Touria Prayag's Blog

Weekly editorial (August 16, 2012)

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on August 19, 2012

When absurdity becomes a habit

You know that a country is not going anywhere when you have lobbies digging their heels in against any progress and pushing for the status quo. This week has seen the meeting between the adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office on Road Safety and representatives of trade unions of the transport sector. Though the outcome of the meeting is not very clear for the time being, no one will be surprised if the demerit point system, which the government has been trying to introduce to put some order in our horrendous traffic conditions and an end to the carnage on our roads, finds its way to the bottom of the drawers. 

There is no doubt that lobbies, the world over, are very powerful. Each year, lobbing groups spend astronomical sums of money trying to buy influence. And we are not left out of the fiesta. Corporates in Mauritius hardly hide the fact that they pour money into efforts to shape laws and regulations to fit their interests. However, if in the business arena, lobbying is associated with powerful interests, it gets murkier when lobbies are orchestrated by “ordinary citizens”, particularly those on the lower rungs of the social ladder. The result is no different, though. If big business buys influence through lining the pockets of various political parties, ordinary citizens exert influence through bartering their votes. And the nation is no better off for it as they stand in the way of progress in a more noxious way than any big business can.

More than the lobbies, it is the arguments presented to defend them which are rather bemusing. The transport sector, for example, has no objection to everyone being penalised for bad driving except that those who make a living out of driving should be absolved. They could not be expected to respect the Highway Code in the same way as other road users, they said, without blinking, as they are on the road more often! And, the authorities should have consulted them first before deciding to apply the law indiscriminately. 

If you find the above arguments incongruous, if not altogether downright absurd, there is more: the left third carriageway built with big money on the motorway leading to the Phoenix roundabout is closed to motorists during peak hours. A perfect example of how a dozen votes are bartered against the comfort of tens of thousands of other motorists using that nexus every day. The argument:  the residents of Petit Camp village (a few dozen families) refuse to drive one hundred metres to the next roundabout and back if they want to head north. So the rest of the population is penalised! If we extended the same norms of security to all citizens of the country, we would have to close down all the roads!

In case you thought that the lobbies were restricted to road matters, take heart, they are not. You will recall that a couple of years ago, school canteen owners grouped under a union and threatened to go on hunger strike. The reason? The government was trying to introduce laws to protect school kids from buying unhealthy and unhygienic food. The argument put forward almost boiled down to “how would the canteens make a profit otherwise?”

Well, in countries where political patronage and clientelism are par for the course, you can’t blame lobbies for putting forward inane arguments, can you? 

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