Never Again

 Matters of the moment

In an age of social media and the pitfalls associated with it, entrenched taboos must be exorcised and replaced by rational engagement to educate and protect children from risks of abuse

13 is an age for school, for play and frolic with friends, an age of learning and growing up and blossoming as a person, an age for developing one’s interests, values, personality and potential in a congenial school and caring parental environment. It is an age of innocence and carefree bonding with siblings and children of the same age. It is an age of discovery and building knowledge. This was not to be for Ruwaidah who was married at 13 in January 2018 and died pregnant two weeks ago.

Those who were meant to protect and guide her when she needed it most failed to do so. She was married and became pregnant at 13 in violation of the law and in the teeth of elementary norms of civilized society under the nose of government services and institutions mandated to protect children and minors. In so many ways, she was let down by all those who were in the know but opted to be party to this unlawful wedding instead of preventing it. Our prayers go out for her. Her untimely death is a jolting wake up call for society, government, the police, the government ministries and services meant to unswervingly safeguard and uphold the rights of children and minors. It is also a loud call to the nation for a collective undertaking to do everything necessary to ensure that such tragedies never happen again in the country.

A second case of a 13 year old pregnant girl was reported last week to the police when she was beaten up by her adult companion. According to the Mauritius Family Planning & Welfare Association (MFPWA), there were 207 cases of pregnancy of minors under the age of 16 in 2017 and 117 cases reported from January to June 2018. This deplorable state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. Government, society, the law and the services responsible to protect minors are failing to do so.

The government and our lay republic therefore owe it to Ruwaidah’s memory to urgently beef up the child protection laws, define a child as a person who is under 18 years old and codify the minimum age of marriage as 18 years, thereby aligning it with the definitions and norms advocated by the committee of experts of the United Nations. The law must be rigorously applied on offenders. Sexual education and information regarding the health risks associated with the pregnancy of minors as well as related medical, psychological and other accompanying support measures in the case of pregnant minors must be put in place to address the problem in a holistic manner.

It is equally important to educate the youth to help them manage their adolescence and sexuality in a responsible manner. In an age of social media and the pitfalls associated with it, entrenched taboos must be exorcised and replaced by rational engagement to educate and protect children from risks of abuse and other threats.

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Palace revolution?

The outcome of the recent elections of the MMM politburo seems to have bewildered and put the leadership of the party in disarray.  In the space of one week the results of the elections of the central committee of the MMM which saw its leader, his cohort of apparatchiks and family members elected in pole position were drastically reshuffled by the 72 voters of the central committee. With the exception of the MMM leader, the majority of those in the outgoing ruling team which include MPs and members of the front bench of the party have been relegated to the second half of the list of elected members.

In a clear message from the voters, Madan Dulloo who was to replace Pradeep Jeeha as the no 2 of the party to be the face which, in line with a long established political game plan dating back from the 1976 general elections, was meant to comfort a determinant section of the electorate was not even elected by the 72 voters. Other members of the central committee who are close to the party leader have also not made the cut. The upshot is a topsy-turvy situation which has caused plans to elect party office bearers from the same cohort at the head of the party to go awry. Is the vote which elected the new members of the MMM politburo a democratic call for a radical change of the party establishment? Has the cavalier treatment meted out to the latest group of dissenters weighed on the election outcome?

Democratic backlash

Under the circumstances it would be foolhardy not to take on board the tenor of the vote when choosing the team to head the party. Since 2014, the MMM has been weakened by fractures and successive exits of some of its key front bench members. Moreover, a humiliating tally of seven consecutive defeats at the polls suffered by the MMM and its leader since 2005 should have already provoked a clamour for urgent change at the helm of the party. Maintaining the status quo at the head of the party despite being repeatedly disavowed by the electorate was bound to boomerang into a scathing backlash.

The vote electing the MMM politburo has all the trappings of a palace revolution. This development is also a loud warning to the other main political parties of the country which have also been hijacked by disavowed leaders and their cohort of apparatchiks. The forces of democracy are such that the party members cannot indefinitely be taken for a ride. Party leaders and their cohort can fool party members and supporters some of the time and some of the members all the time but they cannot fool all the party members and supporters all the time.

Is this development a harbinger of a change in democratic culture within the main political parties of the country? Better late than never!

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Constituency syndrome

Rigorous and judicious management of the country’s finances and key macroeconomic indicators is currently a highly topical issue. When government multiplies budgetary measures to pamper and trigger a feel-good factor among the people without in parallel also taking commensurate steps to increase revenue, there is a sentiment of irresponsibility in respect of financial governance in the country. The use of special purpose vehicles to manage costly projects and state companies to contract substantial foreign loans mask the reality of government finances and actual public indebtedness. This unhealthy situation is further exacerbated by the fixation of prime ministers to locate costly prestige projects in their own constituency.

The use of special purpose vehicles to manage costly projects and state companies to contract substantial foreign loans mask the reality of government finances and actual public indebtedness. This unhealthy situation is further exacerbated by the fixation of prime ministers to locate costly prestige projects in their own constituency. The decision of investing a substantial Rs 3.9 billion in a multisport complex at Côte-d’Or through another special purpose vehicle to be ready for use during the Indian Ocean Island Games scheduled from 19- 28 July 2019 obviously raises eyebrows…”

The decision of investing a substantial Rs 3.9 billion in a multisport complex at Côte-d’Or through another special purpose vehicle, to be ready for use during the Indian Ocean Island Games scheduled from 19- 28 July 2019 obviously raises eyebrows. The cost of the project which was initially estimated at Rs 3.2 billion is expected to be further hiked owing to piling and ground improvements works which have to be carried out on the site before construction starts, in the light of the results of geotechnical tests obtained in May 2018.

Faced with the risk of delays in the completion of the multisport complex in time for the Games, government has decided as a fall back to upgrade and renovate 17 sporting facilities at a revised estimated cost of Rs 474 million. A provision of Rs 500 million has been earmarked by government for this purpose. The whole ill-advised initiative results in a double whammy on already strapped public finances.

Navel-gazing

As a national multisport facility, the Cote d’Or sport complex obviously also raises the question of its location and ease of access for young sportsmen and Mauritians, beyond those living in Quartier Militaire & Moka which is not among the most densely populated areas of the country. Would it not have been far better to locate such a costly multisport complex in a more centrally located area to make it more easily accessible by public transport for mainstream young Mauritians and the multitude?

Presumably, conscious of its inaccessibility government had even suggested extending the Metro Express to Cote d’Or. Can this be a priority when we envisage the extension of the Metro across the country? There are obviously so many other more important and priority commuting hubs to connect the Metro network to first. In the same vein, why on earth should government locate the first University hospital of the country in Flacq when the prime objective must be to make it easily accessible to all medical students living across the country?

It is also more and more evident that grants from friendly countries are becoming an important element in the annual budgetary exercise of raising funds for diverse government projects. After generous grants from India for the Metro Express and other projects, the Cote d’Or sport complex benefits from a grant of some Rs1.1 billion from China whereas the financial assistance of Rs 5.3 billion from Saudi Arabia signed this week to fund various government projects including a University hospital in Flacq also comprises a grant element of Rs 1.7 billion. The financial envelope is also to be used for a cancer unit at Flacq hospital, social housing and the landing runaway project at Rodrigues airport.

This mode of budgetary financing of capital projects is obviously not sustainable in the long term. A country can only build a solid and prosperous future for all through hard work, innovativeness and sound financial management. This is certainly the mind set and legacy we want to leave to the next generation.

As a country we have to demonstrate at all times through productive investments, an innovative re-engineering of the economy and the induction of productive foreign direct investment, cutting edge technology and pointed expertise in the country that the economy can grow robustly and generate a substantial level of revenue to be sustainable on its own steam and through the synergy of innovative talent at the helm of the government. It is therefore high time for a paradigm shift in mindset and intelligent approach at all levels for a radical change in governance in the country.


* Published in print edition on 6 July 2018

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