to borrow money as they would like to see transparency and accountability before they dish out the cash. In advanced democracies, information cannot be treated as the private property of the prime minister or his senior ministers.

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l’express Weekly May 18 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on May 18, 2012

Who needs the truth?

Brimming with satisfaction and spurred on by the cheers of her
colleagues from the majority, MP Stéphanie Anquetil planted
her question about the rosewood suspected shady deal. As she
normally does, her question to the prime minister was half in English
and half in French, trying very hard to expose her knowledge of both
languages. Trying, I said. She makes it a must.
Everyone knew who she was trying to implicate. And her leader’s
reply did not disappoint: Yes, he was aware that a Malagasy newspaper
had a recording incriminating a local politician. Yes, he was in touch with
the Malagasy anti-corruption authorities and government intended to
give its full cooperation in the matter. Who would doubt that?
The person being talked about must have calculated the likelihood of
helping himself through an intervention, concluded that it was zero, and
reneged on the idea. All eyes were glued on him. It was a sad moment
for human nature. It was a terrible moment for justice.
Don’t get me wrong. We are not against transparency or justice.
Anyone proven guilty of depleting our forests or tarnishing our reputation
as a country, deserves the full force of the law. But here is where
I have a problem: the national assembly (NA) is not a court of law. In
a court of law, the accused is mentioned by name, has the opportunity
to present his version of the story and the people defending him, those
pleading against him and those judging him are experts in the fi eld.
There is none of that at the NA.
The leader of the opposition donned his lawyer cloak, something
which he has decided suits him very well recently considering the number
of suspects he has surrounded himself with, cleared his voice and tried
to put up some sort of defence, amidst objections from the government
benches. The real lawyers did not miss the opportunity to keep quiet.
And we cannot blame Ms Anquetil for her question either. The atmosphere
of court permeated the national assembly from the beginning
of the session. The prime minister had to answer questions about where
he was at the time of the burglary at the Roches Noires bungalow, by
what means he was informed of the theft, the make of the watch which
was stolen and even whether he had a rent book for the bungalow he
was letting out! Now, all these questions are legitimate in a democracy.
No one is disputing that. But parliament is neither a court of law nor the
Mauritius Revenue Authority. Our parliamentarians must have, nonetheless,
gone home satisfi ed of having quenched their thirst for revenge.
Are we any nearer to the truth? Of course not. Not that the intention
was ever to get to the truth. Our representatives keep information which
is vital to the course of justice to use to their advantage. In the case of
Med Point, for example, Maya Hanoomanjee admitted in last week’s
l’express dimanche that she had documents which show “how we went
from Rs 75 to Rs 144” which she presented to the ICAC but that if “in
spite of that I am still convicted, I will produce other documents.”
The main aim is to create embarrassment. And as far as that is
concerned, our representatives have our hearty congratulations. They
have succeeded in embarrassing all of us.

l’express Weekly May 11

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on May 11, 2012

A historic vote

Each member of parliament must look into their souls and
consciences when placing their votes about the potential law
change,” was Mouvement d’Aide à la Maternité’s Monique Dinan’s
reaction to the cabinet’s proposed amendments to the current abortion
law which, for the record, dates back to 1838!
I hope they do. Each and every one of them. But before they do that,
I hope they fi rst get out of the national assembly, leave their comfortable
air-conditioned offi ces and look at the harsh reality in the face before they
decide which way their vote should go.
The proposed criminal code amendment bill is bold if looked at in the
current context in a society so inward-looking, a society so cut off from the
realities of its own people that it lives in a world of its own. It is, however,
not a revolution. It is in fact a good compromise between those who are
asking for women to have the same rights that women in other countries
acquired over 50 years ago and those who are saying that a woman’s body
is actually the business of society. And, in a situation of compromise, there
should normally be no discussion as everyone’s wishes and objections will
have been taken into account.
Naturally, in our dear nation, the spirit of compromise does not
exist. So the debate has already started. Predicable arguments based on
religious beliefs. Nothing we did not know. Nothing we did not expect.
Nothing we do not sympathize with. But nothing which would solve the
predicament of women.
So far, the arguments, though predictable, have been dispassionate.
Soon, however, those who value the lives of the unborn over those who
are living hell on earth will creep out of the woodwork again, brandishing
scary slogans and pictures of fully-formed foetuses which look like fullyfl
edged babies to try and show how those who vote for giving women some
dignity have blood on their hands. I hope our representatives, whom we have
entrusted our votes to, can see through this and reach out to those who need
them. Young girls who are victims of rape or incest whose childhoods have
been shortened or annihilated in one day. Girls who have to live with shame,
misplaced guilt in a society which confuses victim and aggressor. Girls who
can no longer carry on with their studies and hope for a better future. Our
parliamentarians will also not fail to think of those thousands of women who
are reduced to poverty, helplessness and even domestic violence because
they are shackled with children they cannot cope with.
Abortion is not about killing. It is about not denying life to the living. At
14 weeks, there is no baby which is viable outside a woman’s womb. And
let’s not lose sight of the real debate. This is not about feminism. It is about
human rights. It is, in fact, also about equal opportunities. Well-to-do women
have opportunities which allow them to have an abortion when they feel the
need for one in hygienic conditions supervised by qualifi ed doctors. The
debate is about those who risk their lives because they are denied opportunities
their more fortunate counterparts have. It is about the children who
are left behind because their mothers were meted out cruel and unnecessary
deaths. Our parliamentarians want to ask themselves how many more deaths
they want on their hands before they cast that historic vote.

 

 

Interview in l’express Weekly May 4

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on May 4, 2012

“The country should consider moving towards a mixed system of PR and FPTP”

The new report entitled “ Elections and the Management of Diversity in Mauritius”, which was commissioned by The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa ( UNECA) and released by local consulting firm StraConsult last Friday, brought to our shores UNECA’s representative Said Adejumobi. We met up with him to clarify the findings of the report. His strong ideas and genuine passion about the issues concerning Africa provide an excellent take on the debate going on at this point in time on our island.

You are here to attend the validation workshop of the African Governance Report of Mauritius on the theme of “ Elections and Diversity Management in Africa”. What was the aim of this report? What was it exactly that you wanted to achieve?

We are looking at a very important challenge for the African continent which is elections and the management of diversity. Our previous studies have shown that elections and diversity management are issues that are becoming a major challenge for Africa. Elections, rather than bringing people together, have been splintering them; rather than promoting cohesion and social order, elections have been seen to be promoting conflict.

Hence, the need to do a thorough investigation of the problem and proffer solutions.

Are you saying that elections and social cohesion are contradictory?

They are not contradictory. They should be complimentary but what we have seen is that elections in Africa have promoted a lot of confl ict. Instead of aggregating the wishes of the people in a consensual way, what we have seen in Africa is that sectarian identities are mobilized and turned into political weapons that promote discord and conflict. This is the experience of many African countries during elections, and even at periods leading up to elections.

Are you suggesting doing away with elections?

No. But we should plan our elections differently.

Elections the world over are the best way to gauge what problems there are. That’s uncompromisable. Why though, in the African context, do they elicit such undesirable consequences? This is not to say that the problems across Africa are the same. Even where we have fairly orderly elections, there are problems with diversity management.

For example, the issue of women’s participation; that’s a diversity problem.

In the conference you applauded Kenya for having a clause in its constitution that said that no more than 2/ 3 of its parliamentarians can consist of the same gender. Isn’t that against equal opportunities?

I think we have to strike a balance between equality of opportunity and participation.

In Kenya, what this means is that women can form up to 65% of its parliament. Men can be up to 65%, so no member of any gender can be more than 65%.

Isn’t there anything wrong with choosing people on the basis of gender rather than competence?

I think we have to address the historical injustices.

Yes, but has affirmative action worked? You had affirmative action in favour of blacks in Africa and low castes in India… has it worked?

I think it has. If you look at South Africa, where it’s coming from in terms of apartheid and the black empowerment policy that the South African government put in place, there’s the emergence of a black bourgeoisie in South Africa that’s now contributing to development and helping the economy.

But how have the poor benefited?

That’s a different issue altogether.

But we are talking about inclusiveness.

That means that everybody should get a chance and benefi t from development, doesn’t it? I think we have to keep in mind that this emergent bourgeoisie and middle class wouldn’t have been there had these policies not been in place. Had these policies not been in place, the struggle against apartheid would have come to nothing. I think quite a number of the poor have benefi ted, but not enough. What government needs to do is redirect its policies towards the very weak.

That doesn’t imply that its policies aimed at the middle class is bad, but government’s policies towards the poor have to be more than what it is currently.

In some countries that have set up quotas for women in parliament, they can’t find enough women who are interested. So what do you do? Pick up just anybody to fill up the seats?

The disadvantage of being a woman in the political process is both historical and structural and is rooted in tradition. In many countries, women are disadvantaged. Take higher education. In many countries there is the belief that women should not go to university but if you marginalize 50% of your population, you’re handicapping yourself.

Yes, but you are not talking about sending women to universities, but rather about putting women in parliament regardless of competence. Is this in the interest of women?

The issue of girls’ education is a priority for many governments and institutions.There should be this structural approach in terms of changing mindsets and beliefs but the political aspect is equally important.

When men participate in politics, who scrutinizes them? Who questions whether they are qualifi ed or not? There are some stereotypes of women in politics and in important positions. What we need to do is combat those stereotypes and make people see them differently. That’s part of the structural rearrangement that we need to make, to move women from the domestic space to the public arena. If we do not create that space, it will not happen. There has been a lot of psychological intimidation against women, when they join politics in some societies. It shouldn’t be that way. The only way we can change the landscape is that we have a constitutional order to mainstream them and gradually the mindset will change.

Where is Africa in that process today?

I think Africa has come very far.

And how is Mauritius doing in relation to Africa?

I think Mauritius’ progress is relatively low in that regard compared to the rest of Africa. It’s a process that will take time. Mauritius is a melting pot of different cultures- Islamic, Indian, Creoles, Chinese etc. which are mostly conservative in their mindset. That tends to work against women. SADC for instance has put the benchmark of women’s participation at 30% which Mauritius has not met. The African Union has stipulated a 50% parity which most countries have not met, but there is progress. For me, the most important aspect is that issue is on the table.

Some 10 years ago, it was taboo. I think as we move forward, we should avoid the pitfalls of other societies.

What are those?

The pitfalls are that there is some kind of social disintegration that accompanies women’s empowerment. The family is weakened, gender relations get deteriorated and we have the whole breakdown of society in terms of its moral fabric in which gender independence becomes an alibi for breaking down society’s fabric.

You started speaking like Margaret Thatcher.

( Laughs) Well in my view, in Africa the emphasis has been on the family bond and social values. There are countries, Japan for instance, that have achieved women empowerment along with maintaining the social bond. We are human beings and we need to compliment one another. Seen in that way, it would guard against social disintegration.

Let me give you an anecdote, a minister from Burkina Faso, who was a woman, was invited to give a lecture on the theme of empowerment. She emphasized very strongly the need for women to cash in on empowerment opportunities, but insisted that women should not see their role in terms of liberation that would imply antagonism.

She said that she goes to work but she takes care of her children too.

That’s the point. Men say ‘ you are welcome to come and sit with us as long as you go back, prepare our meals, clean our house and look after the children’. Is this cohesion not at the expense of women?

In my personal view, we should not forget some biological roles that nature has assigned for us. Society still has structural roles and responsibilities that are made for social cohesion. We should be careful that women’s empowerment does not lead to the dissolution of these roles. In societies where these roles have broken down, they have been trying very hard to bring them back.So that’s a balance we have to negotiate.

What are the other highlights of this report?

The highlights are that elections are becoming the norm in the African continent.

The era of authoritarian and one- party regimes is over. We see a situation where elections are still crisis- prone and where many countries are having a debate about the appropriate electoral system that they should adopt.

We are in the middle of that very debate. What recommendations has the report made?

I think the report tries to capture the mood through a survey carried out by Stratconsult.

What the people are saying is that the country should consider moving towards a mixed system of proportional representation and fi rst past the post. Part of the objectives of this process is to support countries to make their own decisions. We provide the platform, but we don’t have a say. Our role is to support those voices to be heard through this report. We do not interfere. Our role is ‘ okay, you’ve decided this, so now we will support you in achieving that.

The report also talks about the Best Loser System. What is the position of this report as far as that is concerned?

I think that the position of the report is that it should be looked at again. I think that the recommendation is to think about it and refl ect around it. But like I said, this is just an input, something to discuss. You participated at the validation workshop and saw that the discussion was quite intense. Some people agreed, while others disagreed. I think what the report does is to feed into the discussion.

It is not a decision at all, just an input to the national debate.

We like to think of ourselves as a rainbow nation. We are different, but we all live happily together. Is that what transpires from the report?

I think so. When I say melting pot, it means that cultures are melted in a single pot. They are mixing and interacting. That is the whole idea and to that extent I think that this country has done very well, being able to manage its diversity while obtaining a high level of stability. I think that Mauritians need to be commended. Overall, Mauritius came out very nicely in the two previous reports that we have done under the African Governance Report project.

How do you think that we have managed that?

I think it’s because you kept the debate alive. You did not sweep the debate underground.

You kept on discussing issues and challenges and the government is responding to that, making adjustments and amendments. Reforms don’t come in a sweep. I think that there is progress. We should continue listening to each other and allowing everybody to share their views. And of course protect the weak and vulnerable because, to me the strength of a democracy is to ensure that the minorities in societies are protected.

Is that the dark spot in our diversity?

Well, I would not say dark spot. Some of the challenges regard equal opportunities, something which is not unique to Mauritius.

It exists also in Seychelles, for instance, and other African countries. I think that it is something which we can look at and see how we can address the historical disadvantages in the policy and institutional process. A lot has been done, but much can still be done.

Do you feel that some people are at disadvantaged because of their ethnic belonging?

Well, I would not say so. The report says that you should ensure equal opportunities for all citizens. I think that there are challenges and what we need to do is to address those challenges.

When you say “ address those challenges”, do you mean to address them legally or through a change of mind set?

I think it requires both. There is no society in which the establishment of an institution has fully adjusted the process.It takes time. It is important to have some affi rmative action without sacrificing merit in the process.

How can merit be compatible with affirmative action?

You create a threshold.

You’d still sacrifice some merit?

Well, managing a society is a major challenge. There are options and sacrifi ces that we have to make to ensure stability and progress.

But you can’t have stability if some people feel that they have been discriminated against because of their ethnicity and affirmative action.

Let’s look at it the other way. Let’s go on a hundred per cent merit for plural societies.

A particular group, because they’ve had access to education, better facilities and are predisposed to perform better, can score between 70 and 90%. Some other group, because of historical reasons, scored between 40 and 60% and we set our bar at 65% and we then go for merit. We would then discover that there is single group that gets the positions, thus reinforcing the divide.

Isn’t the answer affirmative action at the level of education not at the level of jobs?

I think structural problems have to be addressed structurally. It’s a combination.

Affirmative action can be for a number of years to give the disadvantaged educational opportunities and create professionals out of them; So if you keep it at that level, and also reinforce it by measures at the top, it will work together such that over a period of time that problem can fix itself.

The problem with affirmative action is that it tends to encourage people to think of themselves as distinct ethnic categories rather than as Mauritians. Then you either have to ask people to declare their ethnic belonging or have the opportunist who says he belongs to the disadvantaged group so that he gets the benefits.

There are no easy choices to make but the more opportunities we give to disadvantaged groups, the more we reinforce national identity. In countries like Mauritius, where there was what we call settler colonialism, where historically certain groups were disadvantaged, to really reconfi gure society, we need some form of affi rmative action.

Society must set its objectives. What do we do to reduce social tension, to make sure that inter- group relations improve in society? We will gain in some places and lose in others.

The debate will go on and on. What is important is that we must collectively encourage such decisions and, at the end of the day, make adjustments and move along.

Plural societies are difficult to manage. You have to redress the balance and while doing so cater for various sensitivities.

Let me ask you one easy question and one difficult one. The easy one is what has come out of the report which you find commendable and the diffi cult one is what has come out of it which you fi nd shocking?

Commendable are two things that I see.

One is that there is a good management of elections. That came out very strongly. The people believe very strongly that the management of the electoral process is impartial which is highly commendable. The second thing has to do with the political stability in the country, despite all the challenges.

There is political order; there is political consensus and debate on going forward.

The one shocking thing in the report was how to fi nance political parties. The parties for instance have no support from the state.

Then what happens? Corporate interests now control the parties. This is something that the country needs to refl ect on: how to come up with a fi nancing structure so that parties are not hijacked by private interests.

That is a challenge.

The problem with state fi nancing political parties is that it forces taxpayers to fi nance political parties they would never vote for. And there is no guarantee that the big parties will not continue to have their hands greased by the private sector.

I think parties should declare their assets, and fi le fi nancial returns. This means accountability because parties are public entities. Not fi ling their records means that they act like mafi a groups rather than public entities; that they can get money from anywhere and use it any way they wish.

Party fi nancing should be part of a reform process where public donations are encouraged, some agreed government formula is in place but at the end of the day parties have to be accountable. The accounts have to be public so that they are truly public entities bound by public rules. The next issue will be registration, because we cannot fund all parties ad infi nitum. My own suggestion would be registration and keeping the number of state- funded parties to a minimum.

L’express Weekly May 4

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on May 4, 2012

Happily never after

Since the promised revelations of May Day did not quench anyone’s thirst, here is a real revelation: the tidal wave Paul Bérenger expected Anerood Jugnauth to sway towards him was not to be. It is an established fact now. Whether the Briani smelled better, the rum promised to be of better quality or the buses looked more comfortable ( who are we to judge compatriots’ motivations) the crowds wanted to make a point. And they did.

We would not like to chance any figures, an exercise which, in the past, has resulted in some politicians expressing their anger in a way that put them on the wrong side of the law. It is clear to all those who went to both meetings, however, that whatever the numbers and claims are, Navin Ramgoolam attracted a larger crowd. Admittedly, he had the government machinery on his side and he did not hesitate to use it to the full, but for a government in mid- mandate juggling with the resignation of a president positioning himself as a challenger, the global economic crisis, the erosion of purchasing power and what not, managing to even square up to the opposition is no mean feat.

As a seasoned politician, Paul Bérenger would not have failed to notice that the crowd at Port Louis was far below expectations and that, apart from the usual, indeed large, chunk of militants, the promises and threats made after the president’s resignation remained just that – promises and threats.

Bérenger must by now have started to explore the other options. Again! One of these is going- it- alone, an option which has never been as feasible as it is today. Bérenger has never been closer to walking to the prime minister’s seat through the main door as he is today. But for that, he needs to start believing in himself, a huge task if you ask me. The majority/ minority issue is a leitmotiv for him. An obsession.

The other option would be realizing his perennial dream of associating with his secretly- much- loved- ostensibly- much- hated brother, Navin Ramgoolam. You will not have failed to notice that his speech on May Day was centered mainly on an analysis of the international situation. Banalities which we all know and which give the government a solid excuse for everything that goes on at this present point in time.

When the promised “ revelation” about the prime minister’s British passport came, what a rip- off! I want my money back! What Bérenger indeed “ revealed” was that in countries like India and Australia, Ramgoolam would apparently not be allowed to run for offi ce since he had a British passport.

What Paul is accusing his brother Navin of, in other words, is breaking the laws of India and Australia by holding a double nationality! Ouch! Roches Noires ? Ouch! No disagreement whatsoever about the economic policy.

And the brother did not hesitate to return the favour by concentrating all his attacks on Anerood Jugnauth, letting his brother off with a slight embarrassment about his previous statements on the prepared video about Med Point. Ouch, ouch! As we turn the pages to close the May Day chapter, we will retain that it has revealed some cracks in the Paul/ Anerood love cup. As Harish Boodhoo said, “ the tent will be pulled down before the chawtaree ”. But for those who have already started to dust their smart clothes and bought a wedding gift, do not despair. Other invitations will be out in due course. There! You were given advance notice.

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