2017: A year of growing discontent

All classes of society are feeling the continuous decline of the country and their discontent is aptly reflected in the victory of Arvin Boolell — By Sada Reddi

When the leader of the Mauritius Labour Party made the strategic choice of presenting Arvin Boolell to defend the colours of the party in the by-election, most people felt that it was the right and the best choice for the party in the present circumstances. In previous by-elections, his choices were equally right and brought dividends to the party.

This time, Arvin Boolell pulled off a most stunning victory for the party, for the electorate of Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes, and indeed for the whole of Mauritius. The victory has ushered an unstoppable momentum, and if properly managed and sustained, would take Labour back to Government House. This landslide victory, in a nutshell, is also the answer of the electorate to the appalling performance of the government not only during the present year but for the last three years.

The undercurrent of dissatisfaction which had been smouldering under the surface had erupted and about 65% of the electorate which voted in 2014 has in the by-election of the 17th December expressed unambiguously its rejection of the present government. The latter has dismissed the outcome of the No. 18 by- election as a non-event, maybe just like Louis XV1 who responded to the capture of the Bastille on the 14th July in 1789 with only one word in his diary ‘Rien’. Nevertheless in the opinion of many, the victory of the 18th December in Constituency Number 18 as well as the success of some and the failure of others could be expected to bring radical change in the political landscape.

If we were just to take the one year which is coming to an end, it will prove difficult, if not impossible, to identify one significant measure which has benefited the country so far except the future implementation of a minimum wage in January 2018. Even that is an acknowledgement that most our industries are still incapable of paying a decent wage to their and it may simply serve to perpetuate the inefficiencies of the economic system rather than seriously address the issues linked with productivity and innovation. The slowdown of the economy, loss of jobs, the closure of a factory in Vallée des Prêtres, last week, more loss of jobs in the coming months and the increasing level of public debt – despite all kinds of camouflage – are symptoms of deeper economic malaise afflicting the country and the real economy.

No one can fail to notice that the current scale of national indignities has reached such heights that cynics in the government consider that one more failure can be glossed over. The Lam Shang Leen Commission has uncovered the incestuous and financial relationships between drug barons and some people close to government circles. A new inquiry coded ‘Sudden Tempest’ has been entrusted to the Anti-Drug Smuggling Unit and it is predicted that more heads of VIPs would roll.

Just by our own past standards, the road is killing more people every year. Our environment is deteriorating day by day with increasing traffic noise, traffic congestion and growing insecurity on the roads. The authorities are incapable of putting the appropriate traffic signs to reduce traffic hazards. When they do take some timid and effective measures, class and other considerations determine their action. They are still incapable of treating all citizens with equal consideration. When a VIP cannot stand the noise emitted by his neighbour, immediate action is taken but when an ordinary citizen complains of a similar nuisance, he is ignored.

People have to go on to private radios to complain that they had no water supply for days, and officers respond only when complaints go public. All what we hear from the authorities is simply major projects are to be launched when we all know that these projects have been planned in the past and they are simply announcing that its time has come for implementation. A case in point is the Phoenix Flyover which has been scheduled a long time back for 2018.

In the education sector, there are a few changes but no reform. As the ex-Minister of Education, Dharam Gokhool, recently commented, the present Minister has taken the easy way out with some changes rather than tackle the important and difficult questions of improving the quality of education. The Primary School Achievement Certificate has been crafted to get the maximum pupils pass the examination. It is not simply a question of making the papers easier but also a question of cutting point for each individual subject irrespective of the formal grading system. An easier examination paper is not a bad thing for the self-esteem of our young pupils. But when the curriculum remains basically the same apart from removing a few of the topics which should be challenging for young learners, the quality of education takes a steep decline.

The CPE examination is now transformed into two-stage examinations, in the first stage to compete from the emerging star colleges at the regional level, and at the second stage later for the academies. Increasing classes in state secondary schools with the number of pupils reaching up to 50 in a class is doing a great disservice to education. On the other hand, poor performance in most private colleges, recruiting the less able pupils means inferior language and mathematics skills, undeveloped social kills, burdened with the worst stereotypes and later low skilled jobs in life.

In fact, the Form III examination was first recommended by the UNESCO report of 1974 that found that Mauritius was producing too many students with School Certificate and that the government should have a Form III examination; those who fail should be directed to become factory hands. Fortunately the authorities, in their wisdom, refused to implement the Form III examination for, if they had done so, this would have spelt disaster for the economy and society.

In their attempt to supposedly improve certain services and cut costs, government has been infected with the privatization frenzy — seeking to privatize water which is a human right rather than a marketable commodity. Our public beaches are being given to foreign companies in the name of development. Attempts have been made to privatize the port, and even the Board of Investment has not been spared. Such policies are meant to reduce the population to hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Moreover, there has not been any major improvement in the health service. Many services are well provided and the majority of the staff do their work professionally. There are a few doctors who are so engrossed in writing their prescriptions from the laboratory reports that they do not even see the patients sitting before prescribing for them. Contrary to official statistics, more people appear to be travelling abroad for health services as these cases are not necessarily captured in the official statistics.

If the ordinary citizen is asked if his conditions of work or living have improved, one will get an overwhelming ‘No’. Yet the government will argue that it has achieved a lot and there have been inauguration of many big and small projects, the launching of the metro express, refurbishing children playgrounds or inaugurating one or two housing projects, a market or a traffic centre or some of the small projects which are routinely carried out by any government in power.

But there has not been any new and significant project which impinges positively on the conditions of living of the population. Various measures have been implemented to create an illusion of prosperity, rising living standards or improvement in the quality of life. The reality is that the poor are getting poorer and the standard of life of the middle classes is stagnating. All classes of society are feeling the continuous decline of the country and their discontent is aptly reflected in the victory of Arvin Boolell and the Labour Party.

 

*  Published in print edition on 22 December 2017

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