Letter to Uncle Sam
First of all, let me congratulate you for your outstanding performance in the State of the Union Address. My own ‘Michelle’ and ‘Sasha’ were having their morning tea, as they too watched your delivery along with me.
Of late, I am cultivating a strange feeling about the lack of inspirational talks here in my own country, Uncle. Let me put you into the picture. Our leaders too occasionally address the nation but only during the festive season, usually around the end of the year. Not the right timing, as you see, given that the folks here would have already switched off from the mundane, day-to-day activities. Since this has been become sort of a tradition here, successive leaders just follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.
Second. In the heat of budgetary debates in Parliament, our local Capitol Hill, leaders again address serious issues; but again their words, however sincere, simply get lost in the political brouhaha.
Third. While attending public functions, organised mostly by people we refer to as “rodeurs boutte” (Americans would politely call them lobbyists), our leaders most of the time simply commit themselves to raise issues that are meant to turn “rodeurs boutte” into political partisans.
As you see, Uncle, there are not many solemn occasions when one could really listen to inspirational talks meant to ignite the minds of people and prod them towards hard and good work.
Uncle, I don’t know when you will meet with our Chief Executive Officer. But when you do, please do try to convince him that we should go for something like the State of the Union Address here and to shun those silly traditions that make no sense in the 21st century, especially when so much needs to be done and when so much is at stake for future generations.
The best middle course would be for us to allow Le Réduit to keep the tradition going with an annual greetings’ address to the nation on behalf of the Republic. Our own ‘State of the Union Address’ could at best coincide with Independence Day in March and be left to the CEO. There is no harm in having this address made inside Parliament, in the presence of Members from both sides of the House as well as special guests including Mauritians from different backgrounds, economic operators and members of civil society.
On my part, Uncle, I would like to thank you for this great idea about reinforcing people’s trust in government as an institution through transparency and accountability.
Lobbyists in the US and around the world are in the same business, namely that of seeking political support and patronage for the causes they work for. In Mauritius, too, we need to know who our elected officials meet, when and where. And that information, as you rightly said, must be put online. Once the people become aware about such matters, it will be so much easier for them to come to grips with the whys and wherefores of policies and decisions and law-making. And, of course, that list would comprise visits made by the US Ambassador in Mauritius. And all others, for sure.
But, Uncle I am afraid you don’t know much about the human species called Mauritians. I bet our elected officials will all end up talking big business at social functions like weddings, vindoos, chowtarees and of course at cocktails where the lobbyists would introduce themselves as cousins to the ministers. The dirty business will be done, even if the minister’s diary shows that such and such meeting never took place at his office.
Uncle, in your powerful speech on Capitol Hill, you had this to say:
“We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.”
With your permission, Uncle, I will quote a few paragraphs more so that folks here understand that managing a country and making sure its people lead a decent life does not depend only on seminars. It’s about hard work. Now, some random quotes:
“The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.”
“Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education.”
“That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair. We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.
“Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.” Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.
“The education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American.
“To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.”
Here we still have unnecessary laws and regulations that hinder business development. And no American will survive here even if he/she has the brightest business idea. Business sharks are too many; ideas mean nothing; only political affiliations and proper socio-cultural networking have any effect – in some instances they can even work wonders. We do have parents who still condone brutality against teachers. The tertiary system had for decades been left to decay at the hands of bureaucratic and political cronies. Parents and children have been forced to believe that no academic certificates mean a doomed future; forgetting that training of kids in other spheres is as important as academic schooling, as the success of l’Atelier Mo’Zart has confirmed. Our training institutions have not been able to reinvent themselves to cope with the local or global needs.
This is part of our sad realities, Uncle. Still, I remain hopeful. I know there are many anonymous Mauritians who are working to make this country a better place.
* Published in print edition on 28 January 2011