Among those who are most influential in the orientation of policy making and deciding the course of development in the country, Big Capital ranks first according to a recent private poll, and France is the country which exerts most influence; the PM and the people, lumped together, count for peanuts. No big surprise to most of us, and equally not surprising is that this factor is not given media coverage and due consideration in public debate. What is obsessively covered and dished out to the public is the shortcomings of minor stakeholders. There is less reluctance to attack small goondas than confront big goondas, who are the ones pulling the strings behind the scene, and expose their machinations to maintain a firm grip on real power.
What obstructs the arteries of progress is the low-income policy which maintains a big number of workers in a status of serfdom. Exploitation of workers still bears the colonial imprint notwithstanding the inclusion of new capitalists in the closed circle of the powerful. No serious media report has informed the public on the percentage of workers earning Rs 8000 a month in the hotel industry largely dominated by investors hailing from the plantocracy and who act as control freaks in every sector they start up. Hotel groups reap huge profits, which they invest in Seychelles, Morocco, Africa and Asia thanks to the work of thousands of Mauritian waiters, barmen, chambermaids, etc., who are paid meagre salaries and yet contribute to the prosperity of the hotel industry.
Some legal advisors and public relations officers in big companies present the modern version of sirdars in sugarcane fields. They are paid to protect the interests of their bosses. Do not expect them to stand up for ordinary workers.
Living conditions which reduce people to mere robots in a routine process of working, eating, watching TV and sleeping cannot lead to progress. Culture is an essential factor which opens the minds and hearts of people, appeals to emotions, helps to develop the positive aspects of character and personality, brings refinement and art in our daily life and makes people better citizens. By culture is meant all its forms — music, painting, books, drama, good films, sculpture and so on, implying active participation or passive spectators.
What access is there to culture for most workers? To hotel employees and factory workers? To housemaids who look after the houses of the better-off, clean their kitchens, lavatories, tidy up their rooms, iron their clothes and make life more comfortable for them and their children for wages rarely exceeding Rs 4000? Most anti-social behaviour, domestic violence and crime take place amidst the low-income social category.
Lack of access to land is another calamity which obstructs the artery of progress. Land speculation started decades ago. 2003 gave it a new impetus. Powerful lobbies rushed to the Prime Minister’s Office with IRS projects and South African partnership. It was a logical combination of the colonial apartheid mindset prevailing in the hotel industry making headway in real property development, with the support of locals who settled in South Africa after Independence and flocked back to Mauritius to take advantage of the real estate boom. Agences immobilières mushrommed across the country demanding crazy prices for the purchase of houses.
RES followed the same pattern of property development. Result: gated and guarded communities cut off from mainstream society — an example of the powerful grip of Big Capital on policy making.
Not only low-income earners but middle class categories are denied access to land. Extended families occupying every square metre of family land live in unhealthy environments of promiscuity which often give rise to conflicts, feuds, unnecessary tension and high blood pressure, certainly not the ideal conditions for a normal life. We are looking forward to reading a serious report on the income bracket which can afford to buy land, build a decent house and raise children in a healthy cultural environment.
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The pedagogical efforts made by the Ministry of Health to promote an awareness campaign in the fight against substance abuse are bearing fruits. Consumption of alcohol and cigarettes has gone down over the past few years. It should be good news to public morale that self-destruction is slowed down. Major health issues relating to diabetes and heart diseases are being effectively tackled by the Ministry. People are paying more and attention to what they buy and consume thanks to the publicity given to healthy foods on the MBC.
Meat lovers, especially beef eaters, should be aware of the amount of pasture lands that are used by companies from rich countries to raise cattle in poorer countries, mostly South American lands, for the benefit of fast food chain companies across the world. These lands become unfit for other agricultural uses for years. There should be an awareness campaign on the damages caused by cattle farming to the environment in terms of farmlands, meat quality, transport and pollution. No cultural hegemony intended here but plain common sense!
An intensive campaign against all the imported trash that is sold as food in sprawling supermarkets will help consumers to be selective in what they buy and who they buy from. Behind the billboards informing one and all that the country is very sick, we all know that Big Environment is posing to act as doctor and preparing to lay its hands on juicy contracts promoting renewable energy and so on.
Consumers should be made aware whose interests they are promoting every time they open their purse to buy something. It will give nightmares to big stakeholders.
To say the least, most Mauritians do not pay so much attention to their physical aspect though there are visible signs here and there that more and more people are taking regular exercise. There is still a lot to do for the Ministry to encourage more active participation in the practice of yoga, sports, regular jogging, walking in natural surroundings, swimming and so on.
It is part of the bigger picture of progress which caters for the general welfare of the highest number of people. What means and time people can devote for better living rests upon the economic conditions that are determined by those who influence policy making and control the arteries of progress for the rest of the population.
* Published in print edition on 8 August 2013