What Values for the New Generations?

Opinion

By Jan Arden

The basis of western values of liberalism was liberty, equality before the law, and democratic consent of the governed. This broad idea was buttressed by humanist themes which gave meaning to life in a fraternal society, such as civil and human rights, gender equality, freedom of speech and religion, and the separation of state from church. Not far was probably the fear that the unbridled quest for profitability by corporations could well spell misery for the majority of the populations either left by the wayside or forced to struggle for the bare essentials of daily living, forsaking often the ability to enjoy growingly privatised health, education, a decent pension or the multiple cultural awakening opportunities in their countries growing wealthier by GDP standards.

Cost of Living protests – Pic – The Big Issue

This is precisely what neo-liberalism has brought about, say many concerned economists as they watch the social and economic costs and damages. Privatisation was the World Bank/IMF mantra for years forcing us even here to the deregulation of electricity production and the Independent Power Producers contracts. Deregulation of administrations and permits (ease of doing business) was pushed even further by the Economic Development Board a few years ago at about the same time as their top rungs imagined the hair-raising scheme of selling passports to any wealthy selected oligarch wishing for the convenience of a third or fourth passport and perhaps back-door access to the European Union (EU).

With the push for liberalising capital and financial flows and use of the World Trade Organization to maximize corporate profits for assumed consumer benefits, China inexorably became the world’s factory and has amassed colossal reserves that enable it to be the primary challenger to US hegemony and interests, today in the Far East, the South China Seas, the Indo-Pacific and tomorrow on the wide world seas and markets. Jobs and skills, investments and massive profits were so rapidly transferred that large swathes of industries in the US and Europe and their working populations suffered unknown impoverishment. The quest for entrepreneurship and well-earned gains or profits is not at issue but in these eras, some have benefited immensely from the mammoth changes.

Through the IT and social media revolutions, several US mega corporations were becoming empires in their own right, sometimes challenging individual countries or even the EU to reign in their intrusive power or their mega-profits without paying a fair share of taxes in any one of them. During the Covid pandemic, we have heard of the bonanza made by big pharma corporations accompanied by corruption at massive scales in broad daylight. Corporations with healthy profitability and dividends pre-pandemic were often blithely allowed to socialise the temporary crosswinds, that is, under threat of job losses, pass on the bill to the population. Today it is the Russia-Ukraine war that has created conditions for oil majors like Shell or Total and food and grain speculators to rake in exorbitant profits, again with only a trickle percolating to consumers and taxation authorities.

In short, it is now an accepted fact that in most nations that have followed those precepts of neo-liberal thought, wealth accumulation has been so widely skewed that a tiny fraction owns several times more than 90% of the population. To avoid uprisings and chaos, governments typically resort to some piecemeal handouts (relief on fuel prices in France and elsewhere, food rationing or some temporary subsidies), but sometimes these are not enough to contain the sufferings and anger of populations in countries crippled by debt as Sri Lanka.

Here, as in more notorious destinations elsewhere, money and wealth, however acquired seem to have displaced what liberal and humanist values might have been inculcated over previous decades. Economic freedoms are restricted to traditional and legacy corporations and those who gravitate around the spheres of power. Weak institutions have littered our landscape, and even weaker “crowns in the jewel” where occasional billions escape to unknown winds are no longer unusual. Education, particularly at lower levels, remain trapped in the competitive mould that reforms have failed to dent and, more worryingly, a large proportion of tertiary students who head overseas have little intent to return to an island where political allegiances rather than merit condition their future and presumed affinities for opposition political parties can see them condemned in their recruitment and career opportunities. Meantime, with not much envisaged as urgent corrective measures, the scourge of drug consumption and particularly the nastier varieties, as pointed out in a recent editorial here, is associated with increasing horror stories up and down the countryside.

Have the social media revolution created novel environments where social engagement is about ‘likes’ and posts? Not quite if the immense Wakashio mobilisation for our environment against immobilism were to go by. However, some questions have been raised that the overriding quest for money-making by any means, with the intense wealth disparities that have occurred in the recent decades, may turn a generation away from humane values our parents espoused, the solidarities engineered partly by cyclones and floods, the objectives of all-rounded development of new generations. Matters may not have reached a turning point, but society should heed the trends, lest those indicate a slow drive to uncharted futures with unknown values.

* * *

Cooking Oil Relief

Among the many ruins and human casualties of eastern Ukraine as the war drags on with its concomitant risks for a worldwide recession, was a global food crisis with prices for cooking oils, grains, fuel, and fertilizer soaring. Russia and Ukraine accounted for nearly a third of global wheat supplies. Russia is also a fertilizer exporter and Ukraine was a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February choked supplies of grains and sunflower oil from the Black Sea, worsening existing shortages caused by extreme weather in some countries and supply chain chaos.

Since the invasion Ukrainian grain shipments from its Black Sea ports have stalled and more than 20 million tons of grain are stuck in silos, while Moscow says the damping effect of Western sanctions imposed on Russia has hurt its fertilizer and grain exports. Speculation from investors on higher future prices added more pressures on the market for cooking oil, wheat, corn, and related agri-food items. This sparked fears of a global food crisis, which would hit poorer nations across Africa and Asia especially hard.

World prices are now easing back, it seems, to levels before the invasion. It will be a major relief around the globe that palm oil prices tumbled by as much as 40% over the past two weeks, as top producer Indonesia ramps up exports after lifting its ban. Stocks and inventories have also risen in Malaysia and production enters the seasonal high cycle. While palm oil is rather a “hard oil” not much used for cooking, that marker heralded a similar trend in a variety of cooking oils, namely US corn and soya or even groundnut.

Although there may still be many issues to resolve (crude oil shipments from Black Sea ports to refineries, Turkish blockades or the humanitarian corridor and/or comfort letters proposed to shipping and insurance companies by the US) and some volatility may still be expected, our own STC-imported oil should benefit from latest price easing in world markets and in quick succession, from Asian refineries. With the added benefit of some temporary subsidies from government coffers, the retail price should be far more affordable, possibly in the Rs 60-65 range, we would venture, within weeks.

In addition, at current prices, Health and Consumer Protection departments may have considered the risks of some roadside fritter-friers to undesirably overextend their cooking oil usage life. We trust both the STC and Finance have the wherewithal to activate matters for a rapid relief to badly battered consumers.

* * *

The SAFE Security Survey Saga

In a reply in this Tuesday’s Parliamentary sitting, providing more details about the sniffing allegations of Sherry Singh, the PM stated that two letters had been despatched (presumably by PMO) during the second half of 2021 about a “security survey” requested by “the Security Division” at his office and that these were replied to by the former CEO on 24th December 2021. It may be apposite to note that copies of these correspondences were not tabled by the PM at the National Assembly.

Either the MT reply was judged unsatisfactory by the “Security Division” or other issues cropped up since, as the PM continued his narrative: “On 12 April 2022, the CEO of Mauritius Telecom was informed that a three-member technical team from India would field a survey mission to Baie Jacotet, Bel Ombre between 13 and 15 April 2022 and he was requested to extend all necessary assistance to the team during the survey visit.” According to that latest version from the PM, as access to the restricted site Baie Jacotet was not forthcoming, he phoned Sherry Singh personally on the 15th to have that access for a survey conducted in the presence of the Chief Technical Officer of MT.

He pursued that the ex-CEO allegations were sufficiently grave that despite waiting ten days or so, “I have accordingly given a statement to the Police on 11 July 2022. I have requested the Police to initiate an enquiry into the matter forthwith.” The population still had to hear the ex-CEO side of the story with any public evidence that might substantiate his earlier claims regarding the PM’s request that “sniffing” equipment be allowed to be installed by a foreign third-party at the MT SAFE landing site of Baie Jacotet. It is fair to say that the grave allegations and the public rift between two former comrades and close partners in the highest spheres of the Sun Trust inner circles, have gripped the population waiting for clear answers from either or both protagonists.

The Sherry Singh version came the same afternoon on a scheduled talk show on a private radio and web station (Radio One) which dovetailed with the PM’s version on dates but differed on the real intent of the “security survey” called for verbally and pressed for personally by the PM as from mid-April 2022. What the former CEO highlighted was the fact that SAFE was the property of an international consortium, whose technical management was assigned not to MT but Telkom (SA) and any intervention, even worse in the case of verbal instructions, would have been illegal unless proper notice had been given to SAFE authorities and Telkom (SA) as per our contractual obligations.

His second thrust was the alleged admission by the foreign team leader that the “survey” was a dimensioning prerequisite to the future installation of an internet traffic capture device. That would be tantamount to doing the essential groundwork prior to another illegal operation, internet, mail and social media “sniffing” with potentially damaging international repercussions for the country, he said. Despite the gravity of the Sherry Singh statements and his assurance of having enough material evidence, as the PM has registered a police case, there was no way Sherry Singh’s legal advisors would not have cautioned him against public delivery of those materials and evidences that should be presented elsewhere. The SAFE saga with its immense implications both personally for the protagonists has gripped the nation’s interest, but there is a feeling that it has yet to unfold fully and more legal and political implications and consequences may be expected over the near future.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 15 July 2022

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