Blog: Learn to do
This is one of the four pillars of education for this century. It is Dr. Karan Singh, chairman of ICCR and member of the executive board of UNESCO who said so during his recent visit to Mauritius. The other three pillars are: learn to know, learn to save the planet, and learn to live together.
Is it not time for us to stop and think why it is so? One of the main hurdles is our government procurement procedures. It seems we have taken a sadistic pleasure in over burdening and over regulating these procedures. We are in a situation when there is not qualified staff to master these procedures. The process is so cumbersome that prescribe time gets elapsed, decisions not taken in time for minor reasons, nobody willing to assume responsibility.
Of course there should be procedures and transparency for tendering process, bid evaluation, tender evaluation, and examination by a finance committee and final decision by a board. This is normal in the eyes of the public. Do we know the number of projects which are stalled or rejected for minor details at the expense of the public good? What we really need is not only procedures but men of integrity with a passion to get things done within time and budget, and not those who play safe by getting things not done on the excuse of procedures.
There are men of high caliber, experience, capacity to do things with integrity. But individually, they feel that they should meet in a committee to decide. In a committee they meet to decide that it cannot be done. This is the trap many find themselves in. Such hurdles must be done away with immediate effect. Implementation and getting things done should be the order of the day.
The other day, I was going through a drip irrigation area in the north. It was sad to find fields of good drip irrigation lands abandoned. Lands belonging to the small farmers. In the budget, there are very timid technical measures to address the issue of abandoned lands. These lands used to be full of cane cultivation and vegetables and fruits growing. An estimated 15,000 acres of such land are abandoned.
I believe it is a crime not to address this issue seriously. We have billions of rupees unspent in the food security fund. There are qualified and experience technicians in the extension service of AREU, we import billions rupees of agricultural, meat and milk products. Rice and flour import is heavily subsidized, thus subsidizing foreign farmers. Is there any justification in letting arable lands idle?
I was very delighted to learn from the Minister of Agriculture, Satish Faugoo, that Mauritius has reached 90% self sufficiency in potato production. An excellent achievement. It has taken us 45 years to do so. The agricultural marketing board should be congratulated for implementing successfully government policy dealing with potato production.
With only 10% down payment, the farmer gets potato seeds. AMB guarantees the market at a fixed remunerative price for the produce. Of course the farmer puts in hard labour and takes the risk of pests, climate and theft. The result is there to be seen in all our markets. Another excellent initiative is the government decision to have selected breadfruit farms. But I am told there has not enough saplings available and the price of the sapling is prohibitive.
Israel and India can teach us a thing or two from their successful schemes of food, meat and milk production. I remember in the old days, when Babu Jagjivan Ram was Minister of Agriculture of India. Sir Satcam Boolell asked him the secret of India’s green and white revolution. The answer was “feed the farmer”. A hungry farmer cannot be expected to feed the nation.
In Mauritius, the farmers are overburdened with debt. They are in a worst situation than the fishermen who get bad weather allowance. The farmer is left on his own. When his crops are lost, he is left with the debt. No financial assistance is given to him. Only more schemes to give him more debt. The situation is unbearable today. He is in danger of losing the small plots of land which he has inherited from is forefathers.
The small entrepreneurs are in no better situation. It is said the 90% of the small projects are doomed for failure on account of lack of finance, knowhow and experience. They will end up in a similar situation as a small farmer - with debts. They are burdened with compliance procedures and excess charges by the banks. It is gratifying that the finance bill has made provisions for the Bank of Mauritius to have a look at the excess charges of the banks. Since his appointment, the governor of BOM, Mr. Bheenick, has been denouncing the banks for the excess profits, some 65 million rupees daily.
Is it not an irony that those who have spelled out the failed incentive measures for small planters and small entrepreneurs will get fat salary increase for having done their failed jobs in the PRB? They come from schools which have not delivered on the promises and expectations of the people.
They must learn from pioneers who transformed this country, gave us independence, tourist and textile industries, the financial and ICT sectors in spite of opposition from vested interests. Today’s situation demands that we should learn to do and get things done.