Touria Prayag's Blog

l’express Weekly June 29 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on June 29, 2012

Silence… we’re roaring

The teachers are up in arms. The “ Silence, on lit ” ( Silence… we’re reading) project initiated by the ministry of education was met with disapproval from the teachers as expressed through the president of their major union, Vinod Seegum, in a letter addressed to the ministry of education this week. Their contention? They particularly object to having to do the “ job of library clerks”, which they claim will add an additional load to their “ already overburdened” schedule.

Naturally, no one expects the teachers’ unions to sit and thank the minister for every measure he comes up with. Nor is anyone suggesting that all the measures he has proposed so far have been positive or even worthwhile. Some, like introducing golf in schools, have lasted only for as long as the cameras were around. But this protest sits alongside a very long list of controversies, starting with the enhancement programme to the teachers’ working hours. It would be wrong of us to allow political issues and the various alleged scandals to overshadow it.

The enhancement programme, for instance, could have been a very positive aspect of our teaching and learning experience.

Admittedly, it is not perfect but it could have been a wonderful opportunity for the slow learners to catch up with their peers and do their homework in a supervised healthy environment. Unfortunately, some teachers saw it as a missed opportunity to make money by cramming young kids in stuffy overcrowded garages. It therefore met with so much resentment that it has, in many cases, turned into a come- and- waste- your- time experience.

Now the additional half an hour of reading which the pupils are required to do under the teachers’ supervision has generated so much discontent that one wonders whether the teacher’s vocation is not lost somewhere. We do not, of course, believe that the “ silence on lit” project is going to be enough to inculcate a reading culture in the pupils. It takes much more than that to turn young reluctant kids into avid adult readers. In countries with a reading culture, there is usually a pleasant reading corner or library in each classroom that consists of books from various genres which appeal to kids of different ages and tastes.

In such countries, the teacher guides the pupils in the choice of books based on her knowledge of their reading comprehension and ability. Schools, teachers and families then become major players in campaigning for the importance of reading.

And, since good reading skills lead students to become successful learners, the whole nation reaps the benefi ts of this investment in the years ahead.

We are not there yet. Granted. But we are unlikely to ever get there if the unions oppose every move which the ministry proposes and which does not benefi t them personally. The only measure the teachers have welcomed so far is… the summer school. So much so that there is now talk of the winter school! If we were cynical, we would attribute the teachers’ enthusiasm to the handsome pay cheque which comes with it. But we won’t. It is not our intention to undermine the work teachers do or to deny them decent wages in line with people with similar quali- fi cations. We have always believed that the salaries teachers earn do not put value on the work they do. This, however, should not be a licence to view every act in monetary terms and be up in arms against any decision the ministry takes and which does not result in an immediate personal gain.

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L’express Weekly June 22 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on June 22, 2012

From Boskalis to the BoI

Have we, for heavens’ sake, become so idle as a nation that
we don’t know what to do with our time any more? Or are
we simply short of issues to discuss? Or, do we perhaps
fi nd reason unbearable when it glares at us? Whatever the
case may be, the leader of the opposition’s declared intention to table
a Private Notice Question (PNQ) in parliament next Tuesday about
the Boskalis case is rather disconcerting. It is, as Oscar Wilde would
say, hitting below the intellect.
What exactly is so new and so “revolting” or “shocking” about three
powerful guys having to face justice to either clear their names or atone for
their wrongdoings? Isn’t justice what we have all been asking for to help attenuate
the degree of corruption this country has been reeking of for too long?
Now, every time someone is called upon to answer for their mistakes, we
suddenly see all kinds of ulterior motives behind every move which the ICAC
or the police make.
As far back as December 2011, before Chady joined Cehl Meeah’s FSM
and when he was still in the good graces of the government, we put a question
about Boskalis in the columns of this very paper to ICAC’s Director General
Kumar Anil Ujoodha, and even blamed him for the crawlingly slow pace of
the investigation and wondering whether they were serious about ever catching
the real culprits. His answer was: “In the case of Boskalis, the investigation is not
over… There is a lot of evidence which is not in the Mauritian territory and we
need special legislation, mutual legal assistance, to get it… We’ve done everything
we can do but there is one piece of evidence which is being challenged by the
courts in the Netherlands by the people from whom the evidence was gathered.
The Netherlands won the case but it is now on appeal…”
If such evidence has eventually been received now and if the investigation
which had been going on suggests that there is prima facie incriminating evidence
to bring the suspects to book, where is the scandal? Now if conspiracy,
aiding and abetting or other similar charges do not fall within the purview
of the ICAC’s law and the case has been referred to the police, is that cause
enough to warrant a PNQ? Aren’t there more pressing issues to discuss in
parliament or is all well in the kingdom of god?
What is sad about this whole thing is that through our misplaced sympathy,
we may fi nd ourselves encouraging the very crime we are trying to
fi ght. It is almost suggesting that anyone on the wrong side of government
should be given special privileges! The real question that we should be
asking is: are they guilty or not, a question which is not likely to be answered
in parliament. And for that reason, the case should be allowed to go
through the normal justice process.
Let’s not forget in this blame game, that yesterday’s powerful cannot turn
into today’s victims. Many allow power to get to their heads and think they are
above the law. Turning them into victims is unfair to the real victims – us, the
hard-working taxpayers. Defending us is where the energy of the leader of
the opposition should be geared, be it in the Boskalis, Med Point, Rosewood,
and now the Board of Investment or any other case of alleged misconduct.
Thieves are not victims, no matter what their political convictions are. And
those who are innocent have everything to gain by facing justice.

l’express Weekly June 15 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on June 15, 2012

The nation has spoken

The match is over, the results are out and the referee has gone home. The criminal code amendment bill has gone through with an overwhelming majority. It is an outright victory of human rights, secularism and democracy. But more than the bill itself, which is a tiny step in the struggle for women’s rights and human rights in general, it is the symbolism behind it, the debate it generated and the reactions which ensued that are even more signifi cant.

First, the debate surrounding the bill has brought to the forefront one crucial fact: the realisation – better late than never – that Mauritius is a secular state. Recognising this simple evidence, by the prime minister himself no less, supported by the minister of fi nance and comforted by the majority and the opposition alike, constitutes a leap in the way matters can be conducted in this country. For years, we have been boasting that we are multi- racial and secular and for years we have been allowing religions and religious lobbies to decide everything for us, from the number of children we should have to the kind of music we can legitimately listen to.

Secondly, the debate has allowed us once again to revisit the question of whether an MP is elected to defend the interests of the country or those of his own religion or ethnic group. Thanks to the courage of the likes of Xavier Duval, Shakeel Mohamed and Mireille Martin, we have really been served the quality of debate worthy of this country. These MPs, and many more like them, have managed to convince their constituents as well as the nation at large that Mauritius can no longer be ghettos of religions and ethnic groups.

The greatest achievement of this episode, though, is the grace with which the pro- life have accepted the verdict of this democratic process.

Bishop Piat’s reaction is highly commendable: “ The church respects this outcome. However, our respect for democracy should not overshadow our civic responsibility.” This is exactly what the stand of all religions and religious groups should be: to preach to their members the teachings of their religions and inculcate a culture of responsible behaviour.

This graceful attitude of the church opens an era where the pro- life and pro- choice can work hand in hand to defend the same causes. For, we have more grounds in common than many realise. We do not believe that abortion is a casual event or that it should be anyone’s chosen method of contraception. We just think it is a necessary evil. We do not believe in promiscuity or sexual irresponsibility. We believe there is a lot of work to be done in that area and we will take part in and encourage any efforts to promote responsible sex. We can work together because we have been able to talk to each other. And that is the major outcome of this bill.

In concrete terms, what does the bill represent for the women of this country today? Very little. And women do not see it as the end of their struggle. “ Give me liberty or give me death,” was Patrick Henry’s revered statement. That should remain the call. We are not there yet but presenting the bill, openly debating it and voting for it, were incredibly bold moves.

I hope they set the tone for more.

Write to us: weekly@ lexpress. mu

 

“The World Trade Organisation is just 20th century colonialism”

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on June 13, 2012

Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria is a force to be reckoned with. He is known for his tough stance on stricter regulations, accountability and transparency in the financial sector. He was rewarded for it, named as African banker of the year for two consecutive years and as Forbes Africa Person of the Year 2011. He gave us his take on banking and the economy during his recent visit to the island at the invitation of the Governor of the Central Bank of Mauritius.

Mr Sanusi, I’m happy to see you in Mauritius. In fact, I’m happy to see you at all. How did you survive the unpopular measures you introduced?

They are unpopular with the rent- seeking elite. They are not unpopular with the majority of people. In fact, I think that a lot of people in the country feel that too many things have been happening for too long and that it’s just about time that somebody did something about them.

For the record can you tell me exactly what you did? I know you closed down some banks and you’ve jailed some bankers. Is that about the sum of it?

We haven’t really closed down banks. We removed the management and put them on trial where we felt that laws had been broken. One of them has gone to jail, one has forfeited assets and there will be convictions, and two are awaiting trial so we think we may end up jailing at least three or four high profile bank CEOs, which has never been done in Nigeria before.

We are also in the process of recovering as much of the wealth which they took away from the banks as possible.

You must have very strong legislation to allow you to do that.

In terms of having the legal and institutional arrangements, there is no problem. The laws are there.

It’s just that in that kind of society, the laws don’t get applied, sometimes because those who have been charged with applying the law have been compromised. Or those who have benefited from corruption are so powerful and politically connected that people are just afraid of taking them on.

How did you manage to take them on in this case? Presumably, the people your measures targeted must have been loaded as well as politically connected.

Well there’s luck and a combination of circumstances. I enjoyed a tremendous amount of confidence and support from the president, who allowed me to do my work and prevented anyone from getting in the way. And his successor also allowed that.

The Governor of the Central Bank of Mauritius said in his speech that he was going to ask you for advice on how to deal with recalcitrant bankers. What advice did you give him?

I think he just wanted to put the fear of God into the bankers! I don’t think you have had the issues that we have. If you had, I have no doubt that your governor would take those steps. It’s happened in several parts of the world. In Turkey and Malaysia in the 1990s, they put about 20 bankers in jail.

And from what you know of our banking situation here, you don’t think that we have such issues?

I don’t think you’ve had any banking crisis. It’s obviously a small, very open economy, which means that very careful management of capital flows would be important to avoid any destabilising influences. But it has done quite well through the crisis.

Well the problem our government has been having with the bankers, and I think he alluded to that in his speech, is that they are not lending money. They are not taking enough risks. Is that your reading of the situation as well?

I think there are always two sides to everything: banks, like businesses, try to make money with as little risk as possible. Obviously, they have to take some risks because the only reason they make money is because they take some risks. But the tendency is to take the least risky options , which are short term exposures and usually linked to trade transactions and price speculations, and unless something goes seriously wrong like very large exposures to a particular asset class, then the likelihood is that you can make good money without taking maturity risks, without lending long term, not lending to small and medium enterprises. Now on the other hand, there are structures and institutional arrangements that need to be put in place to make those loans that the banks run away from less risky. For example, if you want banks to lend to agriculture, there will have to be a number of agricultural policies that will make farming itself commercially viable like supporting farmers, giving them impetus, improving the odds and giving them access to markets with guaranteed prices. If you want banks to lend to manufacturing, you’ve got to ask if you’ve got the right trade and tariff policies, if you’ve provided the right infrastructure to make manufacturing viable in Mauritius.

It is one thing to say that the banks are not lending, but it’s another to really honestly say to the government, “ Have you developed the industries they are not lending to enough?” In Nigeria for example, because of the lack of infrastructure and storage facilities, almost half of the tomato output perishes! The Moroccans managed to fix the value chain, got the right yields, got the right practices, got the right storage facilities, and they export to Europe. If you don’t fix that value chain, any bank that lends to farmers will simply lose its money.

Then the tug of war between the governor and the bankers is likely to continue. Is he fighting a losing battle?

Well no, I think they can be on the same side. There’s got to be the recognition that finance cannot be an island on its own.

And, frankly, most of the analytical and technical skills in African economies are in the financial sector. The public sector does not have them. So, in a sense, the banking sector has the intellectual resources to give advice to government on what it needs to do.

Another battle our governor has been fighting is with the exporters. They are always lobbying for a devalued rupee. Do you think devaluation is the answer?

( With a cunning smile) You’ve put me in a very difficult position because a central bank governor does not usually comment on another central bank governor’s policies.

I won’t tell him.

( Laughs ) It is the nature of export- led economies that they want a weak currency. Especially if their exports are not commodities.

However, sometimes weak currency is not the problem. Your labour costs may be too high or you can have problems of quality. Besides, if you have an open economy and you have a significant amount of imports, then the weak currency has the risk of importing inflation.

Which way should the central bank lean then?

At the end of the day, the primary responsibility of the central bank is stability, not growth. If a central bank governor decides to compromise price stability for short- term growth, then he has basically abandoned his mandate.

So first of all he has to keep inflation under control. Inflation hurts everyone and most of all the poor. That is a major problem for policy. The choice has to be made and I have always said: “ Look, if the inflation risk is not high, I will do everything to promote growth.

But if by supporting growth in particular sectors or even in the GDP we run a risk of high inflation rates, I will not do it.” That’s my mandate as the central bank governor. That’s not the mandate of the finance minister and therefore you have these conflicts.

How do you reconcile them?

Everyone just does his job.

But sometimes the jobs are in conflict. What do you do in such cases?

I would tell the finance minister: “ If you feel so strongly about it, why don’t you give them some subsidies?” Other countries have done it; China has done it. Why should I devalue the currency? If you are really interested in promoting exports, you have to use government money to do it.

You mean our money?

Yes the government will have to use its money.

For the exporters to use? I don’t think such measures would be popular, certainly not in Mauritius.

I think inflation would be much more unpopular.

The problem of some sectors is that they are not competitive enough. Will giving them grants not make them even less competitive?

Which is why I asked the basic question – is the problem exchange rates? If you’re competing with the Chinese, maybe labour here is more expensive than Chinese labour. Or maybe it does not have the technical skills of Chinese labour. Or maybe the infrastructure is not as good etc. So before you conclude that a weaker rupee would make you more competitive, you’ve got to compare input costs and see whether really with the devalued exchange rate you are producing more cheaply than your competitor. And if you did that then you would have a valid argument. I mean everyone can be competitive if they devalue their currency. It’s too easy.

But you hurt the country in the long run.

Exactly. All economic decisions are like that and I think that is the challenge we have. The definition of economic decisions is that it is about choices. And whatever choice you make, you can always point to the cost of that choice. If the governor decides he wants a strong currency, then yes, everyone can point to the cost in terms of export prices. But if he devalued it, there would be costs in terms of inflation. So you’ve got to say what the choices are.

You mentioned something about Nigeria in your speech which is quite intriguing. You said: “ We import what we have and export what we don’t have.” How does one do that?

I think it’s a principal African problem. If you go back to the histories of the economies of the world, if you go back to slavery, to colonialism, to the neo-colonial satellite states, it was always about how countries find sources of raw materials and how they find markets for exports. If you ask me, the World Trade Organisation is just 20th century colonialism. It’s just that, instead of the West coming as colonizers and forcing the markets, we, Africans, went and voluntarily signed to open up our markets to finished goods, in the name of free trade. The USA and the UK plunge in and say: “ Our markets are open for you to export your raw materials. Sell us cotton and cocoa and you open up your markets to our textiles and computers.

It’s fair trade.” And of course we went and signed and made shortterm money.

For how long is Africa going to remain stupid?

That’s for us to decide. It’s for this generation. We can spend a lot of time talking about the mistakes of the past. In a year or two, we will all be past leaders and the next generation will be talking about us too as being stupid. It’s time to change this now .

How will you go about change? Surely Africa must get its act together.

People will have to speak up. I speak up in my country and I think the message gets through. Now of course if you’ve got a resource- rich country where people make so much money from parasiting off the system, then you have a problem, because they resist change.

But we need to speak up.

Was it for speaking up or for your banking skills that you were made the central bank governor of the year?

( Smiles embarrassedly ) Frankly, I appreciated the gesture but public servants don’t work for awards.

Isn’t it a satisfaction that what you are doing is being recognised internationally?

It is, I think, for someone like me, given the kind of battles that I fought and that I continue to fight.

On Monday last, Forbes named you African person of the year – are you going to be modest about that too?

( Smiles ) It came at a time again when we just nationalised some banks in September and today there is this whole debate in the national assembly.

Is nationalisation the right way to go?

The bottom line is that if banks have a solvency problem, they have to be recapitalised. If their shareholders can’t put in the money and they can’t because their investment has been wiped out and they don’t have the money, and the capital markets are such that it’s very difficult at this time to attract capital from other parts of the world, somebody has to do it.

“ Somebody” is the government which steps in and buys off these debts?

No, part of it is actual recapitalisation but also capital injection.

Don’t forget that in many African banks if you go to a typical balance sheet, 80% is retail. Poor people, innocent people who have just put their money into the banks. At the end of the day, when the bank fails, it is those people who will lose their money. The moral is, it is very easy to say, “ Don’t use taxpayers money to bail out banks” but when you bail out a bank, you are bailing out the depositors. And most people don’t understand that.

The reason I’m asking is because we are in the process of privatising our casinos for example. Does that make sense to you?

I think you should scrap the casino business! ( Laughter ) I agree with you! I wish we could! ( More laughter ) I hope they all go bankrupt! They cause a lot of damage and a lot of tragedy and I don’t think any government should promote casinos.

Is keeping them private the answer?

Well, it’s better than the government owning them.

But when they are privatised, you will have less control.

Not necessarily but I think the government has no business doing certain things and casinos are one.

Economically you mean? We are not talking ethics here.

Economically. The government has no business owning banks, casinos or manufacturing companies. It’s unnecessary. The private sector should do that.

Even when you privatise or get out of telecom or oil and gas, those are industries that need to be regulated. What we’ve always done wrong in many African countries is that we privatise and then we don’t regulate. I mean the UK privatised many companies under Margaret Thatcher, but then the regulations were very strong.

Was she right to do that?

She had to. The UK economy was about to go bankrupt. Look where Greece is today. Everything was owned by the state and if you’re going to continue with the British welfare state, you have to get out of certain things. She got out of mines, telecoms and airlines.

She paid a heavy price for it.

Well, she was prime minister for 11 years! And there again is the lesson for African leaders.

Sometimes you have to take decisions that are extremely unpopular.

And Thatcher did that. If you take President Toledo of Peru, when he started his measures, his popularity went down to 8%. By the time he was through, he was at 67%. I think many African leaders just don’t have the courage to take decisions that are unpopular.

What did the decisions you took cost you?

Well, I lost a number of friends, mainly among the bankers, but also among non bankers because I published the names of companies that borrowed from the banks and didn’t pay. I have been attacked and maligned for years, for one thing after another.

Amongst others, you were accused of having caused people to lose their jobs.

Well that’s just a silly argument but the counterfactual is how many jobs would have been lost if the banks had gone? By losing money, the banks had to reduce workers, but if the banks had gone, everyone would have gone. Besides, the banking industry, by its very nature, is not labour intensive. As the banks get more modern and rely on more technology, you’re going to have fewer and fewer human beings processing transactions.

It’s not your job to create and maintain jobs anyway, is it?

No. The role of the banks is to provide finance to those industries that create jobs.

“ There are structures and institutional arrangements that need to be put in place to make those loans that the banks run away from less risky.”

Interview in l’express Weekly June 8 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on June 11, 2012

“We know for sure that the theology differs but we choose to tread the path together”

One classroom, students from all faiths open inter-faith discussions. Dœs that seem like an outlandish scenario? Reverend Eddy Cheong See, member of the Council of Religions, sits with L’express Weekly to express his views on the path towards all the religions being more accepting of one another.

It’s a two- year course. The first year is on inter- faith, from the five different religions present in Mauritius : Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Bahaie Faith. We look into the historical perspective, background and a bit of the sacred books. We also touch upon the popular and social practices in the first year. In the second year, the students are taught about Peace studies and Conflict management.

We teach during the first year and the university takes over in the second year.

What is the relationship between interfaith and conflict management?

Conflict management is about being able to handle differences. For the people to be productive and efficient, it’s important that they know how to sort out these differences adequately.

The Jewish religion is not represented. Do we have a Jewish community here?

Yes, we do. We have been in contact with them. We wrote to them, but in fact the community is very small. It takes more time for us to collaborate with them, but we make it a point to be in contact with them; after all, Christianity originated from Judaism and there is still a large influence of Judaism within Christianity.. Jesus was in fact a Jew.

Do the students who enroll on this course leave with a BA?

No, it is a certificate course over two years but we are working on upgrading it to a diploma course in January 2013. We met Pr. Jugessur and he has been very supportive.

Who actually enrolls for the course? People who are particularly religious?

Yes. We have tried to attract religious leaders. Some of them have actually come but most of the enrolled students are people who are practising their own religions and who are interested in learning more.

The course is an exceptional experience for those people. Imagine that you sit at the university and a Buddhist monk comes and lectures you. He broadens your approach to religion. Suddenly you see that

he has another way of seeing the Divine. Buddhists are not theistic in their approach to spirituality, which makes the debates all the more interesting.

As a student, you are made to sit and listen to a Buddhist from Taiwan talking about theology and how this person has compassion for the whole world. It is an experience like no other , a testament to how innovative the concept is in Mauritius.

Buddhism is a different way of seeing the world altogether, isn’t it?

Yes. As a matter of fact, Buddhism is a philosophy that differs from various other religions because it is not conceptualised around God.

Can it also shake you in your beliefs and make you think that you somehow don’t have the truth?

( Laughter) That depends on what is defined as the “ truth”. If somebody convinces himself to go to the university to take this course, which costs Rs 6,000 yearly, the chances are s/ he is already convinced of their beliefs. They are stable in their own religion. Like me.

I am a Christian priest, but I love Hinduism, Buddhism and other faiths. It’s a journey you are happy to take. You are no longer shocked.

Other religions feed your spirituality.

But if I am convinced that my religion is the only way to the truth, how do I accept that somebody else might feel the same about their religion?

( More laughter) That is a good question. Personally I would say that it’s all about how you articulate your faith. I mean, it’s a quest that one embarks on. What is your theoretical grounding in the Divine? There are things that you cannot quantify.

For instance, I love my wife and my children. These are things that you cannot quantify and religion, in the same logic, cannot be quantified

I see your point. When you say, “ I love my wife, I love my children and I can understand that other people also love their children in the same way”. But here you are talking about a journey. In a journey you move forward, whereas here you are stuck in your beliefs.

Those who choose to walk the intercultural path are not stuck in their beliefs. First, a person can question Truth. Secondly, knowing that s/ he is on a journey, will never take things as fixed or unchangeable.

In religion there is no black or white.

But religion is either black or white. There are no grey areas in religion in the way that you are trying to sell it to me, are there?

( Long silence ) I wouldn’t say that there are no grey areas but we must be open to other faiths.

Is religion about ‘ I’m a Muslim’, I’m a Christian’, ‘ I’m a Hindu’ or is it about ‘ I can be anything and question the truth’?

No. You can critically study your faith.

But can you question the word of God?

No but you can put it into perspective. Today, technology and science are revealing to us new dimensions of reality. We must admit that. Sometimes, we must accept that the Divine is a dimension that we may not completely understand, and there are answers that we simply don’t know. The word of God remains the truth for all religions.

From my perspective, Jesus is the truth. The Word of God is the truth.

From that position, how can you take a journey towards the Buddhist, for example?

A Buddhist still says that Jesus is an enlightened person, a bodhisattva.

But there is a difference between being an enlightened person and being God. You are an enlightened person, but you are not God.

I take a road which is theistic.

Theistic means that there is a deity.

There is God. A Buddhist will not take this road.

Last time, I interviewed representatives of three different religions here, they all seemed happy to say ‘ we agree’. But how can you? One says ‘ Jesus is God’, another other one says ‘ Jesus is not God, he is a prophet’ and the third one says ‘ there isn’t only one God’. How do you manage to have a journey towards each other?

( Laughter) I can understand what you are saying. This is the joy of interfaith dialogue. We try to understand what the other person has to say about his/ her faith though we may disagree with him/ her. It is about being humble enough to learn from the other faiths.

How do you reconcile all these differences within a journey?

We can enjoy the joy of each other’s style. We respect what the others have to say and drink from others’ wells. We share all our theologies.

We move together, work together and appreciate one another.

We know for sure that the theology differs but we choose to tread the path together. The point is to learn how the others theologize. How the other one sees reality. What can I do to learn as a person from other people’s faith? That is a question that many of the students will ask themselves along this course.

Talking for instance about how you come to agreements upon certain issues, which is the aim of the Council of Religions, I can see that regarding abortion, you did not come to an agreement after all. You agreed to disagree.

I will not answer that.

Why not?

During the planning, I was not in Mauritius. Perhaps you can talk to our press offi ce.

Do you personally think that the debate that is going on is fair?

My bishop is writing a letter. He is working on it. My personal opinion is that life must be preserved.

And that’s it?

Yes, that’s it. Full stop!

For more information on the Interfaith Faith course at the University of Mauritius, please contact Council of Religions Tel 210- 3531 ( office hours) Email: religions@ intnet.mu


l’express Weekly June 8 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on June 8, 2012

Tomorrow is today

It is a very humbling journey. A journey through an incredibly clean country where there is not a speck of dust on the streets and not a piece of rubbish on the floors of shopping malls. As for plastic bags which litter pavements in many a country, here children have no idea what they look like. They were banned in 2006.

The impeccable cleanliness, lush vegetation and green, jagged, one thousand hills are no accident. Every last Saturday of the month, all the businesses have to close by law to allow the government authorities to clean the streets, plant new trees and create awareness. As you drive through the long, well- planned roads, all in excellent condition, or walk on the wide pavements, you immediately see the impressive result of all this.

If you wander about the 24/ 7 shopping centre at around midnight, you rub shoulders with locals queuing up in front of the delicatessen and fresh meat sections choosing the best cuts. Others are looking at the latest brands on display. Like in many countries, not everyone can afford them. Unlike in many countries, not everyone wants them.

The smiles are genuine and the safety you feel as you roam around is not just an impression. You are in a city with an extremely low crime rate, in a peaceful, non- violent country at peace with itself. Welcome to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, in the heart of Africa! A country with such a recent, violently- tragic history turned into a safe haven overnight! The importance a country attaches to issues can arguably be gleaned from the kind of buildings symbolizing these. In many countries, the most attractive buildings are often shopping centres, a telling fact of the consumer societies they have become. In Kigali, the most beautiful building after the stunning parliament, is, ironically, the Kigali Genocide Memorial. The beautiful gardens, the ponds and stone steps of the outside, create an impression which clashes sharply with the horror hidden inside. The horrifying history displayed in the mass graves of thousands of unidentified victims is embellished with dozens of gorgeous fresh bouquets and flower arrangements which Rwandan visitors flocking into the memorial keep bringing in. The mauve ribbons on each bear the same message: Never Again; we will never forget you. Over the tranquil ponds and green gardens, a flame is kept burning, a reminder of a history Rwandans do not want to forget but are adamant they do not want to repeat. Looking forward to the future is for Rwandans a matter of pride. For those who are mourning their loved ones, it is another sacrifice they decided to make for their country.

Kigali for me is living proof of what Africa can achieve when it wants to. It is an example of how quickly it can turn an ugly page of history and move on. It is the very evidence of how Africa can lead in many domains.

The foresight of Rwanda in the preservation of the environment and its ability to look forward can hardly be rivalled.

There are still many lessons Rwanda can and will learn from the rest of Africa but the rest of Africa has to be humble enough to learn the lessons of Rwanda. Taking a journey through Kigali, enjoying the long evening walks on the pavements, savouring the vast array of French bread, croissants and exquisite petits fours and taking stock of how much has been achieved, should leave every African with the proud feeling that for Africa, tomorrow is today!

 

l’express Weekly June 1 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on June 1, 2012

A small step for womankind

A deal, even a bad one, is better than a disaster. And that is what the debate – gradually being watered down – taking place at the national assembly around the criminal code amendment bill is about. It certainly does not amount to liberating women. It does not give them the sovereignty over their bodies which elsewhere no one questions any more. It does not give them the choice to decide on the number of children they can afford to have, which is something taken for granted for other women in countries not so far away from ours. It simply opens a small window for a few traumatized young girls which society has not been able to protect from predators, to lead semi- decent lives by getting rid of the constant reminder of an objectionable act of sexual aggression and joining their more fortunate mates on the school benches and playgrounds. That’s all we are talking about.

While the debate within the national assembly does us proud; while our parliamentarians have risen above party politics, put their differences aside and given an example of what a living democracy is about; while even those opposing the bill have expressed their views respectfully, though the statistics given and the studies quoted would have been hilarious under other circumstances, outside parliament, the hyperactivity which has started to surround the debate around this bill is hard to understand and is symptomatic of what happens when a light breeze, not exactly an icy draught, runs through the insulated corridors of an inward- looking country run by religious lobbies and dogmas.

The opponents of this bill went out for the kill. And they were not going to let a few facts get in the way. The slogans they have been spouting show a great mastery of vitriol. Heavy on accusations but short on specifi cs, they have even used children in the fi ght. All these children with various disabilities who would not have lived had the pro- choice had it their way… And, the fi nale… the threat of hunger strikes.

A healthy debate is a focused, intellectually- honest one. There is nothing whatsoever in this bill which would prevent the children with disabilities brandishing the placards their parents have crafted for them from being born and leading happy lives. The mothers who chose to keep the malformed foetuses will continue to be admired for their courage and commended for their choices. However, we must be rational enough to understand that there may be mothers who do not live in the ideal circumstances which would allow them to give a child with a serious disability the care required.

We must be compassionate enough to understand that some, not all of these mothers, may choose to sacrifi ce a 14- week zygote to be able to give the other children she has the best opportunities she can afford in life.

The proposed bill is about these women who have to work long and tiring hours and bring up their children on their own. It is about young girls who have been robbed of their childhood by monsters and who are having their noses rubbed in it every day of their lives. It is about allowing young girls and underprivileged women to have normal lives after traumatic experiences.

The position taken by most of our representatives from all political parties is a moment of pride for the country. A bill which is about justice has to, and will, go through. Otherwise, it will come back to hurt us.