‘Next year will be time for you to mop up the political stable’

A Conversation with Uncle Claus

…as said by Maggie Thatcher, ‘these chaps are like babies’ nappies; they need to be changed every now and then’

By TP Saran

Behind the red cheeks, the chuckle and white flowing beard, Uncle Claus has eyes that see far and deep and a brain that ticks and registers many a thing that we would think do not concern him. But as we engaged in our annual tête-à-tête this season, we could not but marvel at his sharp take on local and global issues, and his memory for events and facts most of us would not have perhaps even bothered to learn about. So it’s always a pleasant and revealing exercise to chat with him as he takes a breather in between his hopping from door to door – since we have no chimneys here – and before he flies away on his magic broom to his icy quarters. Enjoy!

* Good to see you again, mate! How’s y’doing?

Grr! Still cold up there, despite glaciers melting at a worrying rate. So it’s sure nice to get away to your sunny clime even if it’s a short-lived visit and a virtual one at that too, ha ha!

* Don’t we know! Still, it’s always a pleasure to have you in our midst… such a welcome change with the cheer you spread around… and with that bagful of goodies you carry for us all!

Great hospitality – your signature touristic attraction isn’t it, but if you shared even a little of it among yourselves for a start that sure wouldn’t be a bad thing. By the way, just a little reminder in case you get carried away by those goodies – don’t tell the kids where they’re really from eh! That’s our agreement, and of course you adults will get some too so as for the kids to keep imagining me as real!

* Trust me not to betray you, dear Uncle. From what I hear, you give the right gifts to the right kids. Tell me, how do you do that? I mean choosing the right kids?

Aha, smart guy eh, getting in at the deep end already! I know what you’re getting at, but yes I can understand your concern. So let’s say the right kids are those who will be happy with what I give them, small or big, and won’t ever try to dig into my bag or my pockets to pilfer – oh dear, that’s too strong a word, better leave it for those who actually do! – say, to help themselves to more. Even as they grow up they remain clean like that – I’ve been coming all these years remember, so I have seen some if you ask me.

* In that case, we should take a cue from you… we are supposed to have become ‘wiser’ as the years have rolled by but we still pretend we can’t make out between right and wrong…

But of course you fellers can do so; it’s just that it is more advantageous to pretend you don’t. Some of your chaps don’t ever seem to have enough, with big appetites and even deeper pockets that keep stretching till… what do you say here? Oh yea, tousse sali! Actually, they even go through the sali into Alibaba’s caverns which, as you know, go all the way to Arabia! Sorry I have to be blunt, but morality is not your forte, you must agree.

* I am pained and ashamed but have to accept your verdict. What makes you say that though?

Well, it’s you guys who say like others that it’s a globalised world. News travels fast, social media is unsparing and unlike the ‘fake news’ that’s ripped apart the American polity and continues to do so since the advent of Donald Trump, I must say that down below here the people have had to face some pretty bad real news, isn’t it.

* Like what?

Seriously, do I have to recall the dark series? Early in 2015 you created a first by hauling an ex-PM in full public view from his residence and practically dragging him to the police headquarters. Then through 2016-17 you had ministers and so-called honourable Members of Parliament threatening to kill other honourables, sexting from the temple of democracy, pointing fingers at whole communities about housing – and so on and so forth.

* You do keep an eye don’t you!

What else do you expect? I just cannot come here and look at the sun and sea and go back to tell the guy in the sky lies ‘cos he does ask for a report, you know.

* I get it, so what’s next?

Well, you continued the series early this year when an Angolan air blew in and blew away the first woman to occupy the supreme post. You think the foreign pressmen didn’t cover those sordid affairs? Of course it did and I got plenty from your local media too. You asked about the right kid and the right gift. There’s your answer my friend, there’s more than enough examples to prove the point.

* Ok, but you must have heard the voices being raised and investigations being commissioned, isn’t it?

Yes I have, but do you think that is any deterrent? Even after being exposed and having to – reluctantly – relinquish office, they still remain on their high horse. You’re a real bizarre country. But I’ll concede that there are many precedents in some other countries, which doesn’t mean though that they have to be imitated. In fact there’s some serious revamping and clearing of Augean stables that needs to be done all over, so let’s hope in 2019 you will begin to do that in earnest. Who knows, maybe set an example to the world, taking off on those firsts in your history what!

* May even be good for our tourism who knows! – given that our image has been hit hard with all these sordid things. Since we are on the tourism page – you’re not one mind you! – I’m sure you’ve heard about the diminishing public beach space available here, and the damage being caused to our lagoons and coral reefs by excessive exploitation and also climate change. What do you think of that?

Very serious I would say, and must be taken as seriously too, especially with the conclusion of COP24 in Poland recently, where countries have broadly settled on implementation of the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, whereby governments will measure, report on and verify their emissions-cutting efforts, with all countries being held to proper standards, You people will have to see what you have to do here as a small island state, even if you don’t run the risk of being submerged like parts of the Maldives.

* I think Bill Gates has said that climate change is the greatest challenge that mankind faces, and since Rio 1992 we have not stopped wreaking damage to the planet with our galloping consumerism…

You’re telling me! If this goes on, soon enough I will not be able to ride my sleigh up north! The waters will take over from the ice. About consumerism, what can I say, most people are after pleasure and venerate the profit God no matter what.

* I learnt that in Europe alone 60 million pine trees will be cut only to be thrown away in a few days, and 10 million turkeys in UK alone will end up for the traditional dinner…

We have little say as it’s the best of times for the Profit God! Can you imagine that 3 trillion dollars go in business for the US retail industry alone during the holiday season!

* Mind-boggling!

 Sure I try to bring a bit of cheer by taking some modest gifts to those who will truly cherish them, but I am also sad that we are losing the genuine spirit of Christmas as many drown in spirits at this time of the year, relegating the spirit to the background. I don’t want to sound retro but have you seen the adverts for the Xmas meals in hotels, with prices that range from Rs 3000 onwards. And yet your national statistics report that 77% of Mauritian families cannot make ends meet. You’ve got to think seriously where you’re going I’m afraid.

* The inequality gap…

And a very large one indeed. Some talk in terms of millions and tens of millions, others are counting the rupees to be able to get a decent job, put food in their stomachs, and get a roof over their heads. Like in France with the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ uprising, the elite represented by those in power and the corporates are disconnected from the real situation on the ground. But you people are too docile for a ‘Gilet Jaune’ type movement, unless I am seriously mistaken.

* You mean to say that we have no choice but to wait for five years every time before change occurs?

Change? What change? Every time you end up having to clean up the mess again. You know the expression ‘plus ça change plus c’est la même chose’. Well, weren’t you promised radical change and a new way of doing things in December 2014? It was not long after the unexpected and dramatic ‘vire mam’ that ‘devire mam’ started to be heard. And now the clamour is mounting, especially after the non-reform electoral reform bill has been passed. Who will it serve? The people, the party, the leaders? Your guess is as good as mine. So good luck with your next ‘change’!

* Thank you!

Yea, next year will be time for you to mop up the political stable, as you do every five years for the same reason as put by late UK prime minister Maggie Thatcher: ‘these chaps are like babies’ nappies; they need to be changed every now and then…’

* But isn’t it the same all over the place… The Americans have had a right mess since January last year with the new chap in the White House!

But you see, America is a big country and they have huge resources so they will somehow manage because the people do not depend so much on the government. But here you cannot do that, government still has to play a big role in the distribution of wealth and provision of many services, social ones in particular.

* Yes I can see that, but you know what? In the US, they are thinking in terms of applying a fitness test for whosoever ambitions to run the country…

That would be a good idea except that they will gang up together to oppose any such move here. Maybe some variant of China’s social credit system might need to be used here as regards your leaders. And boy, do you have some that need to be rated – out!

* Like who?

Oh, you have had a crowd of them here as well. From the shopping-loving ladies at the highest levels of the State, which reminds us that whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping, to the trigger-happy court jester or the licking Tom in the house… they sure add up to a good few!

* The example ought to have come from the top. Alas… well, that’s another story.

But there is more to your present predicament: the monsters in your homes and on the roads – killing wives and pedestrians – or those roaming around school precincts luring innocent kids with their addictive wares, you know, the synthetic thing! Whatever happened to the recommendations made by the drug commission? Yet another example of stalling on remedial measures?

* You must have devoted much time and thought on the path man choose to their own loss and ruin. What’s wrong with Man, Uncle?

It’s not rocket science my dear. Simply: greed and arrogance. Remember what conclusion the brainy analysts came to after their weighty and voluminous analyses of the cause of the financial crisis 2008? It was one word: Greed!

Nothing new for the sages from the east – thousands of years ago they had already identified by a search within this cardinal trait in man as being responsible for many of mankind’s ills, and eventually to downfall.

* And what about the ‘stronger sex’ – I mean the ladies, of course?

Well, I am afraid that some of those who occupy positions of responsibility behave exactly as their male counterparts. Isn’t equality the name of the game? Equally greedy for the espèces sonnantes et trébuchantes, and even more arrogant!

* By the way, we have yet to read Madame Kwok’s predictions for the coming year. What do you see coming?

I do not think I am being too cynical if I were to say, like you do here, ‘du pareil au même’!

* So it’s not going to be any better even if there is a change of guards?

You will have to pray really hard for this to happen, for it entails learning from past experiences and not repeating the same mistakes. That’s a tall order in politics!

* Just to share, Uncle. There’s an interesting thought by Danielle Aparta: ‘Change is the only constant thing in this world. Just like the seasons, life and people change too. You get things then something beyond your authority bumps you off. You gain friends, lose a few. You’ll travel a pathway with curves and intersections, and that’s where you’ll meet new people…’ How about that?

I will not snatch away your hope but the oldies are tenacious and will fight to retain their grip – power is the real aphrodisiac, said Mao Tse Tung. And it seems he knew what he was talking about, according to the biography by his physician which came 22 years after the supremo’s death for fear of reprisal.

* Well Uncle, thank you all the same! I wish you a safe return to your abode, and see you next year! Merry Xmas and Happy New Year!

Cheers to you too! Don’t despair; just go on doing the good work!

* Published in print edition on 21 December 2018

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