By Satya Mewa
France often has paralysing strikes, yet the country and its democratic tradition moves on, thanks to the solidarity of its workers, the dedication of trade union leaders, and the support of a truly independent press. Now all are fighting to protect the retirement age gradually moving from 60 to 62 years in 2018.
We have been plus royaliste que le roi, pushing it to 65, with our much lesser life expectancy, and even lesser healthy life expectancy. The workers were consulted! Give five more years to all the workers indiscriminately including the lazybones who have had it nice for decades, while blocking the chance to promote hard workers who could make a difference. PMS (Personnel Management System and Performance Appraisal) is supposed to solve that — in theory. We know how some people, especially the underperforming ones, are treated. By the way how would the French react if their Ministers got power to declare any strike illegal, or by-pass the recommendation of any technical committee?
When you can get a full pension after only two terms (maximum ten years, 120 months) in the National Assembly, it is very good morality to ask others to complete 400 months for the existing civil servants, and now 460 months for the entrants after July 2008 for the same pension of only 2/3 of last salary. D’accord. But why not offer some incentives for those who really work hard beyond this critical figure? Logical for some, but one man’s meat is another man’s poison.
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Hall of Residence
There have been recent press reports about a Hall of Residence being built by the University of Mauritius (UoM), to house (foreign only or local also?) students and visitors. In the context of turning Mauritius into a knowledge hub in the region, this is a laudable initiative. But at what price? That of killing off biodiversity and research activities. The Hall is planned to be built on the UoM Farm. If we estimate that just 5% of the 100,000 students projected for tertiary education in the near future will be needing accommodation in the Hall, this will have to be expanded to cover the whole of the Farm area with residential buildings. Goodbye to the Crop Museum which the pioneer Mr Azad Osman started under Dr Octave Wiehe, and which has taken more than three decades to establish. The Museum also contains species of economic importance such as cashew nut trees regularly bearing fruits, which a foreign company has recently ‘introduced’ but in fact ‘re-introduced’.
Goodbye to land where research should have been actively pursued by academics and students, to help the country move closer to self-sufficiency and self-reliance in the matter of food security. We shall then only be teaching theoretical agriculture and botany. No wonder! On the one hand we have already ‘joined’ the bandwagon of ‘work-based learning’. On the other, the graduates coming out are generally found to be unfit for the world of work. Did somebody say: ‘Quantity versus quality’?
Meanwhile Réduit is seeing the construction of a big parking area on the campus. It is surprising that the University and tertiary bodies, which are supposed to have the best brains, did not consider building the Hall of Residence there with two levels of underground parking, well-protected from sun and rain? This would have (i) saved the Farm for much-needed research in this country (unless we pretend to have all the answers), (ii) protected its biodiversity collection (Crop Museum), (iii) allowed the setting up of a medicinal section with all the plants described in the publications by UoM staff, (iv) made it possible to erect a building on a site exposed to winds, thus providing a real ‘green’ building, the yardstick for ‘green’ being the absence of air-conditioning (unless operated by solar or wind-generated power). This has been demonstrated during the last research week, so why not prove it in real life? Otherwise we shall be stuck in the starting blocks of theory.
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A head of family who is in debt reduces his expenses and tries to increase his income. When the State speaks of strategic partners, it means privatisation of State institutions. We can place competent people at the head of the institutions and give them ‘main libre’ (not ‘carte blanche’ which can lead to abuse) and good and competent staff as support to make them profitable, bringing additional income to the State coffers. Consider for example the NTA or the NTC. Why should we give up and assume that they cannot perform efficiently? Change some staff and procedures, place some more control. Interfere by all means but only to protect good workers and avoid victimisation. We believe that the private sector is not better than the public service.
On the expense side, when the State has debts of over 100 billion rupees it can surely consider saving millions by having a symbolic Independence and Republic Day celebrations. What does Singapore do? Go for smaller government vehicles. Why all the RM vehicles when so many officers have duty-free facilities? Save fuel, use hybrid or electric vehicles. Decentralise ministries to Flacq, Rose Belle, Souillac, Rivière du Rempart or Triolet, Bambous or Rivière Noire. Staff will travel less, spend less on fuel, and have more time for productive and family use. IT facilitates decentralisation, let us be a truly cyber island.
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Vision — SSR-style
Come to the gigantic development around Bagatelle based on consumption (and some services to support that) but not production basically. This means importing a lot more, causing a rise in inflation. We do not think it is meant for Mauritians primarily, but will tourists leave Dubai for Mauritius? We sincerely wish the entrepreneurs success. And in fact the success we yearn for will lead to a lot more vehicles moving in the region. We already see the importance and usefulness of the temporary third lane everyday. That means a third lane is important (in both directions). We are all aware how a single accident on the motorway impacts on the productivity of thousands of workers delayed by that accident. An emergency lane is essential for ambulances, police, fire services and so on. So why are we not making the lanes or if we cannot afford it right now at least make provision for them (whole way from Airport to Cap Malheureux). Build the fly-overs wide and spaced enough to accommodate them in the future. Keep a lot of space near round-abouts to modify them into cloverleaf interchanges later. This is vision SSR-style.
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24/7: We should not pretend to be re-inventing the wheel
Again to consumption. Encouraging consumption in big countries is an economist’s way of stimulating an economy by acting through specific filières of production and consumption. But in a small country which imports most of its stuff, it is sure to lead to debt and inflation. We should encourage production, especially for exports, be it goods or services. 24/7 is a fashionable way to encourage some much-needed leisure but geared more to consumption (with some of the production to effect that, but involves too much imported stuff). We nevertheless assume that it brings some good. But we should not pretend to be re-inventing the wheel, and we should give due credit to those innumerable services which have been running for decades on 24/7: health services, police and other private security people, tourism sector (hotels, air services, transport), communication (radio, tv and press) and telecommunications, agriculture (livestock rearing is 24/7, and the sugar factories run at 24/6 and do the servicing on 7th day), the textile industry, etc… The silent bunch who have brought prosperity to the country. Thank you.
* Published in print edition on 19 November 2010