Points to Ponder
A First Point: We simply cannot allow our agricultural sector to die out because at the end of the day, it is agriculture that will ensure our survival. In the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties, we used to depend heavily on agriculture. Then we started to develop our industrial sector, our tourism sector, our services sector and finally our financial sector. In the process, we forgot the importance of our agricultural sector, with the possible exception of the sugar industry. We hear a lot about our vegetables, our rice or our milk. But the result is disastrous. Does the Ministry have any real interest in the need for us to produce our own vegetables? The answer looks like being in the negative. The reason is simple. Previously, the Ministry used to produce vegetable seeds in several places known as experimental stations.
I am told that at least four experimental stations existed in different areas of the country. They were the Arsenal Experimental Station, the Bois Marchand Experimental Station, the Roches Brunes Experimental Station and the Curepipe Experimental Station. These stations were carrying experiments in matters relating to agriculture but their main function reportedly was to produce seeds which were being sold to the local farming community at reasonable and acceptable prices.
Let us look at some of the seeds that were produced by the experimental stations, the price at which they were sold and what the farming community is now paying.
||Price at Former Government outlets
||Present Commercial Market Price
||Rs.500 per pound
||Rs.6,000 to Rs.16,000 per pound
||Rs.250 per pound
||Rs.600 per pound
||Rs.250 per pound
||Rs.1000 per pound
||Rs.2 per sachet
||Rs.10 per sachet
All seeds are now imported by the private sector and it is no surprise that they are sold at a price that the small farmers can hardly afford to pay. The reason for which they must pay such heavy prices is that all experimental stations have been closed down, except for a small part of Curepipe station, and even there, no seed is being produced.
We had a pool of experienced workers to produce seeds and some of them are still in the employ of the Ministry of Agriculture but I understand that they are now detailed to do other duties.
Why is it that the stations that were producing seeds have been closed down? Is it because the Authorities did not want to help the small farming community to buy the vegetable seeds at a reasonable price? Is it because the farmers wanted to buy only the imported seeds though they know that the local seeds are acclimatized to our country whereas the imported seeds are not? Or is it that the importers have been given all facilities to the detriment of the Ministry of Agriculture? Are we surreptitiously moving to a regime where every single seed in the country has to be purchased from monopolies like Monsanto at prices dictated by them?
We can say that we shall have very difficult times ahead concerning our foodstuff, starting from rice and flour and going right through our vegetables and milk. A time will come when you can have your money but the exporting countries will not have enough foodstuffs to sell to us.
The elderly remember that we used to produce good quality milk formerly; the production was mostly in the hands of very small cow keepers having no more than one or two cows. Those days are over because we live in a different social set-up. Some persons have started milk production on a relatively larger scale and they should be encouraged along this line. We had always been used to consuming good quality, but we are now served very low quality of imported milk, that is mixed with I do not know what, and that tastes of anything but milk. To come back to the issue of seeds, what is now government thinking of doing about seed production? I do not know the real reason for closing down the stations. I have been told that the lands devoted to seed production have been either leased to third parties or they are lying fallow.
Those stations that were used for milk production also have been put to other uses. Palmar, Nouvelle Decouverte and Curepipe Stations were well known for the quality of milk they produced. I am told that the station at Palmar has already been leased for other purposes, the one at Nouvelle Decouverte has been more or less abandoned and so has the one in Curepipe.
What does the Minister of Agriculture think of the points raised? He should be the first person concerned because our food production depends on him. It is good to have organisations like the AREU, but what have they done for the production of seeds and milk? If they have done anything worthwhile, then why do we not see the result? Sitting in a building will never do; they should be where the real work is being carried out, that is in the fields. We would like to know where the seeds locally produced, if any, are sold and at what price.
Mobile phones and school bags
A Second Point: We are becoming slaves to the mobile telephone. I am not talking of adults only, for I have been told that youngsters in schools, even at the primary school level, must have their own telephone. It looks as if people cannot live without their telephones, and at times I have seen people with at least two or even three telephones in their pockets when they come to see me.
Who is responsible that our youngsters have in their possession such telephones? Obviously the parents. They do not understand the harm they are causing to the children but for them it’s only giving in to their children’s demands, without any thought about what will happen in the long run. This attitude of parents is decried by those who know what they are talking about.
Let us tackle the problem from another angle. A majority of teachers are totally against children bringing their mobile phones to school. We are not talking of the harm that these telephones cause to the users. We are rather talking about problems they cause to others. When a telephone starts ringing, it disturbs the whole class, the teacher as well as all the pupils. But what is more serious is that pupils record what the teacher says and they film what the teacher does. We are far from the pupils learning from the teacher, the pupils are more interested to record the sayings and doings of the teacher with some ulterior motives, like reporting him.
It is no use asking the parents whether they agree that their children should not take their telephones to school. They are the persons who give them the telephones. But I am for sure asking whether the Minister of Education agrees whether students, both of the primary sector as well as of the secondary sector, should be permitted to bring telephones when they attend school. And I will ask the trade unions in the education sector what is their opinion on this issue. They should respond if they expect to be taken seriously.
There is another matter that concerns pupils but of the primary sector. This concerns the very bulky and heavy school bags that the poor students are supposed to carry. A few parents must carry the school bags because they know that the children cannot carry such a heavy luggage, though the children have to carry the bags from the gate of the school to the class as parents are apparently not allowed in the yard of the school.
What is the policy of the government concerning the books that pupils are supposed to bring to school? How many books are prescribed for each and every class? How many extra books are the pupils compelled to buy and to bring to school every day? Why do teachers prescribe books over and above the books prescribed by the ministry? Is this one of the different ways that teachers use to make some money?
A friend of mine has a grandson who attends a primary school in Quatre Bornes. My friend noticed mistakes in the geography book of his grandson, including one glaring contradiction. He rang up the person responsible for the subject at the MIE, telling him about the glaring contradiction in the book, asking him what answer should a child give if a question about that particular point is set in the exam. The chap at the MIE said simply that he could give any answer, and that would do. How can this be? Only one answer is correct and all others are wrong. But this is the standard of those who write the books for our students.
Minister Choonee apologises!
A Third Point: What does government prefer to do, give a sum of Rs.250,000 to some people to go to America to act in a play called “Madogs of Diego” or to use the sum to relieve the condition of poverty of even one Mauritian in need?
If somebody wants to write a play, however good or bad it can be, and he wants to take it to the States, should he do it at the cost of the State Treasury or at his own costs?
If the authorities have given an award to the person concerned, it means that those responsible for that did find some merit in the person, but that does not mean to say that the person must have what he wants, however crazy. If the person thinks that he does not deserve to have that award, so be it. He should have said at the very beginning that he does not want it or that he does not deserve it, then he would not have been given that award.
I would prefer that government spends the Rs.250,000 to help the poor.
Now I hear that Minister Mukheswar Choonee has apologised to the person concerned with the Rs.250,000 that would have allowed the person and his group to be in the United States of America, but now it is too late. The Minister has laid the blame at the feet of his officers. People, including Ministers, should understand that the Minister takes all the blame for anything going wrong in the Ministry, because he is responsible before the National Assembly for anything that is done, and even not done, at the level of the ministry. The officers who work at the ministry are supposed to be anonymous. But the ministry can initiate disciplinary proceedings against an officer who fails in his duty, but this is another matter. However, it is simply not done that that a Minister says that “I am not responsible because an officer in my ministry has taken this decision and I do not agree with this decision or that an officer has done this.”
The officer may take the decision or act on his own, but the Minister must assume the consequences of the decision or of the action. If the Minister does not agree with this philosophy, he knows what he should do. If I have to give him a piece of advice, it is that he should not be scared of those on the fringe of society; he should be more concerned with the majority, that is those who have sent him to the National Assembly and those who have given him the opportunity to be the Minister of Arts and Culture.
Can I ask him one further question? Has he decided when he will have the ceremony about the arrival of the Indian immigrants and how much money is he going to spend on the event?
And lastly there is another matter.
I have read somewhere that the person who organizes the Miss Mauritius contest has been asking for money, evidently from the State coffers, to continue organizing this particular show. And in the circumstances, she is complaining that she does not have enough money to meet all the expenses. She says that the show involves millions of rupees.
Who is interested in such a show? Those who organize the show obviously. Then we have those girls who like to expose themselves and their bodies. Third, those who like to ogle at those girls. But why is it that none of the girls ever win any major prize? But there is a more important question — should our girls feel proud to expose themselves to such an extent that they cover only a very tiny part of their body and leave the rest for everybody to see? Where are all those women who fight for the rights of other women? People say things about the girls who take part in these body-baring activities, but I will not myself say anything on the matter at this time.
Who judges whether the girls beautiful? We know so many girls who are really beautiful and their beauty is judged without their denuding themselves and without their taking part in any contest. Do you not agree? You have got to be a real Hindu or a real Muslim to understand what I am saying. Laaj-Sharam should intervene somewhere.
Why should government finance the organizers of such a show? It would do better to help, financially and otherwise, all the girls to do something worthwhile like studying classical dancing which is considered to be a real part of the performing arts? Those who want to expose their bodies can do so, provided they do it at their own expense, not at the expense of the State.
* Published in print edition on 20 August 2010