A Conversation with Uncle Claus
‘You have to give this new dispensation a chance to prove itself. And if at the end of five years it hasn’t, then the people will know what they have to do’
‘If you call yourself a democracy, you must at least have a strong enough opposition’
By TP Saran
This year too we have been gratified with an opportunity to pick the jovial but sharp brain of Uncle Claus during his annual trip among our kids. Since a post exhibiting his rotundity bare – in keeping with the environmentally challenged times – went viral, it was but natural that we began with his views of climate change and how it would impact him to start with. Because we do need his annual dose of wit and wisdom! Read on and be entertained by dear Santa… but also ponder on his perceptive insights into realities at large that are shaking and shaping our world.
* Hey Santa Uncle, you’re here! Thought you’d be upset and not turn up?
Upset, what about?
* Why, didn’t you see that post on WhatsApp saying ‘Another sign of climate change’ and showing you practically in …er, a kind of Eve’s costume?
Ah well, I am not on social media so I don’t really care. Anyway I am for fun with the kids so if they see this and have a good laugh so much the better isn’t it? Millions of children in the world are in need of cheer and are being denied it by ego-driven warring adults, regimes and nations in the name of some God, and if my appearance can bring a smile so much the better!
* Fair enough, I’ll take that. But seriously, aren’t you worried that rising temperatures will mean you may not be able to ride your sleigh in snow and be pulled by reindeers? Why, even reindeers will probably disappear if their habitat melts away…
You bet that bothers me! I do keep a tag on what’s happening if only for the sake of the kids, and I am as disappointed as you are about the no-outcome of the latest conference in Madrid. First they agree in Paris, then Trumpy pulls out of the Paris Accord, and now even with Trumpy out these guys cannot agree among themselves to salvage the world?
* Well, I for one agree with you! We’ll literally be in deep waters if the global temperature rise cannot be controlled…
Indeed we will. As far as I gathered, it must be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius, though 1.1 would be the ideal. If not, then the ice caps in my polar north would melt faster and that would indeed be disaster for all of us and for me in particular. Because sea levels would rise too and instead of a sleigh I may have to use a raft or a boat! Maybe that would be more fun, but then everybody is used to me in a sleigh! They will have to invent a new song in lieu of ‘riding through the snows…’, and I don’t know if I’ll still be relevant!
* No worries Uncle, you will live forever and always be needed for your wisdom! So what have been your thoughts about what’s been happening in the world since your last rounds a year ago?
Well, you guys down here continue to do what you’re best at: messing up! The Middle East continues to be a cauldron, with Saudia Arabia, Iran, Turkey and UAE rivalling to assert themselves as leaders, with the result that the killing sprees have yet a long innings in Syria and Yemen. Do they care for the kids there? I can’t even set my foot to bring some gifts for them, that’s how bad things are.
Same thing across the U.S. where there have been mass shootings on their campuses and schools, leaving broken homes and broken childhoods in their wake. I cannot agree more with those who say that the perpetrators are likely to be disaffected and mentally unbalanced individuals searching for a sense of social connection and life meaning. They go online, they look at past attacks and in a perverse way, they connect with not only past incidents but also past attackers.
And then of course you have these street protests that have become a fashion, but are all of them justified?
* How do you mean Uncle?
Take Hong Kong, been going on for six months now. Didn’t Carrie Lam finally withdraw the bill that she was proposing to introduce? And wasn’t that what the protest was about at the beginning? Can you tell me why it has not only not stopped but become even more violent with so much damage to public property and the island’s economy?
* I agree you have got a point.
Of course I have, I am no fool after all, despite my jocundity. I happened to read your friend Phillip Li Ching Hum’s article in l’express two days ago wherein he points to subversive elements instigated and supported by the CIA in a bid to destabilise China – and that is in spite of the recently signed trade deal between China and the US. But Xi Jin Ping has vowed his support to Carrie Lam during the latter’s visit to Beijing.
* And you approve of that?
It’s not for me to approve or not, that’s their internal affair. Who are we to give sermons to a country of 1.3 billion people with a millennia old civilisation?
* Yes but they are not a democracy, you forget.
Democracy? You must be joking my friend! Is democracy doing any better? Haven’t you read the continuous stream of articles about western democracy being in crisis and that democracy means different things to different people? Each regime practices its own brand. Without the western form of democracy China has outpaced the rest of the world in economic growth and has built enormous indigenous capacity in science and technology, it leads in AI. What more proof do you need?
* And what about that other giant also with nearly 1.3 billion people, India?
Same thing. Subversive foreign elements cannot be excluded. They don’t need to be told how to manage their internal affairs, keep out. If you ask me, a bit less of so-called democracy and more of the Chinese style governing would serve them better!
* Now that you are down below in our small island, what would you say about happenings here?
You want to trap me eh! You know better isn’t it, why don’t you tell me?
* An outsider view, especially from someone of your age – no don’t tell me how old you are! — can in some ways be a more realistic one. Come on Uncle, don’t disappoint me!
Ok so here goes then. Know the adage ‘you get the government you deserve’? Well that’s exactly what has happened. What did you expect with two fils à papa at each other’s throats, and fighting each other to the… finish? The older one is literally practically finished, and has a long way to go with his new legal tussle of picking holes in the electoral process. He will focus so much on that, or so will he say, instead of leaving it to the lawyers that once again his party will be held hostage for the next five years – of course, with himself firmly in the saddle — and the much needed reform that has been in abeyance since the pounding of December 2014 will again be pushed to the backyard.
* And what about the younger one, now Prime Minister?
You have to give it to him that he has come in through the front door at last, and out of the father’s shadow so to speak. Wouldn’t you agree?
* We have to bow to the people’s verdict, despite the irregularities which have surfaced…
Do you have a choice? But let the law follow its course, and meanwhile enough of looking back. Move forward, like the metro express will start to do soon!
* Like that, sweeping all the previous scandals with one stroke of the hand?
You’ll have to leave it to the historians, and history will decide who goes to the dustbin and whose head will be held high. Concentrate on the positives that you have in hand.
* Like what?
For one, none of those who had to step down as minister or were associated with scandals in the previous government were given tickets. New and younger faces were brought in. The other side stuck with many of its old models, I believe against advice to the contrary, and the country has paid the price – for, if you call yourself a democracy, you must at least have a strong enough opposition…
* There’s Arvin Boolell…
I can only wish him well, but if he had some more numbers with him you will agree that you would have had a stronger opposition in the National Assembly.
Anyway, let’s move on. There’s the pension increase for the senior citizens, the provision of books for schools, tertiary education completely free, no municipal tax for those possessing one house…
* Aren’t you being a bit naive Uncle? Where’s the money going to come from to fund all this?
Not my problem sonny! But I can’t believe they have not done their sums. After all, they have some pretty smart old hands at the Ministry of Finance, and although I cannot say like Jesus Christ ‘forgive them my father, for they know not what they are doing’, I will simply say: hope that they know what they are doing!
* But what about our level of debt, the slowed down economy and the problems that will come from outside, like the China-US trade war, Brexit and others?
The only thing I can say is that we have to wait and see. There are five years to go, and you have to give this new dispensation a chance to prove itself. And if at the end of five years it hasn’t, then the people will know what they have to do, isn’t it?
* That will be another five years lost, Uncle. Meanwhile some of the African countries are catching up, even outstripping our small island in key sectors… Are you being deliberately lenient and forgiving, or being realistic?
Let me put it this way. For those issues I have mentioned you have technocrats who can work out the solutions and with the new political will that seems to be present, they will surely be able to negotiate their way forward. There are harder and deeper issues that will need the country’s attention, and these are the more worrying ones with potentially more serious consequences, they are the ones that will need the whole country putting all its heads together if you want to build a better future.
* You’re getting me worried now!
I mean to. Not only you but the whole country should be worried about your drugs problem, what with so many traffickers being caught with drugs in their bags and body cavities, and from countries that now include South Africa regularly, and as far afield as Scotland. This is a new phenomenon. You have to go into the root of all this.
* But Uncle, there was a Drug Commission Report that took months to be prepared and submitted to government, but we have not heard anything much about the implementation of the measures recommended and what has been the outcome if any?
That’s what I mean. The opposition has its role cut out for it already, one really major issue to kick off the new innings and make a mark. But if I were government I would take the wind out of the opposition’s sails and be proactive about the Drug Commission report’s recommendations and their implementation. Let the people know what is being done, even if it is a little – but that can be a beginning. Because you have a real epidemic of synthetic drugs that has infiltrated the schools – and it is only a matter of days before schools resume.
If you ask me, the government must show grit and tackle this problem. You already have a demographic problem. Do you want your children to live or not?
* I do pray that your wise counsel will be heard Uncle, and you will have something good to take back when you next come at the end of 2020…
I hope so too. But in the same vein, your education system needs a thorough overhaul. Educational content and pedagogy are no doubt crucial, but discipline and character building are as important if you want to prepare the children for the future. It’s up to you which model you want to emulate or adapt to your context, but something radical is needed. And parents must be involved.
* Well, thank you so much once again Uncle. I wish you an enjoyable time with the kids and as you fly on your magic sleigh back to the snows, send us some cool breeze please. You must have noticed that we need it badly! Merry Xmas and Happy New year to you. Bizous from the kids and see you next year! Bye!
Best wishes to you too my friend.
* Published in print edition on 20 December 2019
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