Points to Ponder
The time to act is now
A FIRST POINT: A friend of mine was looking for an opportunity to invest to invest his savings. He has worked hard for over thirty years and saved every rupee that he could; he did not take holidays, he deprived his family of even the essentials in life so that he would have a reasonable return on his savings for old age.
With his savings he bought a portion of land for two million rupees in the hope that he will put up a commercial building thereon. He had another million but he would need a further three million to construct the building. He started the construction and at the same time he contacted his bank for a loan. The collateral that he offered was the land and the partly constructed building together with his residential building. So all his assets were given as guarantee to the bank. My friend was happy and so was the bank. But the happiness did not last long.
The reason is simple. The value of immoveable property has increased by several folds in the past two or three years, especially in the area where my friend has his piece of land. Everybody thinks that the place is posh and many people try to speculate on property there. You buy a piece of land for Rs.500,000 rupees and in six months you can sell it for a million and your buyer will in a matter of weeks, sell it for Rs.1,200,000 though there is nothing that can justify the price increase within such a short time, except speculation and greed.
We are heavily dependent on some foreign countries and when those foreign countries are in a slump, they cannot sell their goods as they used to sell previously, they do not get the same revenue as in the past, they cannot invest in Mauritius, they cannot buy property here and they cannot afford to spend their holidays among us. They will withdraw their investments from Mauritius and they will sell the properties that they bought. And the Mauritians who were queuing up to sell their properties at an inflated price get stuck.
The local speculators will try to buy the properties of the foreigners. They will leave the area of my friend. My friend will complete his commercial building but he will not get any tenant because there will be no business to generate any income. But he will have to pay the installments of the bank and if he cannot do so, the bank will have no choice but to set the legal process in motion to get back its money. There is the famous procedure of Sale by Levy. The commercial building as well as the residential building will be sold for far less than two million rupees and after deduction of the costs incurred, my friend will still be a debtor of the bank. He will have to vacate what was his house and he will be forced by circumstances to beg for a place to stay at some relative’s place.
What I have written about is a caricature of a future real situation. Is there any way to prevent any such situation happening to us? Maybe we should try not to depend too much on foreigners. We must grow our own foodstuffs. People are moving away from agriculture and this trend must be reversed. For too long agriculture has been looked down and the agricultural workers have been treated as the worst of the workers of the country. Do you know why? Why is it that the artisans and others have always been better paid than the agricultural workers? Things must change and rapidly. Agriculture must get the place that it deserves in our society. We must produce most of the foodstuffs that we need.
We must also develop our services industries and I know how much Mauritians like to serve others. If our future lies in serving others, we must accept it.
And then we must try to enter in the sophisticated manufacture of electronic parts in a small way to start with and try to expand gradually. We must be less and less dependent on the foreign countries, which means to say that we must paddle our own boats.
Maybe we must have a separate ministry responsible for food production, that is distinct from agriculture generally. We are not moving in the right direction and with the speed that the circumstances require. The situation is getting very serious and the time to act is now.
Foreign artists and freedom of speech
A SECOND POINT: I do not care two hoots for most of the so-called foreign artists who come to Mauritius to make money. Those who spend their good money for a bad show is not my business, if they want to throw away their hard earned money, well, it is their money.
Now some Hindus of the Tamil speaking group have voiced their feeling against someone who came here for a show. That person says that she is an international artist and that she is entitled to sing Bhajanums, religious songs dedicated to Muruga and other Hindu deities to the motley crowd made up of people of different faiths.
It must be remembered that Bhajanums are religious songs and people who attend Bhajanums must at least have a bath and have not had any ‘unclean’ food. How many of the persons who took part in the Bhajanums were ready, religious speaking, to take part in the prayers? Bhajanums are not matters of entertainment.
Besides, a person is not supposed to make money in the name of God. If that person came here to sing I do not know what kind of songs to make money, that is her business. If she would have come here in the name of the Hindu religion and offered us Bhajanums in the halls of the kovils without charging anything people would have been grateful. Hinduism is a very vast religion and you must understand the very deep meaning behind the practice. You must understand the Vedas and the Upanishads. But at the same time you must understand the importance of the Puranas. So do not meddle in matters that you do not understand nor will you ever understand.
A few Mauritians have been waxing eloquent that Mauritius enjoys what is called freedom of speech. They have been criticizing those Hindus who are saying that the Bhajanums should not form part of a show. Those persons can protest but at the same time they are saying that the Hindus cannot and should not protest and defend their religion. They mean to say that they can protest but the Hindus do not enjoy the same right.
There are some supposed Hindus who are with the people who are downgrading the religion. If you claim to be a Hindu, go and learn about Hinduism first and the rituals associated with it and practice it as it should be practised. The others should belt up.
Food Security Issues
A THIRD POINT: I am sure that everybody will agree with the idea of making Mauritius a food secure country. Mauritius is essentially an agricultural country and our working people had the necessary knowledge to grow any crop in our so fertile land. But unfortunately, that knowledge is fast disappearing and tomorrow we might end up without the basic knowledge of how to grow even some vegetables.
Besides the economic issues, food security addresses the social issues as well.
How many billions of rupees do we spend on the import of our food that we can grow here? Previously, we used to grow sugar cane and lots of it. But at the same time, as a side business, we were not neglecting cash crops.
The English encouraged the Indians to come and work in the sugar cane fields on five-year or more contracts, (the Girmitya system as it was called) and most of the Indian workers settled in the country.
Agriculture and activities associated with it were looked down for too long with the result that those involved have been forced to abandon the sector. The persons who were producing what we now import seem to say that spend your money to import and at the same time, create more and more ‘out of work’ workers.
I would suggest that government should give to the agricultural workers the dignity that they deserve. It should not give to the sugar sector an undue importance and at the same time it should boost up the production of food crops.
Previously, government used to produce and sell all varieties of seeds and at a reasonable price. This was considered as a service to the agricultural community and it was not meant to generate profits. Just remember the Barkly Experimental Station. But now few if at all any seeds are produced and sold. Some people say that government has given in to the private sector because the private sector did not like government to produce and sell seeds. It imports and sells the seeds at an exorbitant price and the planters have no choice but to fork out their money.
May I suggest again that government should have a separate ministry of food production and the production of seeds should be entrusted to that ministry? Food security must not be the subject of controversy among the various political parties. At least this subject must be above political controversy.
* Published in print edition on 15 June 2012