The opposition must have its say, but the government will have its way 

By Lex

Points to Ponder

A First Point: Members of Parliament are handsomely paid to do their duty and not to effect walk-outs when the majority does not want to follow the dictates of the minority. The opposition has boycotted the debates on the Speech of the President of the Republic. Why this boycott? We are entitled to put this question, especially when we know that this is one of the two occasions when there can be real debates on major political choices. The other occasion is the debates on the Budget. One possible explanation is that the opposition does not have anything worthwhile to say as the members have already run out of ideas and, in the circumstances, the best face-saving ploy for them to adopt is to boycott the debates and effect walk-outs. But some counter this by saying that the opposition members could have just sat down and shut up and at least try to look intelligent…

But some other people question the propriety of the members of the opposition pocketing their allowances for doing no work. Unless the opposition were to say that boycotting debates and effecting walk-outs should be considered a duty for them.

We say that in a democracy, we have a majority forming the government and a minority forming the opposition. The government has to govern and, if it fails to do so, it will have to go; the opposition has the role of a political watchdog and it has to do its duty. It must find all the faults in the measures proposed by the government, propose alternative measures that would give better satisfaction to the people, but such measures should be plausible. The opposition should not oppose for the sake of opposing, the members should show and prove that they are moved by patriotism, and in criticizing, they must never forget that they may be called some time in the future to govern the country, either alone as a party or in a coalition with some other party — unless the opposition has decided that it will remain in the opposition for a long time to come.

A well-known saying among politicians is that the opposition must have its say, but the government will have its way. But here the opposition is not playing its role properly.

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I have the feeling that Paul Bérenger, as the leader of the MMM, has decided that he will never be the candidate for the post of Prime Minister. The reason is understandable. He did make an attempt on his own, and he failed. He tried it as the leader of a coalition of other parties, and he failed. He tried it once in a coalition between the MMM and the MSM, and that also as the Prime Minister for the second part of the mandate and behold, he was in fact made the Prime Minister. However, the campaign for the election in the rural constituencies was carried out on the understanding that Paul Bérenger would never be given the post of Prime Minister and that necessary steps would be taken after the election to that end. The promise made to the people was not honoured. One consequence of that unkept promise was the electoral victory of the Labour Party in 2005.

In the circumstances, I do not see Paul Bérenger standing as the MMM candidate for the post of Prime Minister either alone or in a coalition. The MMM will have to start looking for another candidate for the supreme post. It is not reasonable to expect Paul Bérenger to serve another Prime Minister in the MMM, or even a Prime Minister in another party, except Navin Ramgoolam, the leader of the Labour Party. As at present advised, I do not see this happening because the parties forming the coalition government are doing a good job and they are functioning as a team under the leadership of Navin Ramgoolam..

What is the cause that the MMM is not moving forward as we had expected? What is the reason for which the MMM is becoming a past master in effecting walk-outs and boycotting sittings of the National Assembly? The MMM should try to instil some confidence in the Hindu and the Muslim electorate and the Labour Party should do likewise with the electors of the General Population. Is this possible in Mauritius of the present day?

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Hunger strike, the Church and blackmail

A Second Point: Let us now find out what is happening concerning the hunger strike by a few leaseholders of the Riche Terre area. It is well known that the State put an end to the lease after fulfilling the conditions mentioned in the lease agreement. A few leaseholders are not happy with the compensation proposed; they want a far bigger sum of money plus other benefits.

It seems that persons not having anything to do with those lease holders have invited themselves into this matter. Let us take one obvious example. One Jean Maurice Labour, a priest within the Roman Catholic Church, and highly placed I am told, has made their fight his own, to the point of also joining in the hunger strike. He does not eat from 6 am to 6 pm. I also do not eat between 7 pm to 7 am, but I have no sympathy for those on hunger strike, especially those who use this method as a form of blackmail to get some benefit.

Jean Maurice Labour has given an interview to one of the papers, in which he says: “On m’accuse d’entraîner l’Eglise Catholique dans cette affaire (i.e. the hunger strike). Si j’entraîne l’Eglise dans ce combat pour la justice, je suis fier de moi.” In so far as the question of justice is concerned, I take it that the proper forum is a court of justice, unless you say that you do not trust the judicial system, you do not trust the judges and the magistrates who are employed to protect those who claim that their rights have been breached and want justice. I wonder whether Jean Maurice Labour accepts this reasoning, that is if he understands the idea that I am trying to develop.

Or maybe Jean Maurice Labour prefers his version of rendering justice, but unfortunately, I am not familiar with that type of justice. I wonder whether the Roman Catholic authorities agree with the stand taken by Jean Maurice Labour on this particular issue.

Two persons who are apparently practising Roman Catholics, have come out against him. Both of them are politicians and neither of them is from the MMM school. The first of them is Patrick Assirvaden, Member of Parliament from Constituency no 15. And he has told Jean Maurice Labour what he thinks of him. The other is Eliézer Francois, a long-time politician who speaks his mind openly and fearlessly. He has re-stated the duty of a Roman Catholic priest.

But then matters are getting more serious. Everybody knows Henri Souchon, the high-flying Roman Catholic priest who was in charge of the Immaculée Conception church for a long time. He has had to go into retirement because of the age factor. He has served his ouailles or followers to their satisfaction. An old friend of mine told me about an incident when Henri Souchon was in College for his education and most of the pupils in the class were from the Franco-Mauritian community. A Hindu teacher, who was well qualified to teach in the scientific field, had been recruited. The first time that that Hindu teacher came in the class, all the pupils walked out, saying that they would not learn from a such a teacher — no doubt because of his ethnic origin –, except for Henri Souchon. He did not see any reason for discrimination and it would seem that such was his credo throughout. We deem it a loss that he has had to retire, we wish it would have been possible for him to continue in his post.

To come back to the point. Henri Souchon has come out very strongly against Jean Maurice Labour for his involvement in this affair of the hunger strikers. He has given his reasons and it makes good sense.

Now that Maurice Labour has brought in the Roman Catholic authorities in this matter, we are entitled to ask the head of the Roman Catholic Church what is his stand? Does he support Henri Souchon? Does he support Jean Maurice Labour? Both priests cannot be right. I would prefer to side with Henri Souchon on this issue. And the Roman Catholic authorities will have to elect sooner or later, because they have willy-nilly become part of the process. Should they in the first instance have been involved in this matter?

Government should be blamed for having been too lenient with the hunger strikers. It should have told them right away that there is no question of negotiation either by themselves or through some other persons who have nothing to do with the issue and that they should go to Court if they think that government has acted in breach of their rights. If people want to go on hunger strikes, that is their business, but they should never be allowed to use this method as a form of blackmail.

What is the demand of the hunger strikers? They started by saying that they must be given over Rs 900,000 rupees plus other benefits. Now it seems that they have scaled their claim down for a compensation of Rs 500,000 plus other benefits.

I have been told that the persons working for the hunger strikers have decided to inform the Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN about how the ex-planters, who were leaseholders of State lands, have been treated. We should all welcome this move, provided all the necessary details are disclosed. The other international organizations also should be made aware how certain persons, from different sectors, manipulate others for their own benefits.

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Budget Speech: “Poêlon-là chaud”?

A Third Point: We have listened to yet another budget Speech. Every Mauritian has his opinion about what the Minister of Finance has proposed. Tot homines quot sententiae, as the Romans of old used to say — so many men, so many minds. There are as many opinions as there are Mauritians. And where money is concerned, few Mauritians form part of the moutons de Panurge. Each will jump in the sea as and when it suits him, but not because someone else has done it. Mauritians are like that, and that is so much the better.

The measures proposed by Pravind Jugnauth are on the whole positive, but on the understanding that all the measures would be implemented within the decided time-frame, that is they are not measures just on paper.

Let me start by saying what is not justified, and rightly so I should say, by those concerned by one most unjust measure. This concerns the payment of a compensation to workers. I will take a concrete example. A relative of mine gets more than Rs 30,000 per month and so he is not entitled to get any compensation as from January next year as others who are drawing a lower salary. He has three persons working at his place though on a part-time basis, but he will have to give a compensation to each of the workers. Where will he get the money to satisfy what the Minister of Finance has decided? He will be out of pocket by about five hundred rupees. He would have been better off if nobody would have been given a compensation or if everybody would have been a compensation, at least in our case, enough to cover what my relative has to pay additionally every month.

This relative of mine wants an answer from the Minister of Finance as to where he will get the money to pay his workers the compensation that they must get. Maybe he will have to tell them that their services are no longer needed and therefore they will have to leave their job. But then my relative will have to pay severance allowance, that also will cause him to fork out a good sum. No wonder he does not know how he is going to manage. This is the reason for which I am saying that there is definitely something wrong on this issue. Be it remembered that this relative of mine gets his monthly pay from government, he has no other job and cannot rely on any other source of income.

As I said, overall, the budget is positive, let us wait for the implementation to judge the implications. There is one other matter that I have not understood, and this concerns the scholarships. Will the system of “laureates”, as we have known it, be maintained? If those who become the “laureates” decide to pursue their tertiary studies say in England, would all of them be allowed to do so? So many scholarships will be reserved for students from poor families, would this not go against other deserving students of the middle class?

I have heard the comments of the leader of the opposition and of some of the trade unionists on the budget speech. I was not expecting a favourable comment from Paul Bérenger, but I was expecting that he would also tell us where he would have got the resources to do what he says should be done and the more so, he should have indicated how much money would be needed. It is easy to talk when you are in the opposition.

We know about the local trade unionists. Most of them claim that they are the owners of their respective trade unions, they decide on everything concerning their unions. And they have to show to their members that they are working in their interest otherwise the workers will simply leave their union and the trade unionist will be deprived of the check-off. Trade unionists always say that they have not received enough, they always ask for more, as did Oliver. That is the reason for which most trade unionists are not taken seriously, but they are here as part of our folklore. We need them, at least to provide us some reason to have a good laugh.

I have not heard the Finance Minister saying that “poêlon-là chaud” as yet, as the other did say some time in the past. Apparently, he can handle the poêlon which is not that hot — so much the better for us.

* Published in print edition on 26 November 2010

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