Touria Prayag's Blog

Who will speak for the poor?25 September 2013

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 22, 2014

Par Touria Prayag

If you don’t believe that the electoral campaign has started, just listen to the political talk around you: the government is blowing its own trumpet about the way it has revolutionised the country, what with the new roads, new airport and the new identity card. And the opposition has just discovered that we have poor people and fishermen in this country and that they badly need help. This realisation – which has hit Pravind Jugnauth in particular suddenly in the same way the apple fell on Isaac Newton’s head – has resulted in his suggestion that the poor need to have special subsidised shops to buy the basic necessities. Wow! Not to be left out of the race for the votes of the poor, Patrick Assirvaden hastened to enumerate the number of measures the government has undertaken to help the poor, like housing, discounts on electricity bills and special water rates.

All this is very well. Thank you on behalf of the poor. But between elections, the poor are barely an afterthought. You will have noticed that up until now, all the press conferences have been about the Remake denouncing ‘scandals’ and the Labour Party either refuting the allegations or unearthing old Remake ‘scandals’. And the entertainment provided every Saturday to any member of the press who was willing to take it was so predictable that we could almost write articles without even attending.

But now that the poor have been dragged into the campaign, perhaps it is time to engage in a more substantive debate about poverty. The poor by now know that campaign talk will not fi ll their stomachs. In fact, the reaction of many social workers in the area has shown that the poor are not dupes and that focusing on them to win votes will no longer cut it. The echoes from Richelieu for example are “we don’t want to be helped. We want to be empowered.”

Perhaps in their haste to win votes from the poor, some politicians – who have suddenly discovered poverty and its benefits to their vote pool – have failed to see that many of the underprivileged now want to have the dignity of having a job. So, any political party which intends to address poverty should know that there is only one way: pumping up the economy to create more jobs.

But to address the issue of poverty, a wider debate should start with the definition of the word ‘poor’. Many Mauritians who have spent the last penny their parents had saved on education are now being impoverished because they cannot find decent jobs. Whether we want to admit it or not, those who have no connections and are not of the right ilk can find jobs in neither government nor in the private sector. The whole system badly needs to open up. Those who’ve invested in education and cannot find decent graduate employment also deserve the politicians’ attention.

But of course, no one expects the campaign – whenever it takes place – to be more than the foretaste we have been given: false and unrealistic promises by the opposition and the government blowing its own trumpet, all this packaged in a shouting match on soap boxes, peppered with some nasty ethnic politics, innuendo laden bidding contests and allegations and counter-allegations of scandals. In the middle of this, no one will be interested in a real debate about the poor or the impoverished. Yet, there is still a big thirst for debate which remains unquenched.

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