Our agriculture must not die

Points to Ponder

By Lex

A First Point: Let us talk purely in layman’s terms. The country sells goods and services to foreign countries and earns foreign exchange with which it pays for everything it imports. If we had natural gas and petroleum in our country and in our seas, there would have been no need for government to struggle so much in order to meet the commitments to satisfy our import bill. We must perforce rely on what we produce and what we manufacture. We do not have enough money for all that we import, but yet we continue importing more and more still.

What percentage of our foreign exchange earnings is earned by each of the types of goods or services? We are interested in the net earnings rather than in the gross earnings. We know that when we export our sugar or our fruits or some of our services, we do not put any imported material to produce those goods and services, or maybe very little in terms of fertilizers or for licences. Take the case of sugar or pineapples. These are produced locally and all the foreign exchange that we earn from their exports remain in the country.

But for textile and other industrial goods, we must first of all import the raw material for which we have to pay a relatively heavy price, then manufacture what we have to manufacture, only then can we export what we have prepared. We must remember that we have to pay the foreign workers who are employed in our industries. What money remains becomes the foreign exchange earnings from the industrial sector. Besides we have the earnings from the agricultural sector and also from the services sector. Should we take into account foreign exchange remittances by Mauritians working overseas? I sincerely do not know.

We would like to know how much we have earned from the agricultural sector, especially from sugar in its various forms, like raw, white, special, cubes, etc., and then from fruits like pineapples and litchis. We would also like to know how much foreign exchange we have earned from our industrial products, and then also from the export of the services that we do export.

If we can be given the figures for the past five years, we can then know how our foreign exchange earnings have evolved in the course of those years and how much each of the sectors has contributed. It will clearly be seen that the contribution of the agricultural sector has the tendency of going down year by year. This should not happen, for the simple reason that we do not depend on foreign countries to produce our sugar and our pineapples as we do for our industry. Agriculture has been the backbone of our economy, but it must not now die because of lack of proper care and because of old age.

Government should see to it that the agricultural sector is better serviced, with more facilities being extended to those involved in the production of fruits and vegetables. Certain facilities must be put at their disposal for the preparation of their produce and foreign markets must be found for them.

This applies for flowers as well. We know that we have a very good climate for the production of different varieties of flower and we have some persons who are better than any expert in the cultivation of flowers and who can teach others how to start production. We can think of two villages that have a long flower cultivation tradition and these two villages are Crève Coeur and Moka. Why does the Ministry of Agriculture not give the required help to the cultivators in the production, then look for the market in foreign countries, help in the preparation of the flowers for export and eventually export them? The Ministry of Agriculture will then be helping the producers and the country will be earning foreign exchange. Above all, government will not doling out money to some people on the pretext that they are poor people who must be fed and clothed and given whatever it takes to send their children to school when the parents of other children have to look for the necessary materials for the education of their children. 

The BIOT and Oil

A Second Point: I know that in the past, some timid efforts were made to search for oil in our seas, but because the efforts were timid, no oil was discovered. It seems that the time is now ripe to make a more serious effort to look in a wider area and far deeper in the sea to find out where we have oil and gas. Remember in what depth in the Gulf of Mexico did British Petroleum locate petrol and also that it was very near the land mass of the United States, causing such an ecological disaster.

And here I have to draw the attention of the government on the supposed British Indian Ocean Territory, the BIOT as it is called, which is an integral part of our territory but which Britain is making use of under the doctrine of “might is right”. It is using part of our territory in collaboration with the United States, and both of them are not prepared to give us back what belongs to us. We agree that Britain is the greater culprit, but both these countries know that if they would accept to fight the case before the International Court of Justice at the Hague, they will lose, and that is why they do not want to go to that Court. However, Britain has said that it will return the supposed BIOT when the West will not need it for defence purposes. When will that be? Nobody knows. For whose defence? Again nobody knows.

And then there is also the case of Tromelin, the group of islands found to the north of Madagascar. That territory also belongs to us, legally and historically, but France does not accept that such should be the situation. It has been trying to lay claim on that part of our territory, also under the doctrine of “might is right”. I am sure France also will not agree to go the International Court of Justice to thrash out the issue of ownership and sovereignty. France has decided to administer that part of our territory in partnership with Mauritius, but for how long, we do not know.

I am writing on this point because I would like to know what rights would Great Britain and the United States on the one hand and France on the other can claim on the resources found in the different areas claimed by those countries. And by resources here I mean mineral resources of all types and especially petroleum and gas. I am quite sure that in the coming years, all the major countries will look for and strike oil within our territory. Then the real fight will begin. But we must be ready for that.

We must set up a strong team, headed by a person who is well versed in international relations, like a person who has been an ambassador say in the United States, but who knows the ins and outs of the three countries involved but, above all, somebody who is well educated and intelligent. Both these qualities are not necessarily present in one and the same person. This team must include at least two persons who can claim to be specialists in international law and the team must be given the freedom to find out the means by which we can get back our territories as well as preserve our resources. I know how greedy those countries are when it comes to despoiling our country of its natural resources. Other countries in Africa have had to undergo, and are still undergoing a painful ordeal in this connection but they cannot do much to turn the tide in their favour.

The MMM’s Election Fatigue

A Third Point: It seems to me that the MMM is still suffering from what we think is election fatigue. Yet this should not be so, because the last general election was held quite some time ago – if we go by the saying that a week is a long time in politics.

I am saying so from my observation of the behaviour of the MMM Members of Parliament both in the House and outside. We were used to seeing the MMM coming up with new ideas, well presented and that would attract the attention of Mauritians whether they were interested in politics or not. These days, they have no ideas of their own and if they try to answer any point, they just do not know how to make their point in a manner that will convince and impress people.

This applies to Paul Bérenger, Rajesh Bhagwan as well as to the first-timers who have yet to learn the tricks of the trade. Paul Bérenger should do his best to get back to his previous sharp level; only then will the MMM feel that he is providing real leadership to his followers, otherwise they will join the group that is hankering after him to let go of the leadership of the party. However, these persons do not realize that their move will for sure cause the death of the MMM. But that is their business and if that is their wish, who is going to prevent them from indulging in such behaviour?

What we are interested in is the political opposition in Parliament, that has been elected to be the watchdog vis-à-vis the government and to propose alternative solutions to all the problems that we have. The opposition should oppose all the measures that go against the majority of the population with all its might, but in the same breath, it should give all its help for the measures that government proposes that are in the interests of the majority of the population.

Why is it that I have not heard any new idea from the MMM since the last election? Paul Bérenger continues with his weekly press conferences, but he limits himself to criticizing some of the measures proposed by the government. What about your own proposals, Mr Bérenger? Apart from criticizing the government and putting some questions to the ministers, what have the opposition members done so far? Nothing much, I would say. This is not the way that Members of Parliament, especially of the opposition, should perform.

Even during the discussions about the Government Programme, the debating is without life. Most of the members, on both sides of the House just read written speeches. I wonder if the members themselves had written those speeches.

Members must know that they cannot read their speech in a debate. This is provided for in the Standing Orders of the House and all members are supposed to know the Standing Orders inside out. This is what we read in Standing Order 42(9) –

“A Member shall not read his speech, but he may read extracts from written or printed papers in support of his argument and may refresh his memory by reference to notes.”

Let us go to what is called the Erskine May, the Bible of Parliamentarians. What does it say about members reading their speeches? This is what it says:

“In the House of Commons a Member is not permitted to read his speech, but he may refresh his memory by reference to notes. A Member may read extracts from documents, but his own language must be used bona fide in the form of an unwritten composition. The purpose of this rule is primarily to maintain the cut and thrust of debate, which depends upon successive speakers meeting in their speeches to some extent the arguments of earlier speeches; debate decays under a regime of set speeches prepared beforehand without reference to each other.”

Is it asking too much of our Members of Parliament to request them to conform to the Standing Orders and to Erskine May during debates as well as at other times when the House is sitting?

I have always advocated the idea of broadcasting live all the sittings of our National Assembly. Then we shall really know the true worth of our individual Members of Parliament. But I do not think that our Members are interested in showing us how they perform or do not perform as our representatives.

Where are we in matters of football?

A Fourth Point: The World Cup is over and we have been given the opportunity to watch all the games. We have to thank the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation for making the necessary arrangements to have all those matches on our TV and this for the great pleasure of all Mauritians who love football. I have not heard from those who are against the government uttering their usual criticism this time but they have not said so much as a thank you which was expected in the circumstances.

I want to say as few words on our football. In the past, our football was of quite a good standard, and we could match up to most of the African teams. But then, all of a sudden, Mauritius slipped to the last position, even below the Seychelles or the Comoros. These days, we are nowhere in matters of football, so much so that Mauritians do not consider that there is any team worth the name playing either locally or with a foreign team.

Why is it that we have fallen from the first place to the last within a couple of years? Because the rules relating to the clubs have been changed. We had the top teams, The Hindu Cadets, The Muslim Scouts, The Dodo Club, The Racing Club, The Fire Brigade and some others. These clubs made us proud whenever and wherever they used to play. Each had its own supporters when playing against local teams, but when it was a question of playing against a foreign team, all Mauritians were behind the local team. But there were some exceptions of course.

The MMM did not appreciate the teams listed above because apparently, they were communalist or racist teams. And so, the MMM caused the death of all those teams and in the process it caused the death of our football in the same process. Granted that all those teams were more or less based on communities or races, but they promoted our football to the best of their ability. Who is the great loser in the process? All Mauritians and especially our football.

Are the MMM members now happy that they have killed our football? They seem to be satisfied because they are not saying anything.

Now we are being told that the Minister of Sports, Devanand Rittoo is keen to revive our football. He must remember that all political parties, without exception, have followed in the footsteps of the MMM not to allow some teams to take part in the games. Devanand Rittoo, though he was one of the good players of the Hindu Cadets, will not succeed to revive our football with this idea of the MMM. He must adopt a completely different approach.

Football can only succeed if it has fans and fans follow their teams. The MMM wanted fans grouped at the regional level. Suppose I reside in the north and I am a fan of the Hindu Cadets, I will follow this team, but if I cannot be a fan of my team, then I say to hell with the type of football imposed on me. And there are thousands of fans like me. This is what the MMM has done to me and to my team.

People say that the previous teams were communally bent. So what? Did the MMM think that by banning these teams it will do away with communalism?

What is my suggestion? Simply amend the law, get back the old teams with their names and their directors and let any club rise that can compete with any other team. We need football players as in the past, not people regimented by the State to follow what the State dictates. We have to compete at the international level and so far the principle of the MMM has failed. Does the Minister think that he can improve on the failed system? No way, he will move from failure to further failure. In this what he wants? I tell him give me back my team and let my nextdoor neighbor have his team. Let all the teams collaborate so that in four years time, we can dream to go to Brazil. We have to try to achieve so much, at least.

* Published in print edition on 23 July 2010

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