We may all agree that the ‘system’ remains a major obstacle in the path of progress, yet one should not despair; our history is but a continuous conquest of rights and freedoms
By Sada Reddi
Many people crying for change in various areas to improve living and working conditions have reached the conclusion that the ’system’ is the major barrier to (positive) change in this country. Whether they are discussing politics, public policies and any other issue, the diagnosis is the same. Often it is with a feeling of despair that they articulate their grievances and the same tune echoes in everyone’s ears. This is true for Mauritius as for any other country. It is a problem which has been debated for centuries and is captured in the eternal debate between reformism and revolution and variations on the same theme.
‘We may all agree that the ‘system’ remains a major obstacle in the path of progress, yet one should not despair of improving our society. History provides us with the reassurance that people have employed various strategies to improve society; our history is but a continuous conquest of rights and freedoms — though we should guard against seeing progress as something linear or inevitable’
We may all agree that the ‘system’ remains a major obstacle in the path of progress, yet one should not despair of improving our society. History provides us with the reassurance that people have employed various strategies to improve society; our history is but a continuous conquest of rights and freedoms — though we should guard against seeing progress as something linear or inevitable.
Two broad strategies have been employed to fight the ‘system’, one from outside which bypasses the system; others have fought it from inside, that is by making oneself the agent of change and securing incremental positive changes, however small they might have been but eventually proved to be of great significance in the long run.
Take the case of private tuition in primary schools. There are some parents who refuse to provide for private tuition for their children for a number of reasons; there are others who can afford to simply opt for private schools. While the majority will accept private tuition somewhat grudgingly even if they are aware of its limited educational value, they have employed various strategies to nullify its baneful effects.
Some parents will ensure that after tuition, from 5 to 8 o’clock, their children get the opportunity to enjoy and relax by doing some sports or some reading for pleasure, watching television, and thereafter to focus either on school work or tuition work after arrangement with their teachers. Most of Saturdays and Sundays are reserved for leisure activities and there is no question of two private tuitions.
This is just one of the many strategies which can and have been used to fight the ‘system’.
A brick wall of indifference
The identification of the ‘system’ as an obstacle to progress is not confined to education. It is equally relevant in every walk of life whenever one seeks to improve society or an organisation. Many people are repeatedly telling us that whenever they seek to fight corruption, nepotism, malpractices, environmental degradation, arbitrary power, traffic problems and injustices of every kind, they come up against a brick wall of indifference, bureaucratic incompetence, institutional inertia, sheer vested interests, government incompetence or public apathy.
Not only do they blame the authorities of the day for the various ills that affect them in their daily lives, the blame is also shifted to government as it is viewed increasingly as a “cash and carry” government.
Whatever the issue, which is likely to become a major preoccupation of the people, there will always exist various ways to fight these ills both from inside and outside. In Afghanistan, policemen living in very remote areas used to receive their salaries through several intermediaries, and a cut was deducted from the salaries throughout the process at the level of each intermediary. What the policeman pocketed at the end of the month was but a fraction of his salary.
Recently technology has altogether removed the corrupt practice — his full salary, which comes to a huge amount, much to the surprise of the police officer himself, is henceforth credited directly into his bank account through mobile payment. What police officers initially took to be a huge salary increase was in fact their normal salary. Similarly, the Aadhar Card, a unique identification card, has been introduced in India to rid the system of corruption, and to give every citizen a proof of identity – something many poor and marginalized in the country lacked. In both cases technology has been used to eliminate corruption. Other strategies include protest of various kinds, which over the years have yielded positive results even when they were not entirely successful.
Every day we hear of multiple protests of various kinds against the encroachment on public beaches, pollution of rivers and the seas, illegal constructions, nuisance caused by lorries running along narrow roads destroying the peace of villagers and putting their lives at risk. Where the authorities are incompetent, they simply turn a deaf ear for they lack the ability to come up with appropriate solutions.
In other cases some civil servants or concerned officers, who have a sense of duty and service, will use their resourcefulness to find an acceptable solution. For example, where traffic poses a problem to a school, they simply put up a road sign banning traffic during certain hours, or when lorries become a nuisance, similar action is taken. Small solutions can provide and prove to be durable solutions to what are perceived as insuperable problems.
Two examples recently show how inefficiency and indifference to the welfare of the public can have disastrous consequences. The disturbances at a concert at the Citadelle is a glaring example of failure of intelligence officers in the police force to preempt a situation which could have proved catastrophic for the country, for a small band of people could have easily destroyed our social harmony.
A second example is the decision to build a dormitory for 400 workers and some social houses in the catchment area, near the rivulets and river in Hermitage which flow in the main river feeding the Bagatelle Dam. The authorities do not seem to care that the Bagatelle Dam supplies drinking water to citizens in lower Quatre Bornes, Beau-Bassin, Rose Hill and Port-Louis. The Vacoas-Phoenix Municipality knows quite well that the land in Hermitage is impermeable and all the sewage will flow into the river and pollute the water in Bagatelle Dam. In response to the protest of concerned citizens, it has simply shifted its responsibility to the Ministry of Health and other departments. While nobody is against social housing, a little concern for public health would have simply moved the houses and the dormitory a few hundred yards along the new hermitage Road towards Wooton where lands are available. The authorities would wait for a disaster to occur, then pass the buck and resort to firefighting.
The public good
These two cases illustrate the culture of indifference, inefficiency and impunity which have spread in our various institutions. Yet one should not despair of fighting the system. Whenever we are confronted with any system which is inimical to the public good, we have always resorted to various strategies to put pressure for change — some successful, some less — but people have never given up on their principles or convictions.
Ecological movements maintain pressure against those who grab public beaches at the expense of the public; people have united to stand against a few irresponsible citizens who want to put the nation at risk. And there will be more protests against the senseless action of polluting the drinking water of Bagatelle Dam
All these show that the fight for democracy and a better life is an unending struggle in which different stakeholders participate at all times. Changes are always taking place. We have to push for more positive changes, accelerate them and support them. Public opinion contributes a lot towards the attainment of these objectives.
When the authorities fail to deliver on what the people consider the most important public goods, they will seek alternatives. No longer will the people just wait for action to be taken. Protests should intensify and the people must continue to press for the redress of issues which concern them directly and ensure they find their way on the political agenda. This means greater public awareness, mobilization and winning support for important matters and preparing the long list of issues from below. We must participate actively in whatever way we can to better our society and make sure that these are implemented in a reasonable time.
We all have a stake in this country and its future, and we must contribute to shape it the way we want and not abdicate our duty and responsibility to those who want to take us back to feudal times.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 27 October 2023
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