Editorial

Preserving the feeling of well-being 

Those who have travelled extensively to other countries can testify to it: Mauritius still exudes a sense of well-being which is not present in several other countries. Most of the air we breathe, especially away from roadsides, is fresh and unpolluted. Any view we take of our surroundings is bound to smell of the freshness of the greenery surrounding us whereas this is not usually the case in most of the other places which our people are so fond of visiting. Besides, we are surrounded by limpid blue-turquoise lagoons which tend to make for matchless beauty in the landscape wherever you go to. Although a good part of our natural forests is gone, we have preserved sufficient lush vegetation compensating for the loss of the pristine fauna and flora by which the original discoverers of Mauritius were wonderstruck. The best part of it all is the natural warmth of our mixed population. All in all, we remain far ahead of several countries in terms of the quality of living combining in the various elements that make up this small little place. We need to preserve the essence of it by all means.

Much as we would like to keep intact the rich traditions which the countries of origin of our population have bequeathed to us, we have to recognise that we have been bound to dilute them under the pressure of modern living. The more leisurely pace of living of barely 4 decades ago has thus been overtaken by an increasingly hectic pace of activity. As society has become more complex, new rules and laws have had to be implemented to strike a balance between growth and development, including the necessary social upkeep. The forces of profit tend to sweep aside social considerations. To take care of this, our governments before and after independence have assured a measure of social protection to the most vulnerable, sometimes even extending state generosity to those who have more means than the worse off, in the name of greater social justice given the basic background of growing income and wealth inequalities with which it all started.

It is not an easy task to reconcile the various differences which sprout up over time in the social set-up in a country like Mauritius. Policies made for meeting specific social targets frustrate the aims and ambitions of different other classes within society. The various governments which have succeeded each other over the past five decades have implanted their own biases into policy-making; broadly, however, none of these departures has been able to shake out the basic premise that social well-being can only be improved by bettering the capacity of the nation to weather the economic storms which cloud the sky from time to time. This goal of widening the economic horizon has by and large been achieved. Economic diversification has succeeded. New jobs in areas that could not even have been dreamt of 50 years ago have been created to give employment to our younger generation.

Instead of falling into uncouth dictatorships, we have managed to keep democracy alive by changing governments more often than several other nations have dared to. So doing, we have forced succeeding governments to deliver on the broad chapter of the general well-being of the nation. No permanent handicaps have incapacitated our economic and social machinery from progressing in a reasonable manner. True it is that had it not been for periods of predominant private self-seeking, we could have made it even better. It can however be honestly admitted that, given our resources and constraints, we have not trailed behind in the company of patented laggards within our region and even further off who have lost all sense of direction and good governance. We have managed to swim with the current and given ourselves a chance to keep improving.

There is no society of our type in which the scourges of development have not taken a toll on the population. We are not an exception. We have our drug dealers, chipping away from the health and security of the nation. We have seen the escalation of criminality from petty crimes of the past to more horrid and outrageous crimes today. The influence of other societies is pervasive in all this and there is no way we could have escaped such influence in this age of global and easy connectivity. We may not have taken the bull by the horns when the situation was threatening to get out of hands. However, it is not by alarming ourselves at the outrageous dimension crime is taking that we will be able to tackle it.

The best way of going about it is to tackle it at the roots, which is more often in the home and in specific pockets of society which tolerate misbehaviour of this type. There is also a need to review the social backup to protect the fabric of society against the growing insecurity springing from this source; the police and other NGOs ought to have been reorganised quite some time before to face the new situation. Politicians should have allowed them to do their work unimpeded for the best results to come up by helping them to modernise themselves in view of emerging challenges. The education system, just as well as the system of justice and punishment, should have reckoned with the new turn of events so as to nip the escalation of crime in the bud. That we have failed somewhere in this process does not mean that we cannot do the repairs and give back a relatively acceptable sense of well-being in this regard once again. We have not fallen behind to the worsening level of certain of our neighbours in this respect yet and we can work up to improve things.

We have managed to do relatively well despite the weight of excessive self-seeking by certain social components. The price for yielding to such pressures is seen in the fact that although we have been speaking for decades about alternative more efficient public transport, no deal has yet been clinched which should take us away from a growing and intolerable state of road congestion. Our footpaths and roads were not encumbered by so-called street hawkers despite much higher rates of unemployment which prevailed in the 1960s and the 1970s. Respect for law was much more entrenched at that time. Beyond ordinary respect for law, there was also the respect for the well-being of the next-door neighbour and the public which made everyone act within decent boundaries of mutual well-being. That generation was steeped in a classical culture that aimed at excellence but not at any price. It was instructed to abide by certain basic values which won the approval of society at large. Fairness was a topmost quality most of the citizens put at the top of their agenda. It contributed to impart a general sense of balance all round. All this can be brought back to restore a better social well-being. It will require a stronger dose of perseverance. The effort is worth it as it will be for the better health of our society as a whole. It can be achieved more surely if one can put aside some of the extravagant electoral bargaining that has often taken us off-course.

While the rule-of-law is a must for overcoming the negative elements that have crept in to distort various areas, it alone will not suffice. Separation of powers should continue to be the cornerstone of this edifice. Meritocracy has to be the foundation for the emergence of a more trusting society. Self-seekers running after the spoils of power, will have to be set aside for good if the citizen has to have confidence in the ability of our public and private organisations to be the standard bearers of a more just and fair society in the future. The time has come for people to stop rallying around particular political arrangements of the time because they come to believe that, by having variable affiliations, they would be able to maximise private benefits and walk away with the spoils of power. Enough damage has been done to the fabric of society due to this brand of uncouth opportunism.

Without tampering with the Constitution, there is thus a lot that can be done to repair all that has gone amiss, threatening to further reduce the comfort and sense of peace that has traditionally been a hallmark of our development. It is by attending to the details meticulously that we can set right many of the things that have gone in the wrong direction. For this to happen, our institutions should be managed with the highest amount of tact and integrity and with a stronger sense of their future than it has been the case so far. Those institutions have been the foundation which made our quality of living in this society the envy of others; if they themselves were to go off tangent, we do not know what else we can cling upon to take care of the nitty-gritty that goes into the making of our still fundamentally untainted sense of well-being as a society. Good direction is what we need at the broader level, leaving an effective implementation to the operation of independent and sterling key institutions of the land. For, it would be too heavy a price to pay if we allowed ourselves to drift into the other direction. With time, we have garnered a good niche of an otherwise enviable quality of living that obscure forces of misbehaviour should not snatch away from us. The time for reversing all the negatives that have taken us off our natural course has come.  

M.K.

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