In the context of the ongoing election campaign for the forthcoming elections, pension level and a minimum salary have become bones of contention between the two main camps with the advocates of such measures being pilloried as demagogues. The political debate once again sidetracks the core and burning underlying issues that must be urgently addressed. In spite of glaring statistical evidence, the policy response to human distress has been lacking.
Any Mauritian alert to the ground realities knows that households earning less than say Rs10, 000 find it difficult to make both ends meet. For years now, in the face of the negative effects of the international financial crisis, most consumers have adopted a cautious spending pattern and take judicious advantage of the frequent sales as supermarkets and consumer goods’ outlets adapt their commercial strategies to bolster turnover against a backdrop of sluggish consumer spending. The material difference between the normal and sale prices on a wide range of items of the standard grocery basket of goods of households such as milk or juice cartons, cereals, rice or cooking oil, etc., provide welcome savings to the tight household family budget.
From information reported in the recent context of the tripartite, a substantial proportion of employees of the private sector working in diverse pillars of the economy earn up to Rs10, 000 per month in 2014. Is the Mauritian ‘projet de société’ based on the questionable model of having within the workforce a subset of low paid employees to sustain growth and create wealth shared in a skewed mode? Surely this is a far cry from realising the pledges of a more equal and just society willed by the architects of our freedom.
The resulting annual income of those earning up to Rs10,000 is thus less than the monthly salary and perks of a Member of the National Assembly and much less than that of a Minister or the top brass in the private sector.
In the face of such crying inequality and dire hardships borne by a large section of the population, how can we continue to glibly preach the mantra of inclusiveness whilst at the same time raise a row on higher pensions or minimum salary aimed at shoring the livelihoods of the most vulnerable among our society?
If as a nation, we are imbued with any sense of solidarity towards the vulnerable facing daily hardships to make both ends meet, the question is not about the rationale of doing it or not. It is about how do we do it in order to assure those in the lower income rungs with a dignified modus vivendi. If the patent inequalities of our society are not satisfactorily and swiftly addressed, we run the serious risk of stoking popular angst and undermining what has painstakingly been built.
At the high end of the income spectrum, the glaring inequality is also evidenced by the growing disparity of incomes of the higher echelon with those in the lower rungs. Over time the rich have become richer and the concentration of wealth has become more pronounced. A uniform across-the-board tax rate of 15% fuels this process further. This stark disparity and corralling of wealth whereby, according to an Oxfam report, 85 of the world’s richest people own the wealth of half of the world’s population, was one of the serious concerns raised at the last Davos Economic Forum in January 2014. Was this source of potent concern flagged at Davos followed up locally to examine and assess the related situation in the country?
Isn’t it time for a substantive reform policy framework to iron out systemic inequalities in both the social and economic front encompassing inter alia access to land and capital to create a level playing field to tap market opportunities and assist in truly democratising the economic and entrepreneurial space?
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Need For A World Class Tertiary Sector
The current stream of graduation ceremonies of hundreds of graduates attired in gowns shown on TV begs numerous questions. Tertiary education available to full time as well as part time students is a prized objective for Mauritians who contract loans and make sacrifices to obtain their degrees and diplomas.
Promoters in the sector thus benefit from a broad captive local and regional market to tap on and are prospering. In return, are the students getting value for money in terms of quality and international standing of the degrees conferred?
Do the qualifications obtained match the requirements of the market place? Isn’t it the responsibility of the State and a competent Tertiary Education governing body to ascertain and assure these essential norms and benchmarks? Has there been a holistic planning to eliminate the risk of qualification and job requirement mismatch?
The growing number of unemployed graduates swelled each year by new generations of graduates together with those trained abroad amounting every year to some 6,000 shows that this has clearly not been done. The distressing outcome is a trend of graduates who are compelled to seek underemployment just to pay for their study loans or support their families.
This muddled state of affairs need to be resolved forthwith through a cogent master plan which defines the types of institutions and graduate degree modules we want to promote, applies a rigorous screening and review protocol of establishments already set up or wishing to set up campus in Mauritius.
Such a process should validate that degrees and qualifications offered adhere to international standards and are internationally recognised and that they meet the needs of the market place. There must also be a proactive interface with the job market to enable a seamless recruitment of graduates and diplomates.
The laudable initiative of setting up of a Tertiary Education sector as a new pillar of the economy has been allowed to derail through a sloppy implementation. The Government has announced that specialised auditors are to review and assess the institutions in operation to validate or otherwise the quality of qualifications and the plethora of graduate and other study schemes proposed in the Tertiary Education sector. There seems to be a propensity to blotch good initiatives and call for the fire brigade after the damage is done.
It is also important that the sector shun political interference and is independently managed by renowned academics and administrators specialised in managing university campuses. Any dead wood must be cut out. The aim should be to create a world class Tertiary sector.
We seem to fancy appointing foreign experts at great expense to avowedly set things right in diverse fields. After the Customs Department, the University, the Competition Commission and the announced specialised auditors for the Tertiary Education sector, experts are to enquire into horse racing and a foreign arbitrator has been proposed to resolve the current salary conflict in the sugar sector. What has been the cost benefit of these costly expenditures at the expense of the Public Exchequer?
More than ever, the country needs a paradigm shift in strategic thinking and policy framework to propose an imaginative alternative road map to address inequalities and the formidable social and economic challenges ahead. It should substantially re-model and deliver on a more equal and inclusive ‘projet de société’ which more aptly corresponds to the aspirations of the young and is truly committed to realising the dreams of the multitude.
* Published in print edition on 7 November 2014