Touria Prayag's Blog

Guilty, Your Honour

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 23, 2013

“ In every scandal involving those in positions of power , the state is left holding a substantial tab for golden handshakes and parachutes , the cost of which is rarely disclosed.”

“No golden handshake for ex-Director of the Tertiary Education Commission Praveen Mohadeb,” was the prime minister’s nudge to the TEC Board. I should hope not! The guy was found guilty on all counts of blatant conflict of interest by an independent inquirer, a sitting magistrate.

Why we are even discussing this defies understanding. In any other country, the guy would have been forced to go immediately, no questions asked. Over here, we first invite the culprit to ‘retire’ and start discussing the conditions of that ‘retirement’ from a position they have been found guilty of abusing. Are we serious? I wonder whether it has occurred to anyone that it is taxpayers’ money we are talking about and that if anyone felt humane and generous to the point of wanting to reward those who abused their position, they are welcome to do so by digging in their own pockets for a change. They cannot decide to take money from the very people who have been cheated and who take a dim view of having to pay for the retirements and golden handshakes of people who have betrayed the public trust.

We have nothing personal against Praveen Mohadeb nor are we gloating over the lurid details of his fall. Besides, he has already served his sentence of public disgrace and obloquy. His dismissal is no comfort to anyone as he is not an isolated case. His story is the tale of so many public officials who amass power, go on years-long spending sprees and end up thinking that common rules of decency and integrity do not apply to them. And the impunity which continues to prevail when the powerful are caught red-handed committing acts of bribery, racketeering, theft in office, conflict of interest or otherwise abusing their position, sends the signal that you can cheat and sell your influence and get away with it. As long as you are powerful.

Naturally, we acknowledge that corruption is not the exclusive preserve of political nominees but somehow, the latter seem to excel in this unenviable and abominable activity. Perhaps, firstly, because many of them get to these coveted positions simply because of a patronage system gone awry. Secondly, they know their luck will not last forever and therefore they make the most of the manna from heaven for as long as it lasts. They eat our lunch, travel in chauffeur-driven limousines and jet around the world at our expense without blinking. In the rare cases when their abuse is brought to light, instead of hanging their heads in shame and lying low until we forget about them – as we most often do – they put up a front and start negotiating compensation! Others look us straight in the eye and talk about having a ‘clear conscience’.

And this lamentable situation is likely to continue for a long time to come. We hear a lot of vacuous rhetoric and lofty statements but when it comes to putting in place an efficacious system which seriously promotes transparency, accountability and ethical behaviour, our politicians dismally fail the smell test. And that is the root of the problem.

In every scandal involving those in positions of power, the state is left holding a substantial tab for golden handshakes and parachutes, the cost of which is rarely disclosed. When someone who is supposed to be serving the public interest betrays the public instead, the public should not have to finance a golden retirement for them. Instead, due legal process has to be pursued to bring the alleged culprits to book. Nothing else would do us justice.

By Touria Prayag


Life without a Higher School Certificate

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 3, 2013

Par:- By Touria Prayag,

On 28/02/2013

“People who have learnt on the job are much more work-ready and able to hit the ground running than those who have merely sat exams.”

Good decisions, when communicated badly, can turn into a crisis. That could be said of the government’s decision to do away with SC and HSC as requirements for applicants for the civil service who possess higher qualifications. The confusion which this decision has created has led to a lot of worry, particularly among some teachers’ unions, which, as we speak, are debating its implications.

First, let’s get rid of the fallacy that this decision is revolutionary. When it comes to education, we are still trailing behind and are just beginning to deal with our dewy-eyed nostalgia for the blackboard, chalk and rigid exams. So, the decision not to put too much emphasis on earlier formal academic qualificationsdid not come a minute too soon. Many employers have already understood that people who have learnt on the job are much more work-ready and able to hit the ground running than those who have merely sat
exams. And universities the world over, particularly in Australia, have for years been catering to those who, for one reason or another – mostly financial – had to hit the job market before they acquired their
basic secondary school qualifications. A plethora of foundation courses is offered by universities and institutes of higher education based on recognition of prior learning and vocational training. The options open to those deserving a second chance and willing to take it are vast.

In addition to producing graduates who are more ready for the job market, this system is also fairer. Research in the UK has shown that out of every 10 students who get secondary school qualifications and go to university, only one comes from a poor family. I would be very surprised if the situation was anyfairer here. And that is not because kids from poorer backgrounds are any less talented. So, opening more jobs to them in the civil service is showing that we are beginning to understand the issues.

We have, for far too long, undervalued the alternatives to HSC and these are countless. In fact, in Is There Life Without A-levels, Tony Higgins, Chief Executive of UCAS, gives the example of a student who, through a Higher National Diploma, managed to fulfil her lifelong dream of becoming a dentist. He concludes that “vocational qualifications are no less valuable. Indeed, performance at A-level is a notoriously bad predictor of performance at degree level.” And we can no longer live on an island. For each Mauritian child who graduates, there are dozens of European, Chinese and Indian graduates jostling for work in the same global marketplace.

I could go further and delve into details about schools like the fee-paying Acorn School, where the pupil comes out without any formal qualification whatsoever. In fact, public examinations are not recognised there and students present a sample of their work to admission tutors instead of accruing qualifications as proof of academic ability. But that is too futuristic for us. Many employers in the private sector today no longer recognise the idea of a binary divide in the career prospects of graduates with HSC and those without. There is no reason why the civil service should. Having said that, we are not the UK nor are we used to the kind of transparency they are used to. So, as universities are spewing out millions of graduates every year having so many different levels and admission criteria, we have to insist that the qualifications given to our students through foundation courses and prior learning are worth more than the paper they are written on. But that is a debate for another day.

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