Bridges for Peace

A fairer distribution of wealth, decent living conditions and an effective communication strategy to ensure the people’s interactions with the authorities are essential elements to create peace in society

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Countries worldwide are faced with various challenges ranging from economic slowdown, corrupt rulers, rampant unemployment, environmental disasters to social rebellions. While such situations look rather grim in some countries, others still have the possibility to create economic opportunities and maintain social stability by ensuring that people’s expectations and needs are satisfied through a fairer distribution of wealth and a dynamic environment to create employment.

Apart from allegations of ‘populism’ levelled at the hike in old-age pensions initiated in December 2014 and reviewed this month, the measure itself was hardly discussed in the press and on private radios, some of which claim to promote a culture of debate, with protagonists and stakeholders from different sectors invited as guests. Some ‘debates’ sound like opportunities to blow hot air, display political obedience, settle scores, and worse, stink of male ego competition in a display of self-worth.

Old Age Pension

The very definition of ‘populism’ is blurred on the world stage. Right now, no citizen can honestly believe that it was all right for senior citizens to continue living with the Rs 3500 monthly pension prior to December 2014, and even with the increase to Rs 5000 and then Rs 6000. Anyone in their right mind can imagine life with only Rs 3500 to feed oneself and pay bills every month, except those who have a lavish lifestyle and are disconnected with reality. These sums are peanut for very high-income earners in the private sector and when compared to the hefty salaries of the inflated number of MPs sitting in Parliament who can waste them on trivial things in just one day.

Right now, the Rs 9000 old-age pension is being considered an amazing sum of money handed over generously for electoral purposes. While it did fit into a vote-winning policy, far from being over-generous it is just about enough to help the elderly cope with rising costs of living, medical care, or for their kids struggling to make ends meet and pay back loans. It must be remembered that a tiny minority of people have invested in life insurance policies or real estate property to ensure better days while most of the elderly generation have spent most of their earnings on education and food, and saved what they could to create some more living space by adding storeys to their homes. The main goal was to provide a better future for their children. Since they had no swelling bank accounts to take care of their old age, it is just fair that society pays them back for all the energy, effort and work they invested in for years to make society what it is today. It is a measure of solidarity and social justice.

The former Labour Party-led government is to be credited for having put up recreational centres across the island in beautiful settings with well-kept gardens and swimming-pools; some located by the seaside like the one in Pointe aux Piments where pensioners can relax, stroll around and make the best of their time — all for a very modest sum for a two-night stay with meals and leisure activities! It requires lots of savings from hard work for foreigners to travel and spend a week in a tropical island blessed with gorgeous seaside landscapes. Free leisure facilities for the elderly are non-existent even in developed rich countries. The caring attitude here reflects a common feature of shared Mauritian culture which shows respect for and gratitude towards the elderly.

Rising costs of living, medications and other expenses call for a fair re-adjustment of pensions. As regards pensions for the handicapped and widows, can it be maintained after beneficiaries reach 60? An opposition party raised the question during the electoral campaign.

Minimum Wage

Similarly, it was high time that basic wages be reviewed and increased. For too long the belief that wages should be kept low for a few economic sectors to remain competitive was well ingrained in the general outlook of employers and decision-makers. Manual work and other kinds of drudgery bore the colonial legacy of trickling down a few pennies to the working class to ensure their basic survival, a phenomenon maintained by wildcat capitalism for decades. Exploitation of other people’s work for huge profits has been common practice.

In light of rising costs of living, lands, construction, housing, a minimum wage was needed to enable employees to have decent living conditions. The Rs 10,000 minimum wage, which is proposed today, amounts to about Rs 222 an hour for a 9-hour work day. Long overdue and not a big deal, anyway! Low income families may now afford more fresh fruits, vegetables and fresh meat or fish once a week, and save a bit for housing and children’s tuition if both husband and wife work.

Those who live in an ivory tower cannot imagine the trials paltry salaries make workers go through every month to meet their basic needs. One cannot spend 9-hour days of energy and work for peanuts. Some employers coerce workers to stay on for an additional two or three hours every day without any extra remuneration. The propensity for exploiting others is not going to be eradicated any time soon. Trade unions are expected to remain vigilant and watch out for irregularities.

However, it must also be specified whether the minimum wage applies to apprentices who are provided with on-the-job training and are not left to work independently. Also, one wonders whether the needs of construction workers are being properly attended to? The same phenomenon that occurred in Europe in the 70s is taking place over here. Foreign labour fills the market not because the locals shun the job but because investors aim at the highest level of profits. Locals refuse to be paid inadequate wages. They may find themselves in precarious situations when they are not regularly employed by small construction companies or team up with other fellow workers for what they call batte batté odd jobs and pocket around Rs 20,000 a month. Proper regulations can be envisaged for this category of workers. Some have been saying that elections do not bring any changes to their lot, and they chose to stay behind rather than go out and vote.

The positive step in favour of the payment of a lump sum and pension to private sector employees is also long overdue. It’s a matter of justice. Only public sector employees have benefited from such a policy up to now.

National Youth Environment Council

It was one of the proposals of the ruling party in the last stage of the electoral campaign. There was already a plan to set up and coordinate job centres where job seekers may register and get informed of job vacancies or receive short-term training. A Youth Council may serve as a means of communication between qualified youths with diplomas in innovative sectors and the right ministries so that young people are made to feel part of the national development plan where their skills and talents are required. Communication with the authorities is a key element in the democratic process. It bridges the gap between the elected representatives and the people.

Sports centres, facilities to do modern sports like skateboarding and surfing, together with space to run courses in such disciplines like yoga are expected to flourish across the country. Physical activities are a must to keep the right balance in daily life, everyone admits. Surely, we all wish to have a healthier younger generation.

Citizen Support Units and the several branches of Citizens Advice Bureau which give proper attention to citizens’ queries and complaints enhance communication with the authorities and relieve a burden off citizens’ shoulders. The one located in Grand Bay benefits from the positive vibes emanating from the kovil next-door and the warm welcome given by the staff renders administrative procedures easier.

A fairer distribution of wealth, decent living conditions and an effective communication strategy to ensure the people’s interactions with the authorities contribute to a feel-good factor and are essential elements to create peace in society.


* Published in print edition on 29 November 2019

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