One wonders at times whether our Leader of the Opposition, former PM himself for a couple of years, has foreign policy advisers of any merit or whether, steeped in his undoubted vast theoretical readings, he prefers idiosyncratic wild shooting from the hip.
The first were not very helpful if they were responsible for concocting Mr Berenger’s overseas trips that became popularly known as the “Balade en Terres de Peuplement” series under the Medpoint 1.0 regime. Nor when, too much national embarrassment, Mr Berenger, as PM, was allowed to grandstand a squat near 10 Downing Street, pressing for an undesired meeting with UK PM Tony Blair, even while a bunch of former MSM-MMM ministers rushed scampering to European capitals in the wake of announced EU-Sugar policy reforms.
His latest salvo against the Malaysian PM as guest of honour at our National Day celebrations is vintage stuff of the incomprehensible variety, unless purely local considerations and intrigues have taken their toll.
Malaysia is a growing and dynamic Asian powerhouse, a complex nation of several regions, communities, languages and cultures facing, as everybody else, the brunt of global financial downturn while trying to maintain extremists at bay and struggling as best it can to maintain democratic elections and deepen national unity against heavy right-wing undercurrents.
Kuala Lumpur neither needs us nor passes atrociously simplistic judgments on our local political porridge. On the contrary, its universities and its business and commercial community already hold healthy attraction for our shores. We stand far more to gain on all fronts by deepening our ties with that emerging nation if only on business development fronts, mutual exchanges about social cohesion and how to keep extremism at large.
It ill behoves us to summarily judge and dismiss that complex and evolving country, its leadership and its current PM, still less to compare it disparagingly with some middle-eastern potentate of princes and sheikhs, who run their country as a vastly rich and corrupt family business, with no remote thought for democracy, rights for women or expatriate workers.
Were we to analyze internal politics of every country and leader, we would probably exclude from invitations 80% of current world leaders, not just in Asia, Africa and the developing world! Mr Berenger’s virulent stance remains a puzzle. One assumes that after such outlandish public condemnation and the announced closure of our Kuala Lumpur consulate, he will abstain from all official ceremonies involving the Malaysian PM, thus effectively and once again boycotting National Day celebrations.
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Chasing after shadows
Accelerated by globalisation and the digital revolution, new opportunities, new threats and new economic and business avenues are opening up at a fast pace all over the world.
Massive financial inflows and outflows through elaborate schemes and fiscal havens, gigantic billions paid by Google for a mobile Application to boost its mobile-internet nexus, global companies shifting their huge profits to tax-friendly subsidiaries, occult financing of cross-border terrorism, worldwide capture and deciphering of all mobile conversations by the NSA-Big Brother, the approaching end of liquid fossil-fuels, tele-surgery and the ability in the near future to evolve viable embryos from any human body cell, where will it all take us?
Reflexes, thought processes and institutions designed for the previous generation have everywhere to struggle to cope with the rapidly changing environment. Our shadows used to follow our tracks, they have closed up and today it seems we are condemned to chase our own shadows.
It applies to every walk of life and we are not immune at our local levels. Take the tertiary education sector and institutions for instance. Twenty-five years ago, around 1988, the TEC was instituted, in the wake of former Justice Glover’s report, to coordinate developments and funding between our then only national University and such tertiary institutions as the MGI and the MIE to avoid unnecessary activity overlap and optimise resources.
Its structure, staffing and reporting, mostly to its parent ministry, reflected the administrative role and utility conferred upon the TEC, a fair and legitimate requirement of the times, although many felt that inordinate discretion and powers rested with the Minister or his representative.
Meantime, the Mauritius College of the Air (MCA, later to become the Open University), the Swami Dayanand Institute of Management, the Rabindranath Tagore Institute and the UTM have broadened the coverage of TEC’s administrative and budgetary monitoring of post-secondary publicly funded institutions.
It is noteworthy that the IVTB (Fashion and Design, Ecole Hoteliere,…), the Regional Sugar Training Center and several private vocational bodies and semi-public Lycees Polytechniques have started their own brand of tertiary technical institutions independent of TEC funding and therefore outside its purview.
The private sector towards 2003 started to propagate the notion of a “Knowledge Hub” for local and regional students, but this failed to energise political action other than conceptual massaging. With the re-opening of the economy to outside and new players in 2005, and the dynamism engineered in all sectors, the opportunities for private investments in tertiary education attracted a variety of players, local and foreign.
The TEC legislation was accordingly modified to vet, approve and authorise the setting up of all post-secondary training institutions, a task far beyond its initial purview, structure and capacities. Overlap issues with the Medical Council or with other specialised bodies were not sorted out. It is a mystery how the UTM, without the beginnings of a medical faculty, has been granted the mandate to award graduate or post-graduate medical certificates. The deficiencies have become particularly glaring in the matter of medical, dental and other highly specialised training.
Clearly, the TEC Board has to reflect a level of independence and authoritative managerial and academic experience to credibly monitor our highest academic structures and handle its added responsibilities with poise. Ministerial intervention other than for general policy matters should be scrapped from the TEC statutes; it seems rather odd anyway that any Minister of Higher Education may give mandatory instructions to a Board whose members and Chairman can only be appointed by the Prime Minister.
We have learned enough from the recent past to catch up with our own shadows.
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The 80’s generation
Several tragic and criminal events have grabbed headlines these past few months. Perpetrators, in their mid-thirties and forties, have recourse to violent and immediate macabre reactions, taking the law into their own hands. Analysts, commentators and editorialists have thrashed the thorny and complex issue. Few have pondered whether socially we are today dealing with the shadows of the eighties, the battle lines and the mental make-up that shaped the youth of those days…
* Published in print edition on 28 February 2014