Full steam ahead for L’Alliance de l’Avenir
The Manifesto of the Alliance de l’Avenir is on the whole a very encouraging document, promising to right the hurts of the past in the economic field. Some of the pains we suffered we had not expected from a Labour Party.As our group takes a special interest in Education in general and in languages and culture in particular, we note with great pleasure and satisfaction the promises made in the Alliance’s manifesto. They confirm Dr Navin Ramgoolam as an integrator and not as a divider. Speaking Unions are promised for all languages including our own mother-tongue Bhojpuri and our prayer language Sanskrit; in addition to the existing English, Hindi and Urdu Speaking Unions, similar bodies will be provided for Arabic, French, French, Creole and Mandarin; still missing is Hakaa, the language of most of the early Chinese immigrants. Previous governments had arranged cultural centres for distinct linguistic groups in a bid to divide the communities away from the Bhojpuri/Hindi speaking group (for whom a cultural centre is still wanting: this is a matter we shall pursue). What Dr Navin Ramgoolam is promising is a National Cultural Council to favour intercultural dialogue and integrate the activities of the diverse Cultural Centres and Speaking Unions. He is also proposing to introduce training in empathy into our classrooms through the Canadian-inspired “Roots of Empathy Scheme.” Hopefully Mauritius will become active in the famous Ashoka organisation.
In the field of education, use of mother tongues including Creole will be allowed; details of the use of Bhojpuri will have to be made available in due course. “Kreol”, that is to say the Creole language written in grafilarmoni script, will be available as an option at the CPE. Our belief that the use of the script will eventually kill off the French language remains as strong as ever; in fact some proponents of “Kreol” deliberately want French to disappear. That will be a great national loss. Very fortunately the Manifesto is also proposing the creation of an Educator’s Council. Hopefully this council, depending on its membership, may be able to guide our education towards the preservation of the great cultures we have inherited. We also hope that this council will guide the MIE in improving its output. Just quoting the statistics of the number of teachers trained will not do. Why is it that most people in the country, including some paid speakers at the MBC, mispronounce common words? These days lots of people are speaking about the “Privy Council”. This is a very important institution for us. Never mind that one representative of Rezistans ek Alternativmispronounces it on TV: he, like the rest of us, is a victim of our education system. But until when will this nation continue to be the victim of its education system, and be the laughing stock of other nations the moment we open our mouths?
Other important proposals in the field of education include the creation of an Early Childhood Care & Education Authority. The greatest asset of the nation is its children; their best learning and formative years are from birth to about the age of eight. We are relieved that the State will turn its attention to them in this period. Another important proposal is the creation of a school for gifted children. Attention has always been paid to “special needs” children, a euphemism for handicapped or otherwise challenged children, but the other end of the spectrum has always been neglected. We are happy that at last the nation will be waking up to recognise that there are a few children who are specially gifted and who, with proper attention, can easily develop into geniuses.
The Manifesto’s proposals in the field of culture are also very encouraging. To begin with, there be will be an all-embracing Mauritian festival every year around Independence time. The President’s Award for creative writing, now limited to English, will be extended to all languages. The idea of a Creole festival will be retained, but some may well ask, why not a Bhojpuri Festival. Would it not be a good thing for the State to associate itself more closely with the Bhojpuri celebrations organised by the Indian Diaspora Centre, as it does for the Creole festival? Why this discrimination against one major culture that because of such neglect was on the point of dying out?
There are many other very interesting and useful proposals in just education and culture sections of the manifesto, but regrettably we cannot go into all of them. What we can say, however, is that the Alliance de l’Avenir deserves to be returned massively to Parliament to enable to put the ideas of the Manifesto into practice.
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Le Premier ministre devra utiliser l’espace créé par le départ de Rama Sithanen pour relancer l’épargne et réintroduire une dose d’équité dans sa politique fiscale. Si pour certains la politique économique du ministre des Finances a sauvé le pays, pour d’autres elle est une source de mécontentement intarissable.
Sans entrer dans un débat communautariste ou encore moins castéiste, il est reconnu que deux des valeurs fondamentales de la société mauricienne sont l’épargne et l’accès à la propriété. D’ailleurs une propriété foncière garantie et l’allègement des contraintes liées à la cession des terres permettent aux pauvres de mieux se prendre en charge, améliorent la gouvernance et produisent des avantages économiques pour tous.
Le comportement économique de certains Mauriciens peut être résumé de la manière suivante en procédant à une analyse intergénérationnel. Les grands-parents et les arrière-grands-parents ont trimé dur pour pouvoir sortir de la misère. Ils ont économisé chaque sou, ils ont occupé deux ou trois boulots pour éduquer les enfants et acheter un lopin de terre.
Les enfants éduqués sont sortis des champs, pour aller travailler dans des bureaux, se sont endettés afin de construire des maisons en dur pour être à l’abri des cyclones. Ces maisons ont été construites par les enfants sur les terrains mis à disposition par les parents en puisant dans leurs économies.
Les enfants, ayant une forte propension à reproduire le comportement de leurs parents, se sont eux aussi mis à épargner afin d’emprunter le moins possible quand ils devront voler de leurs propres ailes.
Vu que l’épargne a été réalisée en consentant à d’énormes sacrifices, l’intérêt versé par les banques peut, à juste titre, être considéré comme une reconnaissance de l’effort fait.
Nous avons appris à l’école qu’en période de récession économique nous devons encourager la consommation pour éviter de sombrer dans un marasme économique, c’est ce que les modèles anglo-saxons préconisent. Nos deux ou trois tentatives de jouer dans la cour des grands spéculateurs se sont soldés par des échecs cuisants.
Mais ouvrons nos yeux : nous sommes un tout petit pays, avec un système bancaire prudent et traditionnel à l’abri de crises systémiques. Nos seules frayeurs : ne plus pouvoir exporter notre textile et sucre à un bon prix et avoir un tourisme en baisse. Ce sont les efforts consentis par nos parents pour nous éduquer qui font qu’aujourd’hui nous pouvons travailler dans les services financiers et centres d’appels.
M. Sithanen n’a pas fait confiance aux valeurs ancestrales des Mauriciens, il a voulu appliquer une politique économique néo-capitaliste. Le ministre des Finances n’a pas fait confiance non plus aux hommes et aux femmes responsables.
Si aujourd’hui l’île Maurice peut se targuer d’attirer des capitaux étrangers, ce n’est pas seulement à cause de notre politique fiscal avantageuse, mais aussi parce que les investisseurs reconnaissent que nous sommes un peuple de travailleurs, éduqué, pétri et imbu de valeurs telles que l’épargne et la propension des Mauriciens, du moins pour la grande majorité, de se prendre en charge plutôt que de tendre la main.
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WHY TINA HAD TO GO
Prior to his foray into politics, outgoing Finance Minister Dr Sithanen had a formidable reputation in the private sector as a highly competent technocrat. Even his political opponents today recognise his undoubted ability and dedication to hard work, which has helped him climb the social ladder to prosperity.
But, as someone has said before, a good degree from a good university is not the only requisite for formulatilng the economic/social policies of the country. If it were that easy, we could simply hire the services of a couple of dons from Oxbridge and add a Nobel Prize winner for good measure. And, hey presto, the job would be done!
Unfortunately, technocrats do not always make the best of decision-makers. Blinded by the pink mist in the esoteric stratosphere of Academes, they are often oblivious to the simple, inescapable fact that the decisions they are making impact on the real lives of real people. Something that not many of the theories in the university textbook happen to teach, alas! What they do help generate, however, is a mass of figures that impresses fellow technocrats at the IMF and the World Bank.
Back on Earth
But, away from Academia, back on Earth, the ordinary citizen is not much impressed by striking statistics about excellent economic growth, expanding GDP, small budget deficits or burgeoning currency reserves. Smith, Keynes, Galbraith and Sen are not names that he is familiar with. However, what he does know very well is how much a Rupee can buy at the local supermarket, whether he can look forward to a better life for himself and his kids. And, he knows too that all this hinges on how much he earns and, above all, how much of his income the taxman allows him to keep.
For the sake of comparison and in order to keep it simple, we have compiled below the tax liability for the year 2006 of a married man with no children, and contrasted it with fiscal year 2009. The difference is so enormous it is astounding that the PM’s advisers did not spot it until the eleventh hour, on the eve of the general elections. But, as they say in Outer Mongolia, better late than never!
The Double Whammy
So, in 2006, our man could theoretically earn himself anything up to Rs1,100k pa and not pay a single cent in taxes, provided he qualified for all the available relief. It is also obvious that this tax regime greatly encouraged him to save and own a home.
But, following the changes made by the TINA-men, the moment our man starts earning a single Rupee over Rs.350k, he pays 15 percent to the taxman. The discerning reader would also have noticed the two double whammies.
1. The abolition of relief on interest on housing loan (5) coupled with the infamy known as NRPT.
2. The abolition of relief on savings (16) coupled with tax on interest earned on savings.
As a consequence, much harm has been wrought upon all incentive to saving and home ownership.
Unfortunately for us, that is not all. With IRS/ERS developments growing like wild mushrooms all over the land with the blessing of the authorities, land/house prices have rocketed. Better-off foreigners, particularly from RSA, are prepared to pay a huge premium for the relative safety of living here.
Consequently, many young couples are being priced out of the housing market and are finding it more and more difficult to acquire a decent place to live in. If things go unchecked, it won’t be very long before all of us will be queuing up for the spartan Firinga type housing presently being built (by the authorities) to help low income families.
In 2005, the slogan of the Alliance Sociale was “nou pou change ou lavi dan 100 jours” (We’ll change your life in 100 days).
The above are just two examples of their unquestionable success. Yes, in the last five years, the TINA-men have succeeded in pauperising the hard working middle classes, discouraged savings, stifled ambition and thwarted all effort that lead to upward social mobility. Contrast this against the largesse shown to the big boys of the Corporate sector: a whopping 50 percent reduction on their tax bill — a deal so scrumptious that they quite happily agreed to the CSR levy of two percent proposed last year.
With the unpopular (economic) policies of the past five years, it is in the logic of things that TINA-man would be made the sacrificial goat to assuage the anger and disappointment of the traditional Labour voter and many others. Now let us hope that, whoever takes over the Finance portfolio after the 5/5/10 general elections, he will begin by reversing the catastrophic policies of his predecessor. And, restore some hope and dignity to the beleaguered hard working people of this country.
F.E.D. Upp Taxpayer
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