Editorial

Political Gimmicks Galore
The focus could shift to real work now

A lot of time has been wasted now on non-issues. It has been more than one year now and no light has yet been shed on the MedPoint scandal which set off a major row in political circles. Even this week’s PNQ was once again centred upon it. Nothing came out. By now, too much energy and effort has gone into this affair, with no immediate prospect of a redress or writing off of the chapter.

This dominant issue on political platforms has given rise in the past year and a half to all sorts of speculation and exaggerations. It was being given out that the government would soon be put into minority. Nothing of the sort happened. On the other hand, the MMM-MSM alliance gave an occasion to the chief protagonists of this alliance to get rid of some of their unwanted appendages. This alliance is proceeding on a further series of congresses across the island to keep the troops mobilized or to ward off frittering away of supporters.

Eric Guimbeau and his MMSD left off the MMM. Certain MSM members who could not secure tickets as a result of the alliance have distanced themselves from the party. Other past political leaders who had been written off by the population have reappeared in a bid to seek their realignment. Members on the government side who had appeared to be vacillating in the context of the MMM-MSM alliance after SAJ stepped down from the presidency, appear to have regained their composure and no longer pose as destabilizing factors to the government. Statements have been made to the effect that the MSM did not contribute significantly to the gathering in Port Louis, which contains the seeds of future dissensions between the two allies. So, new configurations can come about.

Admittedly, politics is played up over here as a game. There are regular ups and downs. The weirdest alliances can happen. Those who were denounced yesterday are welcomed with open arms, especially if by joining with them damage can be done against adversaries, no matter what values one may be standing up for. By these means, a continuous devaluation of the political institution has now become the norm.

But nothing concrete is actually realized for the country as a whole at the end of the day. What have the mass rallies of 1st May 2012 achieved? Nothing, apart from giving comfort to either side of the political divide that their followers are still with them. At best the two major crowds could have succeeded to neutralize each other and averted the risk of a potential shift of loyalties under the perception that one of the two sides might have gathered more numbers than the other.

It is true that doing politics is about getting as much adherence as possible to one’s side. However, there comes a time when real work should also start being addressed. One cannot continue with a system in which a perpetual political game keeps the main parties on their toes all the time about potential alliances and misalliances they could engage in. It is expected of leaders that they should know what they stand for and not become malleable according to variable opportunities coming to them over time. The country is the biggest loser as a result of the constant destabilization.

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The Thorny Issue of Abortion

The Cabinet took a decision last Friday that in certain extreme cases, pregnant women should be allowed to interrupt pregnancy. Cases involving rape and incest resulting in undesired and distressful pregnancies and where there is a threat to the would-be mother’s life, would accordingly be the concern of proposed consequential changes to the legislation.

As expected, giving effect to this decision that has been long coming because of outright opposition from pro-life groups, has launched a public debate. Healthy debate involves exchange of views. The exchange is expected to take place with an open mind on both sides. In other words, one should be prepared to see the view from the other side and make concessions where necessary.

In some countries, governments have taken the stand that the state should adopt a certain amount of flexibility on the subject, in order not to press down even more on the distress facing women and at times on child-women victims of offenders of all sorts. The emphasis in certain cases has been to confer a greater amount of freedom on the child-bearer to decide. The Church has adopted a stand of its own, notably that it is contrary to moral norms to interfere with any life form. Accordingly the proposal to interrupt pregnancy will be contrary to moral considerations.

On the one hand, society can take excessive liberties with conceived life forms in the absence of a clearly set down moral standard. On the other, it is the person who is the subject of immense distress who bears the brunt of the situation. Society does not always take charge of the psychological distress caused by unwanted or forced conception, let alone the costs of carrying on with the consequences of a traumatic experience of the begetter of the child.

A balance needs to be struck so that individuals do not use the liberated platform, if the legislation were to go through, to make life a trivial matter that can be licentiously disposed of at will. Putting a time limit beyond which it will be unlawful to go for abortion is a point but it is even more important to assess in the first place the absolute justification for such an action before taking on the matter to the point of no return. The sense of responsibility should be carefully inculcated among citizens and be seen to be adhered to strictly so that the law does not remain a sheer bystander of systematic abuses by individuals. Giving undue freedom to dispose of unwanted births may impose a severe cost on social well-being and could well become a money-spinning business for certain crude practitioners. This is the reason why carefully balanced safeguards need to be put in place to ward off abuse.

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Light Railway System

It has been announced that the government will be going ahead with the light railway project to ease the transport problem. It will be recalled that this project was d’actualité many years before when the traffic congestion issue was not so acute. The idea has been toyed around for so long that the question arises today about its relevance and the costs to which the economy will be subjected if it were implemented.

Hundreds of thousands of cars have made their way on our roads since the idea of a light railway system was first mooted. It might have made sense when all this cohort of cars had not invaded our road network. It might have made sense as well when our balance of payments was reeling under the heavy cost imposed on it by soaring oil prices and we had very limited foreign exchange earnings with which to pay for oil imports.

Since then, a number of roads have been added on to our road network involving heavy outlays of funds. At this very moment, there is a large amount of work-in-progress in the construction of numerous roads, including alternative routes to dilute traffic concentration along certain major roads. The projects include the construction of a ring road around Port Louis, in a bid to bring about the wished for de-congestion of traffic.

Since the new or enlarged roads are coming on from time to time on an ad hoc basis, we do not have clear information as to whether or not the investments going into these are not enough to achieve that part of local transportation facilitation that the original light railway project was expected to address. If that is the case and numerous vehicles are already crowding up on our roads, the issue is to convince us about the absolute need to still go in the direction of a light railway system in the changed circumstances of today.

In view of plans that have been announced several budgets past that decentralisation of government offices was scheduled (e.g. to Highlands) very shortly, the question of relevance of the proposed railway infrastructure arises even more strongly. If the relocation of government offices to other places is on the agenda, the road to Port Louis will not be as congested as before. In fact, this is a better way of de-congesting the traffic situation: moving offices to less crowded locations. There are other ideas like introduction of tolls not only to recoup cost of construction and maintenance of the road network. This will also help to raise road capacity by discouraging unnecessary traffic in areas that are heavily used, in conjunction with peak and off-peak pricing for road use. Before any railway project is contemplated again, it would be fair therefore to justify its necessity or otherwise in view of administrative decentralisation away from Port Louis and the time frame in which this latter project is going to be executed. We would think that the sooner the decentralisation project is given concrete shape, the better one will be in a position to assess whether a railway system is at all needed.

M.K.

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