Not another Annus Horribilis, please!

We can only hope that 2019 will be an overall better year for all of us, and we could do that by smarting up on small things to begin with, which is doable with goodwill from the bottom and political will from the top

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

As we leave behind 2018, future historians will no doubt reckon it as the Annus Horribilis for our beautiful country in its first two decades of the 21st century. We therefore have no choice but to pray for ‘peace, joy, good health and love’ for 2019 – in the words of a soul sister whose annual wishes for the past few years have kept coming as a much-needed balm to give me hope in continuing life’s journey. Wishes which are reciprocated in equal measure and more, especially when one has to cope with protracted emotional trauma, and which indeed should inspire everyone to work even harder so as to make the world as free of miseries as possible for all of us, but more so for those we will leave behind in course of time. I think of the little pearls we bring into the world who soon grow up in the midst of its uncertainties and turbulences, and to whom we would be wont to say, in poetic form that is ever fresh:

It will be too soon when

You will face the pains of being

Wondering what this world is all about

Smiles are no longer what they used to be

May some magic wand start a new era

Where dreams are your reality

Magic wand, new era… Indeed, isn’t that what we dearly look forward to, so as to turn around the country and lift it out of the morass in which, alas, it had sunk into last year. But we know that like the economic miracle that we were promised, the hard reality is that we can expect no magic or miracle to transform our national situation overnight – for the young may dream, and justifiably so, but it is for responsible adults to make it possible that their dreams become reality.

Starting at family level whence they will make their baby steps into the wide world out there, it is their teachers and other preceptors who will then take over to complement their initiation and lead them towards maturity. But it is for the polity as a whole to provide that kind of conducive environment in which they will develop and grow to heights that will take the country forward – or the world for that matter, if we can’t retain them here! But the base must be laid and continuously consolidated and expanded towards new horizons that may attract their talents or that they may themselves open up if the social, political and economic conditions are appropriate and aligned with the best anywhere. Tall order, but we must start somewhere, mustn’t we?

Campaign mode

2019 is widely viewed as being the pre-election year and it will likely be in campaign mode most of the time. The signal has perhaps already been launched, with the prime ministerial announcement of the imminent raise in old age pension and tertiary education being made completely free. The implications of both are being widely debated as was to be expected, but the government will stand firm despite our national debt already going beyond Rs 300 billion, and the people will surely want some clarification in the run-up to general elections about how this is going to be serviced, in particular keeping in view the pain and burden this will impose on coming generations.

What will polarize attention very sharply soon is the outcome of the ‘Medpoint affair’ before the Privy Council, which involves the Prime Minister directly and which will therefore directly impact his political career as well as his party, the MSM. In the meantime though there are enough issues and challenges to keep the country more than busy, and there are unresolved matters that need all the attention of the authorities if the incumbent holders of power are serious about coming back – which they undoubtedly would want to.

The quibble about the economy’s growth rate probably does not have a high place in the people’s psyche which they may perceive as a deliberate distraction from serious problems that demand urgent solutions, concerned as they are with more down to earth, bread and butter survival issues. Concrete, demonstrable achievements are what will appeal most to them, but also tangible examples of the will to clear the Augean stables in matters of governance and institutional functioning which have received much negative press.

One good thing definitely is the fact that with the beefed-up legislation about road circulation the New Year period was not marred by fatal accidents as used to be the case earlier. If the measures have helped to being about this positive turnaround, one hopes that this trend will be maintained henceforth. George Orwell of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ fame would surely be happy that Big Brother is after all producing results at such a short term in Mauritius!

If this surveillance be a forerunner of things to come as part of Safe City project, we may cautiously welcome it, but everyone who is in the know would want to see the provisions for confidentially and privacy as well as the potential uses that will be allowed for the big data generated if we are not to fear the spectre of a ‘digital dictatorship’ as has been expressed in even advanced jurisdictions.

Smart City State

This said, since we have heard a lot about Smart Cities but have not seen much so far, what about smarting up our existing towns and cities for a start? As preliminary to and foretaste of the real Smart Cities with all the gadgetry and the electronics they are associated with, as well as their planning and design characteristics meant to foster a qualitatively richer quality of life for its residents and visitors, perhaps the authorities would undertake a programme of upgrading the roads in cities and towns across the island. I will make an appeal for Curepipe, my hometown, which I think has the worst possible roads in the country, a real shame. It will be so ridiculous to have a brand new smart city when the older ones are woefully neglected.

Another aspect that strikes the eyes is the shabby state of many of the buildings in the city centres, and again Curepipe stands out. Once I came from abroad on a Sunday afternoon, and as we were driving along the Royal Road in Curepipe I was so shocked at the sight of so much morosity that I asked myself whether I was in some backwaters of a lost country somewhere.

There must be experts in town planning and related aspects who can help to brighten our urban faces. Not later than a couple of days ago as I was driving in Curepipe I thought about what could be done so that these buildings could be maintained properly and present a brighter look. I wondered whether the municipality could have a kind of incentive award for the best-kept or the smartest (since ‘smart’ seems to be the current favourite term) looking building.

Like this, if one goes around the country, we can easily see that there are any number of small things that we can do with a bit of help from the concerned authorities to make our island a little smarter pending establishment of the real Smart City state – à la Singapore?!!

As I said in the beginning, we can only hope that 2019 will be an overall better year for all of us, and we could do that by smarting up on small things to begin with, which is doable with goodwill from the bottom and political will from the top.

Here’s, therefore, a wish and a prayer for a smarter and better Mauritius as 2019 rolls out!

* Published in print edition on 11 January 2019

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