Points to Ponder
Are our politicians moved by the interest of the country?
A First Point: Others again in favour of a Labour Party-MMM alliance were saying that that the PMSD would be separated from the Labour Party for good and that this was a very good move because that party was the stumbling block for the MMM that has been trying to get back its old-time supporters in the General Population community. It must be remembered that the General Population has moved away from the MMM towards the Labour Party and also towards the PMSD.
Politics is the mental and intellectual exercise that keeps so many Mauritians hale and hearty in their mental faculty. For the past so many weeks, we were kept on our toes with an alleged alliance between the Labour Party and the MMM. Those in favour of such an alliance were rejoicing and shouting from the housetops that the alliance has been sealed or that it will be announced to the public the following day.
Some, including Cassam Uteem, the former President, openly said that they were for an alliance between the Labour Party and the MMM, for reasons best known to themselves but some others say that the reason is that Uteem Junior is going to be the candidate of the MMM in constituency no. 2. And still others say that Cassam Uteem himself was interested in being a candidate of the MMM at the forthcoming general election but that his enthusiasm has dampened down because he was told in no uncertain terms that a former President of the Republic cannot go back to his former political party and his fighting an election cannot be envisaged. If I am not mistaken, even Paul Bérenger himself said that what Cassam Uteem had in mind could not be accepted.
And now it seems that the MMM is thinking of getting Cassam Uteem some post of political responsibility within the party even if he will not be a candidate, allowing him to still play a major role in the forthcoming election. This cannot be, because if he cannot be a candidate, he cannot be the one to pull the strings from behind, be it in favour of anybody. Cassam Uteem has been a good President of the Republic, he is well known for his intellectual finesse, and now he cannot bring the office of the President of the Republic into contempt and ridicule. That post is too important to all Mauritians for such a thing to happen.
Who was begging for an alliance, the Labour Party or the MMM? In so far as we are concerned, the Labour Party is strong enough in the political spectrum and there is no need for it to beg for an alliance. People do know from which side the begging used to come, every politician knows this except Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo, who thinks that it was the Labour Party that went to the MMM, and begged for an alliance. However, most people know that the contrary is true.
Now that this matter of a supposed alliance between the Labour Party and the MMM is over, the Alliance Sociale is free to contract any other political alliance. The MSM has been in contact with the Labour Party. This time, the scenario has been different from what it was when the MMM wanted such an alliance. Navin Ramgoolam himself has announced that he is talking to Pravind Jugnauth.
Of course Paul Bérenger and the MMM are not happy that their proposal for an alliance has been rejected. Those in the Labour Party who were batting for a Labour-MMM alliance are not happy at all that the discussions and negotiations have been called off, but these persons should understand that such is politics and those who think otherwise must know what to do. However, they must remember that a rolling stone gathers no moss, as the saying goes.
I suppose that even among politicians, there must be some degree of sincerity, at least for the sake of the country and for the good name of politics itself. I am not saying anything about the image that politicians create of and for themselves.
After having slept in the same bed as the government for some time, how is the MMM going to criticize the Alliance Sociale? If the alleged Alliance Labour Party-MMM would have materialized, the MMM would have kept quiet on all that the Alliance Sociale has so far done and will continue doing. Now that there is no alliance, whatever the Alliance Sociale has done or will do deserves but criticism. What kind of politicians are coming before us to ask for our votes? Are they moved by the interest of the country or rather by their personal interests? If such persons are moved by their personal interests, is it possible for the electorate to vote for them? In such circumstances, how are we to judge the electorate who will vote for such politicians, as bad as these politicians I should say.
And now it is done, I mean the alliance between the Alliance Sociale and the MSM. The Labour Party will have 35 tickets, the MSM 18 and the PMSD 7. The National Assembly has been dissolved, and what we call elections here will be held on 5 May 2010. So we have the Labour-MSM-PMSD alliance under the leadership of Navin Ramgoolam on one side, and the MMM-UN-MMSD alliance on the other. Each group is trying to bring the final touches to their programmes, and the leaders are busy working on their list of candidates.
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Rapprochement of Cultures
A Second Point: For those of us who live in the country and see it from inside, it is not very easy to talk about Mauritian culture. We do not have a purely Mauritian culture as such. Within the country groups live within distinct cultures, which can be variously described as Indian culture, Chinese culture, European (mainly French) culture and a supposedly Euro-Creole culture. This Euro-Creole culture is difficult to define, even by those who say that this is their culture. Unfortunately, the African culture has more or less disappeared from this country, except perhaps for the sega, and even that only in a stylised, watered-down version to suit the descendants of former slave-owners and present-day tourists. Many of those who indulge in the sega do it mostly for pecuniary benefits which they derive from tourists. In one or two places in the countryside it is still possible to find some descendants of slaves who can practise the sega in its pure form, in remembrance of their ancestors. But their numbers are dwindling very fast. How unfortunate!
When we say Indian culture, we mean that culture which has been and is practised by the descendants of all the Indians who settled down in Mauritius on the completion of their indenture.
Tourists and foreigners are led to think that Mauritian culture is just some sort of Euro-Creole culture in which we are all involved; they are misled into believing that Mauritian culture is nothing but Euro-Creole culture. This is partly the doing of the private sector, especially the sector that is involved in tourism, and partly that of the mainstream press. The private sector is only prepared to exhibit this type of culture. When we consider that Indian culture as practised in Mauritius, with all its variety because of the numerous languages of the Indian immigrants, is the culture of the vast majority of our citizens, we wonder what the people responsible for highlighting the various aspects of culture in Mauritius are doing.
Indian culture is given only a minimal attention by the authorities and I am sure the Minister of Culture, Vasant Bunwaree will agree with this observation. What facilities are granted for the promotion of the Indian culture as opposed to say, the Euro-Creole culture? I am not saying that I am against the promotion of any particular culture, but I do say that Indian culture must be given the recognition it is due. What is the stand of the Minister of Culture on this matter?
Who are the officers who have been assigned responsibility for promoting Indian culture? They are utterly negative in their approach and it seems that they are not aware of even the basics of Indian culture as such. Had it been otherwise, they would have done a better job. If they do not understand what they are supposed to promote, how can they do their job? I wonder who is responsible for such a state of affairs.
I would also like to ask the Minister to inform the public how much money is spent for Indian culture as a whole and how much for the other cultures? I am told that Indian culture gets peanuts, less than nothing and the others get most of the resources that are voted by the National Assembly. It is no wonder that others are moving with the speed of lightning whereas the Indian culture at best is stagnant, if not moving backwards.
Government should realize that most of the local press, including particularly what is usually referred to as the mainstream press, is totally biased towards Euro-culture which it views as its mission to defend and propagate, in a manner totally oblivious of Indian culture and utterly regardless of any negative consequences for it. We acknowledge their right, as owners of the papers, to print what suits them as long they they do not flout the law, but we certainly do not appreciate what they do. The people at the helm of the papers concerned only know their culture and they are not prepared to learn about the culture of others. This exactly mirrors the situation of languages as it obtains in the country: you learn my language, forget about yours. This would be perfectly normal in an imperialist/colonial situation where the dominant power imposes its language and culture on the subject people. But we are not in such a situation, are we? This is where we differ from the mainstream press and call upon the public to think before they buy. The reading public, of whom a great many are of Indian culture, also have a say in this matter; until when will they go on buying papers that show nothing but contempt for what they hold to be sacred? They should not allow themselves to be misled by flashy colours and glossy paper.
However, the organization that should be blamed for not doing its duty for the propagation of Indian culture in Mauritius is the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation. It is duty bound by law to do so, but so far it has failed in its duty. Let us have a look to some of the provisions of the MBC Act.
Section 4 says –
4. Objects of the Corporation
The objects of the Corporation shall be to –
(a) provide independent and impartial –
(i) broadcasting services of information , education, culture and entertainment in Creole, Bhojpuri, French, English, Hindustani and such other languages spoken and taught in Mauritius as the Board may, with the approval of the Minister, determine;
(ii) broadcasting services which cater for the aspirations, needs and tastes of the population in matters of information education, culture and entertainment; and
And it goes on with the different aspects of its objects. At para (f) it has another interesting point.
(f) strike a fair balance in the allocation of broadcasting hours.
It is generally accepted that the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation has not been acting fairly and reasonably towards the Hindu community in that Indian culture is not given the importance that it deserves. Which means to say that other cultures are given an unduly inflated importance to the detriment of the Indian culture.
Let us take a simple example. Let us ask the MBC about the timings of broadcasting of the various cultures in the country, the number of hours of same on each channel and what are shown during prime time on each of the channels. At the same time, let us know how much money is spent on each of the cultures. You will then see the discriminatory treatment being meted out to Indian culture. If others would have made some effort towards understanding and appreciating Indian culture, the task of the MBC would have been made easy, but the others are bogged down in what they now call their own culture, having been forced to give up their own great African culture.
I am writing on this point because the United Nations has declared this year 2010 as the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures. And we can be the country par excellence for such rapprochement as in our tiny country, we have so many different cultures. And some countries have under the theme of Rapprochement of Cultures, decided to inscribe in their schools the subject of Comparative Religion, but this subject seems to be taboo here, because others do not want to know about Hinduism. However, I would like to say that the study of comparative religion, provided the subject is studied with an open mind, and not with the idea of criticizing any religion, is the most satisfying of all the subjects.
What is the Minister responsible for Culture thinking of doing for the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures? Maybe he must set up a committee to look into the different aspects of the cultures that we have here, how to interest people to learn about the different cultures and how people should react when they come face to face with different cultures. Above all, the authorities must give a fair and balanced treatment to all the cultures.
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Genetically modified/engineered foods
A Third Point: The other day I bought some bananas which by the looks appeared attractive, the skin was a lustrous yellow. I peeled one and started eating it but to my horror, it was still unripe. I kept the others for another day when they would reach the stage that I can call ripe. Two days later, when I tried to peel one, it appeared to be sort of soggy and inedible. I had to throw them all away.
Somebody came to see me and when I mentioned the case of the soggy bananas, he told me that those responsible for the bananas would have made a misuse of ripeners otherwise known as “murisseurs”. He informed me that the cultivators of bananas harvest them when they are not ready and they use ripeners to get them ripe in a matter of days. Ripeners are chemical substances that should not have been allowed in the country, for they are harmful to the health of those who consume bananas that have been artificially forced to ripen.
The same reasoning should apply when we talk of insecticides, weedicides and pesticides. The harm that these chemical substances do to nature and to humans as well as to beasts far outweighs any benefit that they bring.
If these substances are not purely and simply banned, at least a very strict control should be exercised on their use. The quantity of each such chemical imported, the quantity used for each crop, when and where should be closely monitored. And if there is no department within the Ministry of Agro-industry to undertake this task, one should be set up with immediate effect. This is vital for the health of all the living creatures as well as for our Environment. What are the Ministers of Agro-industry and of the Environment doing to control the use or abuse of ripeners, of insecticides, weedicides and pesticides?
Another matter that concerns all Mauritians. This is about genetically modified or genetically engineered foods. Are genetically modified crops as safe as the ordinary crops? Is the ordinary tomato that we used to get, that was not very attractive but that had a distinctive taste to which we were well used not to be preferred to the big red tomato which is of even dimension but which tastes different? Would it not be better to preserve what we have always cultivated? How about the effects of each of these two varieties on health? This is a very serious matter and it would be appreciated if somebody who knows about the subject could give us his opinion.
Now that we know that the ACIM is being paid a good sum by the government but that its secretary who was so loquacious when the money was withheld, is so quiet now, may I request the secretary to take up the above matters? I can assure him that these matters concern consumers and they are within his jurisdiction. And he should not forget to let us know what he proposes to do, how he intends to go about it, how long it will take him to complete the task and above all, what would be his rate of success. After all he is taking government money, he must show us the results, must he not? He must fight for the rights of the consumers.
GM products must be clearly marked in big characters on the labels what they consist of and the consumers must be given a choice whether to buy GM articles of food or ordinary articles. But to exercise this choice, they must know what they are offered. What does the secretary of the ACIM say?
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A Fourth Point: We have been told by the Mauritius Revenue Authority that people should as far as possible file electronic returns. The idea seems to be attractive but some persons are made to suffer because of this method of filing their tax returns. We know of the case of a person who has resorted to this method.
In addition to his emoluments, the person receives some interest on his savings at the Bank and he has his house. His bank is supposed to deduct the relevant tax at source and it has so informed the tax authorities. The Accountant General has deducted a substantial sum for tax purposes and we are sure that the authorities have been informed about this as the money has been paid to the MRA.
Now the tax authorities have spoken a lot about reimbursement to be effected in a matter of weeks. But in the case I am mentioning, the reimbursement has not been effected up to now. The person has been waiting since last year and he has lost patience. He wrote to the MRA and only then he was informed that the MRA people must have the documents to sort matters out. If there would have been no correspondence, the person who has overpaid would never be reimbursed.
Now when electronic returns are filed, how are documents to be sent? But the question should be put as the reason for which the Bank as well the Accountant General and others send the relevant documents to the MRA when the taxpayer also has to send the same documents to the Mauritius Revenue Authority? Something is wrong somewhere and even the officers do not know what should be done. This question was put to an officer and there was no answer. What are taxpayers to do in such circumstances?
What does the Minister of Finance have to say about this case? Maybe nothing.