A citizens agenda: hopefully not a mere dream!

Despite all the publicity being given to developments being undertaken at national level, there still persists a general sense of uncertainty about the future…

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize a couple of years ago (shared with Pakistani girl Yusufzai Malala who was shot by the Taliban), Indian child activist Kailash Satyarthi narrated the following story: during a forest fire, all the animals were running away, including the king of the jungle, the lion. Then he saw a little bird flying in the direction of the fire, and asked it: what are you doing, why aren’t you going away like everyone else? And the bird replied: I am carrying a drop of water in my beak to drop on the fire, doing my bit…

Doing my bitthe Nobelist said that he too did his bit, and that everyone only has to do his bit. When all the bits add up together things happen. Like the drop of water that falls from the cloud on earth and into the river and goes on towards building up the mighty ocean.

There need be no competing claim or chest thumping about who did more and who did less in the building of Mauritius, because everybody contributed according to his capacity. That is a fact that we must accept and acknowledge. In recent times political parties have liked to play the game of ‘paternity’ of specific developments, and this is fair game when the election campaigns are on. That too adds to the local folklore of political brinkmanship, which is grist to the mill of popular jokes and conversations. But once in the saddle, the winning party must get down to the serious business of keeping the electoral promises and meet the legitimate expectations of citizens, isn’t it?

Today we know that ideology must take a back seat and all forces must be conjoined to tackle head-on the common enemies and issues that stare at us – corruption, unemployment, infrastructural issues, bureaucratic and decisional bottlenecks that must be removed, the challenges of globalization, competition for FDI, and so on and so forth. These will require the goodwill and concentrated energies of everyone, instead of wasting them in otherwise vain pursuits that can, if pushed to extremes of overkill, leave the country more bruised than soundly anchored at the end of the day.

At an individual level, each one of us can share a narrative of family struggle and sacrifice to secure the basics of living: good health, food, clothing, a peaceful social environment, a roof over our heads. The path to this was through jobs appropriate to one’s competencies, which meant skilling oneself through apprenticeship, training and education from primary to tertiary.

But even as we continue to build our nation by each of us doing our bit, the fact remains that the onus is on the government – as is the case everywhere — to give effect to what has been promised, since it remains the ‘indispensable conduit of access to such state resources as taxation revenues, law-making powers and policing’.

In December 2014 we Mauritians decided to change from one political alliance to another, on the assumption that it was a shift to another kind of politics, implying an alternative, better way of doing things, of running the affairs of State for the benefit of its citizens. Initially, actions taken that were loudly and widely publicised gave the general impression that this in fact was the case. And we were confident enough that the same mindset would be sustained throughout the mandate.

Alas, events that have taken place since then have gone counter to the expectations that were built up in the citizenry. Most notorious is of course the events that have tainted the Presidency, that have now turned into an ugly game of claims and counter-claims being laid out to the public gaze, not to speak of the impact that this can potentially have on the country’s reputation.

Despite all the publicity being given to developments being undertaken at national level, there still persists a general sense of uncertainty about the future. Citizens urgently require assurance from both the public and private sectors, and civil society too on several counts, amongst others:

  • That there are adequate systems and structures to ensure the running of institutions in all transparency, objectivity and with accountability;
  • There will be absolutely no political interference in the running of these institutions, including threats that may silence officers into submission;
  • That awards of contracts will be made on the basis of objective criteria that will be strictly adhered to, and that there will be no arm-twisting to suit lobbies or cronies;
  • That banks will safeguard our money, and not siphon it elsewhere locally or abroad; that judicious use will be made of taxpayers’ money;
  • That the insurance company will honour the terms and conditions of schemes that they propose, that they will not put the onus on us for not having been properly informed of the fine print clauses;
  • That the lawyer or attorney will not take us on a spin and truly and honestly fight our case and obtain justice, rather than compromise in tacit collusion with the counterparts;
  • That the civil servant that we face across the table or the window will not sabotage us through rigid procedures and delaying tactics;
  • That the media will not dabble in sensationalism but instead provide us with the real news, will verify facts before presenting them as information written in stone, will not conduct trials and make judgements but instead leave that to the law courts, will not falsely accuse and tarnish a person’s good name and relegate any rectification to the smallest print in the most remote corner of a newspaper;
  • That the health professionals will look at us as human beings in distress who need support and due treatment, and not burden us with unnecessary and costly investigations. That they will not prescribe treatment that will be worse than the disease, and that they will inject compassion in the care which is our due;
  • That patients will not pressurize doctors to do unnecessary XRays, scans, blood tests because their friends or relatives have had these done too;
  • That patients will await their turn and not jump the queue when they come to hospital or health centre, in the same manner as they follow the rules in other places, such as the bank or the post office;
  • That teachers will teach with passion and interest especially with the Nine Year Schooling project having been introduced, that students will be respectful of their teachers and accept the need for discipline and order in the schools and colleges; That the ‘ministry’ will not tolerate indiscipline and side with pupils who have political connections;
  • That parents will fully assume their role and responsibility as regards the behaviour of their wards, and that they will not bully the teachers or principals – and that too in front of the unruly student – who are doing their level best to inculcate values and impart education that will prepare their wards for life;
  • That priests will not exploit the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of people who are seeking solace, and that they will refrain from paedophilia;
  • That the policeman who books us will be doing so genuinely and not seek a bribe.

Surely all these add up to being a reasonable and achievable citizens agenda – and not merely a utopian dream? As our Rector (HB Bullen) at Royal College Curepipe in those bygone days used to say at the end of the daily morning assembly, ‘Let us pray’. For ourselves, for our country…


* Published in print edition on 31 August 2018

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