2019: High Expectations and Challenges

In all sectors there are projects to be completed, plans to be finalized, tasks to be accomplished. The people are impatient to see effective solutions rather than piecemeal measures that can only palliate and not resolve on a long term basis

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

As the festive season comes to a close and the New Year rolls in, the serious things begin to take shape – shake up the hang-overs and back to work, back to school for students or freshers starting it, and settle into the daily routine as the threads of these two defining poles around which our lives are centred are picked up anew. At individual level some will make resolutions after introspecting and looking ahead, and vow to keep them especially if the previous year’s list hasn’t been exhausted – as is often, alas! the case for most of us who take personal pledges.

At national level too things are, we presume, under way and going in the right direction – especially important for the government as in principle this is the last year of its 5-year mandate and it has to fulfill its electoral commitments to the people and the country. The expectations on the part of the latter are therefore at the highest and the challenges pressing for the authorities as the clock is already winding down and time, as is said, flies.

In all sectors there are projects to be completed, plans to be finalized, tasks to be accomplished, and so on. However, there are a few priorities of national concern as they relate to issues that have drawn much attention, criticism, and also hope that they will find satisfactory resolution without any further delay.

Top of the list is no doubt the metro project, a flagship one as announced by the government itself early on in its mandate and on the completion and operationalisation of which it has pinned its greatest hope for getting re-elected. There has been enough ventilated about the inconveniences that have been caused as the works got under way, and also the estimated environmental impacts. These bad memories will only be erased when the metro line begins to run smoothly and efficiently, is comfortable as a mode of travel, and is affordable to a large section of the commuters – criteria that might encourage car users in particular to make the shift to the metro. If anything, that will be the critical transformation in the transport sector in which the project is embedded, and whose woes it aims to make a thing of the past.

By the same token therefore, the people are impatient to see effective solutions being devised and implemented for the many ongoing problems affecting that sector, notably road congestion – about which we wrote last week under the title ‘L’Enfer routier’ – as part of a national strategy plan rather than as piecemeal measures that can only palliate and not resolve on a long term basis.

Certainly one major aspect that the government absolutely must tackle once for all is the Verdun road segment that had caved in and that was identified in the very first year of its coming into power. It made much of the defect with great publicity, promising to rectify and repair, and restore the serviceability of that route. This promise, as we all know, is yet to be fulfilled. And if it is not come election time, it will be comparable to a low-hanging fruit which will provide a golden, and justifiable opportunity for the opponents to leverage and pillory the incumbents.

After all, it will not be difficult for the opposition to argue in the people’s court that look, out of the nearly 100 km of new roads that we had built across the island and that have helped to ease traffic and access, these guys have not been able to put right less than half a kilometre of road! That will be a sure killer. If this issue is not dealt with urgently and that part of the road to the north made good, well, the people will definitely take note and act upon.

Another matter that has given rise to much distress among parents is in the education field, the alluring aspects of the Nine Year Schooling (NYS) having all but been negated by the adverse fallouts that have accompanied the application of the scheme. Many teething problems have been faced in practice, especially securing seats for those students who completed the PSAC, both parents and pupils feeling victimized by a system which has thrown meritocracy out, and which has deepened the divide between the public school system and the private one, with the Catholic confessional schools opting and being allowed to operate out of the NYS framework.

This paper has carried several articles, notably under the pen of Soomant Callikan, that have exposed with clarity the injustices and the dysfunctions inherent in the NYS, not least the addition of an additional competitive step in the process that puts more burden on the parents and their wards. NYS was supposed to ease the pressure of private tuition, but it seems it has done the exact reverse. The mess must therefore be sorted out, and there is certainly no harm in re-evaluating and bringing a course correction before it is too late. The parents with school and college going children represent a sizeable constituency, and they will have their say.

A wise advice is captured in the saying ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ – and one that must perhaps be given due consideration. As is the case with electoral reform, where in trying to introduce a dose of proportional representation the existing system with its Best Loser system has not been bettered. Worse, it has given rise to a return to a kind of language that belonged to a bygone era, and that too on the part of younger politicians who are highly educated and who we had hoped would lead us out of the communal and ethnic quagmire – that murky pool is resorted to only for the purpose of securing electoral votes and gaining power for personal advantage, not to lift those who find themselves in it.

We therefore concur with the voices that have not supported the calls for an ‘ethnic’ census, our ethnicities being not only so diverse but so mixed up that such an exercise would be practically impossible to carry out. Better to concentrate on issues that are common to all citizens, ‘community’ issues as it were, around which everyone can rally. Thankfully this seems to have been the official approach so far, and so much the better. The ‘ethnic’ device makes the tragic presumption that only one’s own kind can represent and fight for one’s interest, making a gimmick of representative democracy.

After the initial birthing troubles that we faced at the time of Independence and that persisted for a while afterwards, all right-thinking citizens along with the leaders had looked beyond to a future where narrow categorizations would give way to a broader concept of the individual as a citizen deserving of equal rights and opportunities. By the by in practice the country has mainstreamed into this paradigm. Overall with the different institutional structures put up, including the Equal Opportunities Commission, along with the evolution of mindsets and a more empathetic sense of national solidarity, we can say that we have been able to maintain a degree of fairness and stability which many other countries not only around the world but even in the region are still struggling to achieve.

This is seen in what I like to call our ‘ambient Mauritianism’ as we interact and transact on a daily basis with our fellow citizens seamlessly without any malicious or ‘colourable’ considerations, whether professionally, socially and increasingly even culturally, as well as in a multitude of settings such as the marketplace. It is an acquis we have painfully nurtured and which is in a way our brand. We should do our utmost to preserve and to strengthen it for our future generations. As we will soon complete the first quarter of the 21st century, to my mind this is the most precious legacy we can leave for them.

We cannot cover too many items and do not want to spoil the mood, but we cannot leave out the promise of 24/7 water for all, and the continued blocking of drains that spell havoc during heavy rainfall – and contributing to which are irresponsible citizens who should be held to account.

My very best wishes for Happy New Year 2019 and for the many years in store for all of us. May they continue to beautiful, peaceful, free of suffering and sorrow, as expressed so beautifully in this universal mantra, one of several with which we usually conclude Hindu prayers (in Sanskrit):

Om Sarve bhavantu sukhina
May all be prosperous and happy

Sarve santu nirāmayā
May all be free from illness

Sarve bhadrāi paśyantu
May all attain spiritual enlightenment

Mā kashchit dukha bhāgbhavet
May no one suffer

O Shānti, Shānti, Shānti
Om peace, peace, peace

It is our collective responsibility to ensure that.

* Published in print edition on 28 December 2018

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