By R. Chand
The recent Delhi gang rape case has given rise to interesting debates. One interesting contribution has come from Chetan Bhagat, dated 13 January 2013, in the form of an open letter to the “Indian Change Seekers”. Excerpts follow:
“Dear Change Seekers
“… It is important to understand India first. India… is not an equal country. India is divided into four classes with different levels of power. For simplicity, let us call these classes the Ones, Twos, Threes and Fours…
“The Ones are our political masters. They control India, primarily through control over land, resources and laws that govern us. They don’t directly own assets, but control the asset owners, the Twos. The Twos are our industrialists and capitalists. These Twos help secure and increase the power of the Ones. Twos become big because they serve the Ones well. The Ones allow the Twos to become rich through limited competition and tightly regulated approvals. Real estate, mining, infrastructure or most other sectors, no company in India can thrive without support of the political class.
“The next class, the Threes, are people like you and me, the primary readers of this newspaper. We are people with a certain amount of affluence and education, comprising around 10 per cent of India’s population. While life is a struggle for many Threes, they do have a basic standard of living and a modest access to opportunities. However, the Threes still do not get speedy justice, accountable leaders or a protective police force. Notably, Threes have recently acquired a new media power. Threes are affluent and buy things advertisers want to sell. Hence, the media caters to Threes. The Threes dominate social media too. (…)
“This power to dictate the news and influence public sentiment is real and substantial. The Delhi gang rape victim was a Three, and the gruesome case made the rest of the Threes feel vulnerable like never before. The Threes wanted the rape to be debated. Hence, for almost a month little else could be discussed in a country of 1.2 billion people. However, in the process, the Threes might have done some damage. For despite the well-intentioned outcry, the Threes inadvertently displayed they care about themselves much more than another huge class they alienated, the Fours.
“The Fours are the ninety percent of the country, people with limited education, abysmal standards of living and little hope for a better future. The Fours are our farmers, slum dwellers, domestic helpers and the hundreds of millions of Indians without proper healthcare, education and infrastructure. These Fours get no debates on TV. People won’t protest for them on India Gate. The Threes either shun them, or impose their newfound modern values on them. For example, Fours may see women-men relationships in a regressive way, borne out by centuries of cultural indoctrination. The Threes, exposed to the latest Western beliefs, will mock them.
“If you noticed the various debates and opinions on the case, the Threes only accepted ideas in line with their own liberal, modern value system. Nobody could dare say anything even slightly alternative or stress on the Indian reality without being ridiculed, mocked and being termed a perpetrator of rapes. The Threes found a new power, but used it like the Ones and Twos use theirs — for self-serving purposes. For will we ever passionately discuss the issues and lend our media power to issues that affect the Fours? Will we go to India Gate to help slum dwellers get proper drinking water, for instance? Did we care about the other Indians’ views in the past month?
“As we alienate the Fours, we leave them open to be exploited by the Ones. The Ones echo the sentiments of the Fours and throw some scraps at them. In return, the Fours ignore the Ones’ misdeeds and bring them back to power. Meanwhile, we Threes keep screaming and watch our own self-created reality show. This is no way to create a revolution, or even change. We have to take the grassroots Fours along. (…)
“Let us fight for the Fours too. They will join us, and make us a truly politically relevant force. This way, we will be able to take on the ultimate power abusers in India – the Ones and the Twos. And then, and only then is when true change will happen.”
The solutions being proposed by many change seekers like greater women empowerment, better policing or legal reforms, public messaging on rights of women and the need to respect such rights, making it socially painful for the perpetrators… are an example of the ideas that are more in line with the liberal, modern value system of the 3s who are only looking out for their own reality and that they cannot enable changes at a larger level. The 3s have an important role to play as they are by far more educated, vociferous and aware. The media is also with the 3s. One would also agree that in the short and medium run, the 3s can only get the 1s to act on the issue. It is also to be noted that some movement from 4s to 3s are expected to be continuously taking place. But one has also to concede that the 4s form a huge majority who have so far not come on board with the 3s. Solutions that are being proposed must align the reality of the 4s to the creativity and ideas of the 3s.
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CT Power and MID
After the all-out “bétonnage” of the island, the commercial centres, the IRS and the obsession with road construction without any concomitant reduction in road congestion, we can look now forward to be asphyxiated by higher levels of emissions from more coal-fired power plants which are likely to be greater than that from all cars, trucks and other forms of transportation combined. When thick dust and black soot start coating the fresh green of our majestic flamboyants, mangroves and sugarcane fields, they will be sounding the death knell of our idyllic island. It will no longer be “un plaisir”.
Within the electricity sector, according to latest issue of Economic and Social Indicators on Energy and Water Statistics, coal-fired power plants already generate around 41% of the country’s electricity: renewable energy (hydro, wind, landfill gas & bagasse) accounts for only 20%. Coal plants emit more than 80%, four out of every five tons, of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions produced by all sources of electricity. Of all electricity sources, coal-fired power plants are the biggest threat to the stability of our climate, and in turn, to our children’s future. Thus, the raison d’être of the “Maurice Ile Durable” (MID ) project is to decouple our economy from such dependence, including fossil fuels, that is threatening our economy and our way of life.
In 2008, we had announced our vision of making Mauritius a sustainable island through the MID project. The main objective is to minimize our dependency on fossil fuels through increased utilization of renewable energy and a more efficient use of energy in general. Coal-only was considered to be contrary to the MID vision and was not reckoned as a possible option in any event. The MID concept is supposed to include a participatory approach towards elaborating a strategy for sustainable development; it aims at taking on board the whole society in the implementation of this ambitious project. “The Maurice Ile Durable project belongs not to its conceptors or to Government but to the whole Mauritian nation. It is a social project and is essentially a vision that seeks to transform the environmental, economic and social landscape of the country.
“The VISION describes an end-point to which we all aspire, and provides a beacon along the way. It is an expression of where we want to see our country heading, how we want to live in that country and to a large extent, the kind of people we want to be as a nation. The VISION hence is the creation through a dialogue between Government and civil society…”
But now that vision is becoming somewhat blurred. It is leading us instead towards greater dependence on non-renewable sources of energy away from our vision of a low-carbon resource efficient green economy. A regular columnist of Le Mauricien, Le Vicomte de Roche Bois, could not have been more on target when he queries our policy-makers, on behalf of the inhabitants of Albion: «Quelle île Maurice veut-il leur léguer ? Une île où il fera vert ou un pseudo-paradis, où les Mauriciens seraient devenus les locataires d’un pays vendu aux étrangers ? …D’ailleurs, en parlant d’experts, le silence des responsables du projet Maurice île Durable est éloquent ! »
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Statistics Mauritius: A Cacophony of Figures
We have been used to much rigour from Statistics Mauritius (SM) that we have been surprised lately by the flurry of discordant figures from the Ministry of Finance. In November last, with the presentation of the Budget, the medium term macroeconomic projections, worked out in consultation with SM (which falls under the umbrella of the Ministry of Finance & Economic Development), posted a 3.4% real GDP growth for 2012 and 4.% for 2013. These projections are based on assumptions, among others, of an increase in number of tourist arrivals by around 5%-8% during the period 2013-2015, 100% implementation of measures as per the timeframe set out in the Budget, a nominal depreciation of the rupee by an average 3.5% annually against major international currencies and an inflation rate of 6% in 2013.
There is no mention of the different scenarios that have been worked out, but on the basis of the assumptions, one can safely presume that it is an optimistic rather than a baseline scenario for 2013. We all know that actual capital spending during the past few years has rarely exceeded 50-60% of the earmarked capital expenditure despite last moment frivolity and excessive generosity of MOF to line ministries in an attempt to boost the figures on renovation, office equipment, transport equipment, etc. The figures for Budget 2012 show that, from January to November 2012, only 52.4 % of an allocated capital expenditure of Rs 14.2 billion was spent and the last-minute rush succeeded in boosting the figures by another Rs 2.2 billion of expenditure.
Barely a month later, SM revised upward, in its December issue, the real GDP growth rate for 2012 to 3.3% which still lower than the 3.4% as announced in the Budget. Surprisingly, SM’s projections for 2013 (3.7%) is way off the budget figures of a real GDP growth of 4%. In the same December issue, SM, in one of the rare cases in the annals of its publications of National Accounts estimates, has more than one scenario. The most likely or “status quo” scenario generates the 3.7% growth rate whereas the optimistic scenario, covered in a quite discreet 3-line note, is expected to register the 3.9% growth rate with the proviso that all budget measures, more specifically those related to public infrastructure projects, will be fully implemented. That’s it, the figures have been reconciled.
There is a similar dissonance in the budget deficit figures; the revised budget deficit/GDP figure is indicated as 2.5 % for fiscal year 2012 in the latest Budget documents. The more recent update announced a figure of 1.9%. This figure of 1.9% is not visible in any official document nor on the web site of the MOF. Given that it is subscribing to the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS), a global benchmark for disseminating macroeconomic data to the public, the MOF should be ensuring the availability of not only timely but also comprehensive statistics.
We cannot yet say that our budget figures are comprehensive enough. We still have to reconcile the budget figures with the macroeconomically more significant consolidated budget balance which includes the Special Funds. The consolidated budget balance shows a higher budget deficit to GDP ratio of 2.9% in 2012 and 3.5% in 2013. Placing the operations of these Funds in the budget will help to bring greater transparency and consistency in the figures and render the macroeconomic figures more comprehensive.
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The National Strategic Transformation Commission (NSTC) revisited
Mr Faizal Jeeroburkhan, in a stimulating article titled ‘Problems that are bogging us down’ in Le Mauricien of 26 January 13, draws our attention to the fact that there is a “lack of vision and long-term planning both at the regional and national levels. Fire fighting has become the preferred mode of action to resolve our most pressing problems such as water, traffic congestion, security and education.” He joins the long list of institutions, intelligentsia and corporate leaders that have been feeling the absence of a comprehensive strategic planning exercise at the national and sectoral levels. In its 2012-2015 Programme, government announced the setting up of a National Strategic Transformation Commission to meet this increasing demand for a well-coordinated medium- to long-term development strategy for the country that will bring greater coherence in the strategies and the key choices that have to be made including the linkages between sectors and their implementation capacities.
But now we are being told that a somewhat peculiar structure is being proposed for the NSTC. Subcommittees on thematic issues under the responsibility of Ministers will be set up as a superstructure for the NSTC, equivalent to an Economic Committee of the Cabinet. The MOF will continue to provide the underlying structure and will thus be piloting the NSTC. We do not think that such a structure is workable. The overarching vision for the country should be the task of an autonomous full-fledged Planning Commission equipped with a dedicated team that can think beyond short-term budgetary preoccupations to lay down the main building blocks to realise the vision. A steering committee set up under the aegis of the Planning Commission, comprising think-tanks of public and private sector organisations, will ensure a democratic approach, giving the opportunity to all sectoral stakeholders, in distinct working groups, to express their opinion freely on any issue and would ensure that the long-term strategic plan benefits from a wide-ranging national discussion, starting from the grassroots to the top echelon.
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Zone d’Education Prioritaire (ZEP): A different approach
For quite some time now some of the main stakeholders of the education sector are decrying the ZEP as “un échec cuisant”. Some of the measures taken recently only aims at patching up the system; we are persisting in applying the same traditional approach, and the small touches on the fringe will not improve the system because without commitment and belonging, the ZEP project is doomed. Have we exhausted all the possibilities of improving the ZEP system? The recent article ‘Écoles ZEP ou comment perpétuer l’exclusion’ by Gaëtan Jacquette raises the pertinent issue of uncommitted teachers who fail to identify themselves with their students – « c’est l’attitude sectaire de certains enseignants qui mène à ce très fort taux d’échec dans ces écoles des régions créoles. »
The recent book ‘How Children Succeed’ by Paul Tough, a journalist and former editor of the New York Times Magazine, tends to add much grist to Mr Jacquette’s stand. Paul Tough argues that emotional intelligence, motivation and persistence – character traits seldom calibrated – are more reliable indicators of whether a child, from any background, will do well than the intelligence that is measured by high IQ. Poverty is not in itself an index of future failure. Rather it is the unfiltered exposure to the stress and upheaval associated with it.
“Apparently medical studies show that children who grow up in abusive or dysfunctional environments generally find it harder to concentrate, sit still and rebound from disappointments. Repeated stress introduced into early lives can prevent the construction of the pathways children need in order to develop good character traits and solid cognitive skills.” This isn’t to say that those pathways can’t be generated later. If lower-income parents, Tough posits, can learn some theories and practices adopted from the attachment parenting movement, the children’s brains can recover and the kids can thrive and succeed even whilst living in poverty. There is some evidence to support this, and Tough gives some real world examples of what an “attachment to build character” program looks like. He also spends quite a large chunk of the book studying unique and wildly successful inner-city chess clubs as well as some pathway-to-college programs in Chicago’s poverty-ridden districts.
If an adult acts as a buffer, offering love, support and emotional investment, children are much less affected by the socio-economic conditions in which they live. “Studies show that early nurturing from parents or caregivers helps combat the biochemical effects of stress and educators can push better habits and self control.” Paul Tough has followed some of urban America’s poorest young people through their secondary school careers over some years, tracking their rocky road towards higher education and revealing how their teachers are compensating for the missing investment in their early years by fostering what Tough sums up as “character”. The components of character include resilience, self‑control, optimism and (Tough’s favourite) grit. And he argues that it helps young people absorb and act on criticism, overcome setbacks and meet frustration and obstacles with renewed determination.
This is perhaps what Mr Jacquette expects from dedicated teachers who are « des enseignants de la même communauté et de la même culture que les enfants créoles.» Dedicated teachers are more likely to instil in the ZEP students the discipline and persistence and demonstrate the ways and means to overcome adversity.
Moreover, Tough cites studies that give a different view on what schools, parents and the government can do to break the poverty cycle through education. Success, these studies say, lies not in early intervention and implementation of traditional cognitive skills (reading, math) but by teaching the “non-cognitive” skills – like persistence and curiosity — that noteworthy people appear to have in abundance since toddlerhood. That means a totally different approach to our ZEP project — an approach which will be relying more on the teaching of non-cognitive skills by well paid creative and committed teachers who can make a difference to the ZEP project.
* Published in print edition on 31 January 2013