Who cares for the common people?

Points to Ponder


A FIRST POINT: I remember that when I joined the Civil Service, there was a safe in the office where I was detailed to work. It was a rather big office and there were about fifteen officers in that particular office and each one had a table for himself. On the safe was placed the register of attendance and each officer had to sign the register and insert the time at which he arrived. And in the afternoon, the employees were supposed to insert the time they went off.

A week or two after I joined service, I was late by half an hour because I had some transport problems. As a good civil servant, I inserted in the register my time of arrival to be 9.15 am and that was the truth. We were supposed to start duties at 8.45 am. I explained to the officer with whom I was working the problem that caused my late arrival. He was a very nice gentleman, he understood my problem, but he told me to leave home a little bit earlier.

Around ten o’clock, I heard someone, an officer, who was standing near the register and shouting about somebody having put down 9.15 am when everybody knows that in the office work starts at 8.45 am. The register was near my table and I told the officer who was shouting that I did it because that was the time when I arrived. He looked at me and said I was new in the service, therefore he would teach me a lesson. He said that I can come at any time, even at twelve noon, I must put down in the register 8.45 am as the time of my arrival and I must never forget this. He asked me: ‘How am I going to write down 8.45 when you have already written down 9.15?’ He therefore had to record his arrival time as 9.15, same time as mine.

That led me to conclude that such was the ‘rule’ in the civil service. I have always abided by that rule since that day. So it was in the past, so is it to this day. Who has the guts to change the system? It does not depend on the politicians and the civil servants are not interested because they profit a lot from this rotten system.

What has prompted me to write about this point is the complaints that we receive daily about the late arrival of many civil servants. Some come late because they have to look after their kids, others because they have to do their household chores, still others because they get up late, and so on. Neither the politicians nor the civil service trade unions seem to care.

Of course we can suggest ways to bring some order in the service but the persons concerned are not interested. This is the long and the short of the whole matter. It was so, it is still so and it’s likely to remain that way in the future — whichever party will be in power.

Go back to agriculture

A SECOND POINT: We must go back to agriculture otherwise we run the risk of running short of foodstuffs. It is quite possible that in a few years’ time, agricultural output in the countries from which we import foodstuffs will fall.

In decades past, we concentrated on sugar cane cultivation because we were serving our colonial masters, we had to satisfy their appetite for sugar. They used to buy our sugar at a minimal price, which they would refine and sell all over the world at a very high price. An exorbitant profit was made in the process whereas we were getting a very meager price for our sugar. Out of that meager income, the sugar cane workers, those who were doing the back-breaking work really, were paid a wage that was so low that I am ashamed to mention it. And those small planters who were cultivating sugar cane were as badly treated as the workers because they were of the same class as the workers.

Most of the agricultural workers were Hindus and Muslims. At the end of the period of indentureship, most of them settled down in Mauritius. They purchased small plots of land on which they put up small huts the sort of which they had back home in India. They were doing two distinct jobs — they were employed to get a wage however insignificant, and they used to grow vegetables on their own small plot of land. Then they bought other portions of land and it must be remembered that only the unproductive portions – the marginal lands — were sold to them. With their meager income, they made the most of it: they paid for the education of their children, who consequently got better jobs especially in the government service; quite a few became professionals.

Unfortunately, after having climbed up the social ladder thanks to education, most of the Hindus and Muslims gave up on agriculture. The descendants of the slaves were better off as artisans and fishermen in the beginning and so they did not have any incentive to go into agriculture – except the Creoles of Rodrigues who have always been in agriculture and are still doing a very good job at it.

What can be done to increase agricultural production in the country? First of all, agriculture must be given its due recognition by the authorities. How much is an agricultural worker paid for a day’s work? Compare the daily wage of an agricultural worker to that of an artisan or a mason. This is one of the reasons which have always discouraged people to work in the agricultural sector. The income of an agricultural worker should not be less but more than so many workers who are engaged in other types of work. This will encourage those who are in agriculture and will at the same time attract others to join the group. Our success in the future will depend on our progress in agriculture.

And then the time has come to provide proper training to those who are or intend to be engaged in agriculture. Train the people well, and then give them facilities to acquire the modern implements and machinery that they need to perform their work efficiently. Let them get a fair income for their produce and government must be fully involved in this exercise.

Government should revive the production of seeds and that’s a sine qua non for success in agriculture. It looks as if government does not care for those who can produce what we need very badly. What is the ministry doing on this score?

Politics: What next?

A THIRD POINT: What is happening on the political front? Nothing much, I would say. Government is carrying on cahin-caha. If the opposition would have done so, we would have been satisfied, but the opposition is doing practically next to nothing – politically speaking.

The MMM just waits for the day when the House meets and the members put a few questions. They seem satisfied with that. As a friend said: “It takes very little to satisfy our opposition.” They did not take part in the recent debates, as if they have not been elected for that purpose. How are we to know what are the views of the MMM members on any political question? What alternative measures would they propose to the government’s actions? We cannot have a one-track political system, and it would appear the MMM would not mind to having only one party sitting in our Parliament.

How about the MSM? Does it really exist in Parliament, maybe except for the purpose of putting some questions? I am sorry to say that it has fallen in the trap set by the MMM and it seems that it is nowhere as somebody says. Does the MSM really think that the MMM will conclude a 50-50 alliance with a party like the MSM for the next general election?

The MMM is fully aware of the feelings of its supporters vis-à-vis the MSM. Some MMM supporters have openly voiced their feelings in the papers and what they have said should cause the MMM leadership to revisit their electoral strategies — unless they are prepared to lose the next general election. Will the party take things so lightly? I am not sure Berenger will want to go down along with his present ally, so we can say that there will be no MMM-MSM alliance because Paul Berenger prefers his electorate to the MSM. A three-cornered fight is in the offing.

Who is going to be the great loser in a three-cornered fight? The MSM and its leaders – obviously. Are we then going to have a Labour Party-MMM alliance? Or a Labour Party-PMSD-MSM remake? We do not know. But this much we know. History is a harsh judge especially for those who have a hidden agenda.

* Published in print edition on 22 June 2019

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