Language & Culture: Lesson from Fiji 

By Lex

Points to Ponder

A First Point: Then we have the languages called ancestral languages, I do not understand why this term is used. Prominent is Hindi, followed by Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Mandarin. Instead of studying English, French and one of the languages mentioned, many pupils stop at the two European languages. And in making this nefarious choice, these pupils are helped by their parents and at times are even dictated to by them. This happens in many cases even when the parents are ‘educated’, but they are at the same time stupid to the utmost because they do not understand the importance of studying additional languages. They do not understand that they have a culture of their own and that the culture is transmitted from one generation to the next by the language that supports the culture.  We are lucky that we have the opportunity to learn so many languages in our schools. In most other countries, people learn one language or two, and in some rare cases up to three languages and that is all. Here English and French are compulsory languages, and so much better, I shall say. 

A European language supports a European culture just as an African language supports an African culture. Why do some people go only for English and French? Obviously, to earn their living, that is to get a good job, to get a promotion and to eventually get a good pension. At the same time it seems that it is considered infra dig to study an Asian language. But I say that those who think so show their crass ignorance. I call upon all parents to let their children study as many languages as possible for then they will never feel that they are strangers to any culture. 

What is happening in other countries? Let us take one example. I will mention the case of Fiji. Fiji is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual country, and the population composition is somewhat akin to ours. But in many aspects, Fiji lags far behind us, be it in politics or even in the economy. Yet over there, the Fiji National University has decided that as from next year, teachers who want to graduate, must be fluent in both the Fijian language and in Hindi. If they will not be fluent in both languages, they will not graduate. 

The Vice Chancellor of the Fiji National University said that the move was a response to a number of challenges by the University in regard to the People’s Charter for Change. He also said he hoped that it will be a strong motivation for other sectors of society that respected diversity and encouraged unity. He further added: “For without language understanding there is not much of a chance for society to be united.” 

I will put one simple question to ministers responsible for education and I would like them to give a straightforward answer. Do they agree that without understanding the languages of others, there is not much of a chance for unity in a country as divided as ours? If they agree, what solution do they have to motivate each Mauritian to study at least one or two of the above-mentioned languages? 

Government must give some serious thought to reward those who have a certificate in these languages, at least when they join government service. Let them be paid an additional increment when they are confirmed in their job. An additional qualification needs an additional increment. And why not introduce a system whereby trainee teachers are given their certificate only when they produce evidence of being fluent in one of the above languages? This sounds somewhat revolutionary, but it will be a move in the right direction.  

Nicholas Von Mally: Incontesté and incontestable? 

A Second Point: Is the majority party in the island of Rodrigues part of the government of the State of Mauritius? And who is the leader of the party? I would have thought that Nicholas Von Mally was the leader of the party, the Mouvement Rodriguais, incontesté and incontestable. Besides, he is the Minister of Fisheries of the whole of Mauritius besides being the Minister for Rodrigues. But now I have my doubts.  

Johnson Roussety, who is like a President of a district council or a mayor of a municipal cCouncil, though he has some more powers and he has a title that makes him think that he is the Prime Minister of Rodrigues, behaves as if he were in opposition to the government. This is a very serious matter. He and his party, or rather the party of Nicholas Von Mally cannot be in the government and in the opposition at the same time. Nicholas Von Mally must choose whether he wants to stay as the Minister for Rodrigues and the Minister of Fisheries or he wants to be in opposition to the government.  

Johnson Roussety says that he is not satisfied with the sum of money allocated to Rodrigues by the Minister of Finance for the next financial year. He wants to have double the sum proposed. It seems that Johnson Roussety has not understood the crisis facing most of our trading partner countries. Government does not have as much resources to satisfy all parties concerned. I find it surprising that the majority party in Rodrigues has decided to place its discontent in public in this manner. 

I am not saying that the party in power in Rodrigues should of necessity be with the government; it has the absolute right to be in the opposition. But it must say it, so that everybody will know with whom government is reacting at any given moment. What does Nicholas Von Mally the politician think? What does the leader of the party think? What does the leader of the party who is a minister in the government think, the more so that he holds two separate portfolios?  

What is the contribution of Rodrigues to the economy of Mauritius, and I am not talking of the island of Mauritius? What percentage of the expenses of Rodrigues does that district contribute? What percentage of its expenses is met by the island of Mauritius? 

I feel that a sort of blackmail is afoot. You give me what I ask, otherwise I shall go on a hunger strike, says this one. The other says that if you do not give me what I ask, I shall ask for the independence of the territory. And the persons to be blamed must be those persons who have put this idea of independence in the mind of certain persons. But that part of Mauritius cannot stand on its own; it will have to be under the tutelage of some other country. Maybe they have already selected the country under whose feet they will then live.  

Has the other political leader in Rodrigues, Serge Clair of the OPR party, ever gotten that far? I do not think so. His party may well be in a minority in Rodrigues, but it will be in and with the government and he will do a better job for Rodrigues and the people residing there, if he takes the right decision. This is a matter that he has to consider with the greatest urgency.  

The budget and our prophètes de malheur  

A Third Point: Paul Bérenger and some others have said that budget presented by Pravind Jugnauth is inspired by the budgets of the former Minister of Rama Sithanen. What is wrong with the one adopting the policy of the other, if that is in the best interest, given the circumstances?  

Every politician has to make choices and it depends which class he intends to help. If he wants to help those who will create wealth, he eases taxes for the industrialists, businessmen and employers. He favours the creation of wealth, but his policy will succeed only if and when the wealth thus created is distributed equitably to all the stakeholders and not kept by those who have been helped by the authorities. 

Or he can choose to favour the people at the lower rungs of the economic ladder. If he does so without considering where he will get the resources to satisfy over a long period of time the needs of the Mauritians, he will be in trouble before long, the economy will be in shambles and very soon the country will go bankrupt. Take the case of Greece and now of Ireland. Without the help of the European Union and the IMF we really do not know how these countries could have survived. Two more countries in the European Union are likely to face the same problem, the first one is Portugal, however that country does not have a very big economy and the European Union will not have that much of a difficulty to lend it the money that it needs. The second country that may have to be bailed out is Spain. As is well known, Spain has a huge economy, nearly equal to twice the combined economies of Greece, Ireland and Portugal.  

Europe has an advanced economy, with good governance they say, with plenty of resources, a good democracy and its people supposed to be very intelligent. In spite of all this, those countries in Europe are going through every conceivable difficulty. Small Mauritius has managed all right, thank God. However, the opposition thinks otherwise. We are surrounded by des prophètes de malheur. It does not suit the opposition that the country has done quite well as to allow for the payment of compensation to those drawing a lower pay.  

We all realize that our main markets in Europe and the United States of America are going through very difficult times but we are still managing to export our manufactured products. At the same time, we have been able to attract our tourists without suffering in numbers.  

If the previous Minister of Finance had come up with good measures, what is wrong in the present Minister continuing with the same policies? The previous Minister had come up with two measures that were considered very unfair, and these concerned the National Residential Property Tax and the tax of interests on savings. We had mounted a campaign on this and the new Minister of Finance understood that these measures were very unfair. He removed both these measures. He must be congratulated for this.  

Our advice to our politicians is that they should change when the occasion demands it, but never out of spite or because somebody else has started a measure. There was a French poet by the name of Auguste Barthélemy who said “L’homme absurde est celui qui ne change jamais.” 

I heard the comments of those responsible for the economic policy of the MMM. Apart from being destructively critical of the budget, they did not have anything positive to say. As if they would have done a better job… I will ask them just one question: do they agree with the views of all the representatives of the international institutions, with the experts and with the foreign politicians who have recently pronounced on the economy of the country and on its governance?   

* Published in print edition on 3 December 2010

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