Will Minister Sik Yuen listen to the cry of poor consumers?

Points to Ponder

By Lex

A First Point: Where should the minister start in his new job? I will say that he must have a new organization that will go into direct competition with the traditional private sector, for selected items of foodstuff and some other essential articles of everyday use.

This new organization will not get any special treatment that the private sector does not get. The persons who will man such an organization will have to be experienced in matters of commerce, and they should be able to manage the organization without the interference of politicians. They must have the ability to run it on purely commercial lines, with an eye on a reasonable profit. And all the persons employed would be given a contract of between one and three years with renewal for a further term. After that, the persons employed should leave.

Now that we have a new minister responsible for Commerce, let us see if he will listen to the cry of the poor consumers. Some people have expressed doubts on the extent to which he would be able to improve the current state of affairs. I have told them to wait and watch his performance and that, after one year, they can pass their judgment, they cannot judge him before his performance. My friends have accepted this reasoning.

The committee of management of the new organization should be composed of about eight members, consisting of at least two persons appointed by the government, one by the opposition, one by the trade unions, one by the consumer associations and two persons having experience in commerce. Members of the committee should vacate their office at the end of their second term after a first term of between one and three years.

Let us have some genuine competition in our commerce for the benefit of our consumers. This system should ensure that, at the end of the day, people would complain less against abusive practices of the private sector. But would Michael Sik Yuen agree to go along the lines we are thinking? I do not know whether he is sufficiently empowered to be able to upset the applecart. Maybe there is some sort of understanding between the government and those who are in the business of importation and distribution of all types of goods, especially foodstuff on a large scale, which keeps the government from taking such initiatives.

I have a few questions to put to Michael Sik Yeun nevertheless. He must know the price at which a kilo of flour is sold. I am referring to what we call whole wheat flour. Wheat is crushed in this case and there is no process whereby the husk or chaff is removed. This type of wheat must be sold at a much cheaper price than the refined and white flour for obvious reasons. Yet, it seems that whole wheat flour is sold at a much higher price per kilo than the white refined flour. Besides, most of the consumers do not know where they can procure their whole wheat flour at a reasonable price from. It is well known that Indo-Mauritians prefer whole wheat flour to white refined flour for the preparation of their chappatis and even their faratas.

It would also be interesting to be informed as to why a certain variety of soya oil imported in bottles of origin from Singapore costs less than the locally bottled oil that has a mixture of soya oil and palm oil? Pricewise it should have been the other way round. We have only two companies that are in the business of bottling locally the different varieties of edible oil. I wonder whether there is some kind of understanding between these two companies to the detriment of consumers as their prices are very closely aligned.

I personally think that it is high time to close down the Agricultural Marketing Board because it is not working in favour of the consumers and the agricultural community. I believe that was the reason why it was set up but now that it has moved away from its basic objective, the question is whether it has not run its full course demanding to be replaced. The new organization that I have mentioned above can very well take care of what needs to be preserved to help both consumers and the planting community.

International Year of People of African Descent

A Second Point: This year, 2011, has been declared as the International Year of People of African Descent by the United Nations. The second largest group of people living in Mauritius is obviously the persons of African descent, but I have not heard anything either from the government, from the opposition, from the Roman Catholic Church or from civil society on how it is proposed to mark this event.

This is an opportunity for the Afro-Mauritians to come forward and state how they intend to assume their distinct rightful place in the country. This would have helped them join the mainstream emerging from the UN declaration. The Indo-Mauritians would have made full use of such an opportunity if it were to be given to them. It is for the Afro-Mauritians now to take the first step to tell loud and clear to everybody that they are here and that they want to be reckoned with. Unless they take the first step, nobody is going to help them do so. What does our Creole population think about this?

According to us, the Creole population of Mauritius is made up of the Afro-Mauritians. The Creoles are not part of the Indo-Mauritian group; they are not part of the Hindus nor of the Muslims, they are not part of the Sino-Mauritian group nor are they part of the Franco-Mauritians. So perforce, they are part of the Afro-Mauritian group. However, most of the Creoles do not realize how useful it will be for them to be identified as the Afro-Creoles. They appear to be giving up on this identity issue.

There is a historical reason for this condition. When the Africans were forcibly brought to Mauritius, they were brought here as slaves, deprived of all their human rights and dignity. In fact they were not treated as human beings. They were often kept in chains, they were seen as the chattels of the “owners” of the slaves who acted as they had the right of life and death over the slaves just as they had the right of life and death over their cattle and other animals.

Those slaves from Africa had their own civilization, their own language, their own culture, their own religion and their own ways of living. But when they were brought to Mauritius they were made to forget everything they could call their own. And so they lost their identity and what gave them their right to stand up as a free group of persons. They were not even free to practice their religion and pray in the manner in which it had been done for centuries before they were brought here. They were made to feel ashamed of their past, of their heritage, of their religion, of their ancestors and of their culture. And the African slaves could not but comply, forcefully at times. People cannot live a fulfilled life without their past, their heritage, their ancestors and their culture. If they lose what is theirs in essence, they will have to adopt what is something belonging to others.

The greatest crime committed against the African slaves was when the slave masters and the authorities made up of Europeans deprived these people of their religion, as if the religions of the African peoples could not have been considered as religions. They had a law that all slaves must be baptized as Christians. I do not understand how those people could come to the conclusion that truth is only what is stated in the Bible and there is no truth in what the African religion teaches us. Those slaves who did not want to embrace Christianity, at least some of them, were branded as “des marrons” while others committed suicide rather than accepting the unbearable dictates of their masters.

I do not understand the reason for which the Afro-Mauritians do not give to themselves a proper identity. Why is it that they allow others to label them? This label was filled with negatives and derision. Slavery has been abolished a long time back; there is nothing to fear if one were to stand up and tell those who have robbed them of all their essentials that they are independent human beings and no longer dogged by the sequels of slavery.

Cell phone radiation possibly carcinogenic

A Third Point: Is a cell phone dangerous for the health of its user? Until very recently, the health organizations of the world used to say that there is no danger in the use of a cell phone in spite of several studies proving the contrary. But now, the International Agency for the Research on Cancer which is an emanation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has caused a news release indicating that after reviewing several studies it has concluded that that the radiation from cell phones is injurious to health.

The WHO has now come to the conclusion that the cell phone radiation is “possibly carcinogenic”, that is causing cancer to the people using them. This is due to an increased risk of “glioma”, a malignant type of brain cancer following wireless phone use.

The WHO places cell phone radiation in the same carcinogenic category as the banned DDT. Thus, the same WHO that had insisted in the past that “no adverse effect has been established with cell phone use” has now come to accept the views of several reputed scientists who have always insisted that the radiation from cell phones is injurious to health.

The authorities here should get the results of a study carried by Swedish scientists, published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health in 2006 but which the WHO chose to ignore. What will the World Health Organisation do now after accepting the views of reputed scientists that cell phone radiation can cause cancer? We cannot blame the local authorities if they have not alerted the public to this risk because they follow the guidelines set out by the international organization. But now they cannot just ignore that the radiation from cell phones is injurious to our health as the WHO itself has admitted it.

A Fourth Point: The other day I was told that a team from India was filming some sequences of maybe a film in the vicinity of Marie Reine de la Paix in Port Louis. The Indian team had failed to get the permission of the Roman Catholic Church for the shooting. That was very bad in itself.

But there was more. The supposed actress was scantily dressed and the priest Maurice Labour was very angry at the near nakedness of the Indian girl or maybe woman. Maurice Labour was right in getting angry at the indecent exposure and, in my opinion, he should have kicked out the whole team from the area of Marie Reine de la Paix. A religious place has to be given due respect and if you cannot show such respect, you have no right to be there.

* Published in print edition on 10 June 2011

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