Touria Prayag's Blog

Weekly editorial (September 27 2012)

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on September 30, 2012

The two-man show

This is a headline from the BBC: “Voters in Switzerland have rejected a total ban on smoking in enclosed public places at a referendum.” I thought it might be of interest to you as you might benefi t by knowing that in countries where there is real democracy, it is the people who decide even the most mundane issues such as having a smokers’ corner in public places. It is called participative democracy.

Back in Paradise: the prime minister and the leader of the opposition are deciding major issues like electoral reforms. All by themselves! It is surreal! All we hear are fi gures being tossed at us: 62+20+8. Add to that 1.3 million gullible people + one person eager to get into power and another determined to stay at the helm + demagogues + human apathy…and we are all sitting and watching the future of our democracy unfolding before our eyes as if we were watching a fi lm straight out of Bollywood. Is that what our nation has been reduced to?

Everyone by now agrees that it is time we reviewed our electoral system. We are not impartial on that. But here is where we have a problem.  First, the speed with which this is going is eerie. We are talking about changing the constitution here. It is like creating a new one. In 1965, when our constitution was being drafted, there was a consultation process which went on for a decade. People were allowed to express their opinion before the colonial secretary had the constitution drafted. Today, we want to conclude before the deadline given by the UN and – more importantly – without asking the people of this country what they think.

Secondly, the preposterous number of MPs pulled out of a hat is arbitrary and irrational. Carcassonne actually found that the number of representatives in our national assembly is high enough. In fact, even that is an understatement. We have roughly one MP per every 17,000 citizens. In the UK, for example, they have one for every – hold your breath – 92,000!

And some politicians have the temerity to look us straight in the eye and ask us to pay for 22 more to sit in parliament once a week, for a few months, some without opening their mouths a single time to say anything worth remembering. If you want to know what most of them do for the rest of the time, you just have to scrimp and save for a whole year, take the plane and you will find out. As you head right to go and slum it with the rest of us in the economy class, they haughtily waltz left to the category of the privileged, on a ticket paid for by you.

Twenty more MPs, 20 more pensions, 20 more per diems whenever they feel like it, 20 more duty-free cars, 20 more people not necessarily vetted by the electorate sitting in our legislative assembly. This also, incidentally, means taking away the power from the people by giving the party leaders the possibility to nominate people we did not vote for!

I don’t agree with this, do you? Isn’t it about time someone  asked for our opinion? Surely, this is more serious than having a smokers’ corner in Switzerland’s public places, isn’t it?

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The two-man show

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on September 28, 2012

This is a headline from the BBC: “Voters in Switzerland have rejected a total ban on smoking in enclosed public places at a referendum.” I thought it might be of interest to you as you might benefi t by knowing that in countries where there is real democracy, it is the people who decide even the most mundane issues such as having a smokers’ corner in public places. It is called participative democracy.

Back in Paradise: the prime minister and the leader of the opposition are deciding major issues like electoral reforms. All by themselves! It is surreal! All we hear are fi gures being tossed at us: 62+20+8. Add to that 1.3 million gullible people + one person eager to get into power and another determined to stay at the helm + demagogues + human apathy…and we are all sitting and watching the future of our democracy unfolding before our eyes as if we were watching a fi lm straight out of Bollywood. Is that what our nation has been reduced to?

Everyone by now agrees that it is time we reviewed our electoral system. We are not impartial on that. But here is where we have a problem. First, the speed with which this is going is eerie. We are talking about changing the constitution here. It is like creating a new one. In 1965, when our constitution was being drafted, there was a consultation process which went on for a decade. People were allowed to express their opinion before the colonial secretary had the constitution drafted. Today, we want to conclude before the deadline given by the UN and – more importantly – without asking the people of this country what they think.

Secondly, the preposterous number of MPs pulled out of a hat is arbitrary and irrational. Carcassonne actually found that the number of representatives in our national assembly is high enough. In fact, even that is an understatement. We have roughly one MP per every 17,000 citizens. In the UK, for example, they have one for every – hold your breath – 92,000!

And some politicians have the temerity to look us straight in the eye and ask us to pay for 22 more to sit in parliament once a week, for a few months, some without opening their mouths a single time to say anything worth remembering. If you want to know what most of them do for the rest of the time, you just have to scrimp and save for a whole year, take the plane and you will find out. As you head right to go and slum it with the rest of us in the economy class, they haughtily waltz left to the category of the privileged, on a ticket paid for by you.

Twenty more MPs, 20 more pensions, 20 more per diems whenever they feel like it, 20 more duty-free cars, 20 more people not necessarily vetted by the electorate sitting in our legislative assembly. This also, incidentally, means taking away the power from the people by giving the party leaders the possibility to nominate people we did not vote for!

I don’t agree with this, do you? Isn’t it about time someone asked for our opinion? Surely, this is more serious than having a smokers’ corner in Switzerland’s public places, isn’t it?

Weekly editorial (September 20 2012)

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on September 23, 2012

Riots and economic illiteracy

The violent events which took place over the weekend in Roche-Bois are a textbook example of economic illiteracy. And the sentiments they revealed are very ugly.

No, we have not become followers of Marine Le Pen. Not yet. We couldn’t even if we wanted to. A quick glance back at our history would create some sobriety. Our ancestors are descendants of immigrants and we are proud of our history.

That of slaves and indentured labourers who worked hard and sacrificed everything they had so that their progeny would have a better chance in life. Yet, this week has been the darkest week since the hebdomas horribilis when we sent ten coffins out to Bangladesh. Ten coffins of youth and vigour murdered by our roads. It is another dark and disturbing spot in our history.|

One has to be grateful for life’s little mercies. Incidents like these are isolated and do not translate the feelings of the majority of Mauritians. Also, the police acted promptly, efficiently, even heavy-handedly, and the worst was avoided. But the Roche-Bois incidents brought to the forefront the plight of immigrant workers. Once more. It is not the first time we have come face to face with the reality we want to brush aside. This time, we have been forced to stare it right in the face.

And it is not very pretty. The growing resentment against foreign workers is unjustifi able. Admittedly, in hard times when jobs are scarce the world over, it is easy to see the foreign worker as a scapegoat. This is a very short-sighted view resulting from economic illiteracy. It therefore has to be nipped in the bud.

From the economic point of view, foreign workers do not “steal” anyone’s job. This cheap anti-immigrant rhetoric should be left to the neo-Nazis to ramp up when they need votes from those who are as ignorant as they are. Foreign workers, in fact, keep our industries afl oat and create wealth. And where there is wealth, there are jobs. The Indian, Malagasy, Bangladeshi and Chinese workers, among others, do the jobs which we do not want to do or we are incapable of doing.

Jobs with long and unsociable working hours in bakeries jobs in unpleasant environments in fi sh canning hard jobs in construction jobs where overtime is required to meet deadlines like in textile. How can they be accused of stealing something we have spat on?

And let’s also get rid of the fallacy that it is cheaper for the employer to employ foreign workers. How can it be cheaper for any employer to import labour when you add the cost of accommodation, no matter how pathetic the hostels are, that of upkeep, even for the poor quality food served to our foreign workers and plane fares?

There is no running away from one fact: with the rate of our aging and increasingly long-lived population and a birth rate that is below the replacement rate, the foreign workers we are rioting against today will be the ones paying for the growing rolls of our pensions tomorrow. Just as the Mauritian Diaspora are paying for the pensions of Australians, French, British and other citizens in the rest of the world. So, let’s have a heart for them today. They’ll have a buck for us tomorrow.

 

Weekly editorial (August 30 2012)

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on September 23, 2012

More polemics, please!

The polemic triggered by the opposition about whether it is parliament or the president who should decide on the sanctions to be adopted against parties which do not fi eld one female candidate at the next municipal elections is nitpicking at its best. The president is elected by both sides of parliament and should, therefore, have the trust of the whole national assembly. You will recall that his nomination was openly endorsed by the leader of the opposition in spite of his rapprochement with the MSM leader, the incumbent to this very post. And the president – who has for sometime now been elevated above the rough and tumble of everyday politics – has no reason or excuse to delay a decision about these sanctions. Unfortunately for both the Labour Party and the MMM.

Unfortunately for the Labour Party who are not really serious about holding these elections. Municipal town seats are not their forte. At the last municipal elections held a lifetime ago, they owed their tidal wave to the momentum of the general election and to the fact that they stuck to the promises they had made in their manifesto. So, when they made more promises for the municipal elections, the electorate trusted them and gave them their vote. We are in a different situation today, for the delay of these elections in itself may cost them the few seats they could have hoped for.

Unfortunately for the MMM too because if the municipal elections were called tomorrow, they’d have to formalize the remake, something they are not eager to do at a time when it is at times on and at times put on the back burner to make room for the koze-koze we have become so accustomed to. And committing to the MSM is not going to be an easy idea to sell to their grassroots. It is tantamount to asking them to work their guts out to give the MSM half of the catch on a tray with nothing in return…except the promise of giving them yet again half the investitures for the general election and three years of primeministership.

So to avert any direct, mortal challenge for now, the only way is to lay low at times and at others use one of the old-fashioned tactics still being deployed to bolster the status quo: create a polemic and buy time. The MMM has nothing to gain by holding municipal elections now and the Labour Party must be rubbing its hands in glee.

The only party which is serious about holding municipal elections now is, paradoxically, the MSM. They, naturally, will not be able to secure more than zero seats on their own, or at best might perhaps secure one, but they are not on their own, are they? At least they have been told that they are not since Paul Bérenger has reiterated the fact that the remake is on. Now, he either has to live up to his promise or be prepared to see his bargaining power with the other party reduced. Not a position you or I would like to be in, is it? So, more polemics, please!

Weekly editorial (September 6 2012)

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on September 23, 2012

Managing chaplaincy in prisons

The imam’s alleged involvement in the drug cartel which made the headlines this week is straight out of the “Safe Drug Dealing for Dummies” handbook. Not only is this incident embarrassing for the prison authorities, but it is also a moment of embarrassment for our country as a whole. It is both a reflection on our archaic prison system and lax security and on the way we perceive religion.

Irrespective of which God we pray to, we are far too focused on appearances and mask wearing to worry about the essence of religion. And we are so terribly impressed with people who make such a show of their religion that we place them on a pedestal and credit them with godly qualities which render them in our eyes unable to do any harm. This is not the first lesson that has hit us in the face. We have heard allegations of religious people smuggling drugs inside religious figurines in the past. But we persisted in our denial.

Perhaps it is time we reviewed the system of preaching to and counselling prison inmates of all faiths. Under the current system, religious counsellors are appointed by their religious hierarchy. The ‘position’ is voluntary and unremunerated. The imams who conduct Friday prayers and counselling sessions for Muslim inmates, the chaplains who conduct the Sunday prayers for Christians and the gurus who officiate the poojas for the Hindus sometimes do excellent work in the prison confines but they do so on a grace and favour basis. And that is where the problem lies as there is no accountability.

In the UK, chaplains are officially recognised, appointed by the prison’s service and employed on a fulltime basis in each and every prison. Recently, the 1952 Act was changed to allow for the employment of Muslim imams on a full-time basis. Today in British prisons, there are 56 full-time imams and some 59 part-time ones with an additional pool of over 90 on standby.

The chaplains, imams and rabbis are fully qualifi ed, undertake the same training as all prison staff and, above all, are fully accountable to the prison service. As imams, chaplains, rabbis or gurus, none of them is exempted from routine and unannounced security checks with which they have to fully comply. And, as part of the chaplaincy team, they provide pastoral care for all prisoners, not just for the ones of their faith. Chaplaincy work is fully integrated and not confined to Friday prayers, Sunday Mass or Saturday Sabbath. Above all, they are fully integrated into the system, go through the same recruitment procedures, screening and vetting as all prison officers. They have access to the same specialist training as well and are subject to the same security clearances when appointed and subsequently after.

If other countries can adopt such an integrated approach, why can’t we? The answer is simple: here it is taboo to even begin to subject religious matters to the same rational thinking as you would with other aspects of society. So, the prison authorities are discussing with the Jummah Mosque the next replacement of the previous imam. We will give them our blessing until the next embarrassing incident takes us by surprise. Again.

Weekly editorial (September 13 2012)

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on September 23, 2012

The good, the bad and the can of worms

In a news-rich environment such as ours where bad news always jostles the good news aside, it is difficult to classify the recent events surrounding the Best Loser System (BLS) as one or the other. It is good news and bad news at the same time, with a can of worms as a bonus. Hence the confusion surrounding the debate.

The good news is that Ashok Subron and his block 104 – who had challenged their exclusion from eligibility for standing as candidates without having to declare their ethnic background – have succeeded in proving that preventing them from standing for election was an act of discrimination from the point of view of human rights. Admittedly, the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations did not challenge the existence of the BLS. But again, they were not asked to. Resistans ek Alternativ’s struggle was never about the eradication of the system as a whole.

It was almost about allowing a fifth category for those who decide not to declare their ethnic background. The bad news is that this was not a “ruling”. It is a pronouncement which, other than the debate it has generated, will not make a dent in our system. Though an aura of sacredness has always surrounded the UN, those who are familiar with its workings have long coined the expression “as useless as a United Nations sanction”. The number of resolutions passed by the UN and blatantly contravened by Israel in every respect, including that of the Arab refugees, the delimitation of its territorial boundaries and the question of Jerusalem is just a case in point. There are countless other breaches of UN resolutions. And we are talking about resolutions, here, not just “pronouncements”.

In other words, if you are waiting for change, don’t hold your breath. The can of worms is that considering this pronouncement is accepting all the trappings which come with it. It is accepting that some of our compatriots continue to be classifi ed according to their religion, some according to the country of origin of their ancestors and others put together in a catch-all category. Worse, it is accepting that a new census is carried out where we are counted, not as Mauritians but as belonging to one of these categories. No amount of cultural relativism can justify that.

But, if the Mauritian constitution should be brought into line with the European Convention on Human Rights by removing discriminatory provisions such as any legal obligation to declare one’s ethnic affi liation, though this does not directly challenge the system, it may create a window of opportunity. In Bosnia, for example, candidates have to by law declare whether they are Bosniaks, Serbs, Croats or “others”. This catch-all category has created a new breed of militants: “others-by-choice” Bosnians. The latter challenge the system by classifying themselves as “others”.

So, if here we had a fifth category, it would be easier to challenge the system simply by insisting on being in that category by choice and voting for those who do the same. Someone suggested that that category be called “population mauricienne”. I wholeheartedly second the motion.

What we end up doing with the good news, the bad news and the can of worms is what will determine our maturity as a nation.