Blog: Dawn 2011
At dawn 2011, the tradition has been maintained. After enjoying an extra holiday on the 3rd January, the public sector started working slowly on the 4th. The private sector is still on holiday. The streets of Port Louis are deserted. Hardly any trading is taking place. In fact, Mauritius has slowed down since the 20th of December when most employees received their end of year salary bonus.
These days, parents are busy preparing their children to resume studies at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. They are surprised to see that the prices of books and other school materials have soared.
Yet, education being a priority, they are all trying to give their best to their children. In addition, they are horrified at the unending conflict between the Teachers Union and the Ministry of Education. The latter wants to extend the enhancement programme to Standard three based on what they say is the success of the programme.
The Teachers Union is opposed to this arguing that it is being implemented without consultation and has qualified it as a failure. Such conflicts are unnecessary, avoidable and do not augur well to the interests of the children. I do not understand how the enhancement programme can be enforced without the cooperation of the teachers. Dialogue is always a better option than confrontation.
What worries me more is the tertiary sector. Government has a vision to provide for infrastructure to get one graduate per family and hundred thousands of foreign students by 2020. Four university campuses are planned to be set up in the four parts of the island which will comprise of a science and technology parks for science and research. The sites identified are situated at Beau Plan, Rose Belle, Montagne Blanche and Highlands with lodging quarters for foreign students. A total of 5 billion rupees are expected to be invested. Great vision and lofty ambition. Idealistic? Feasible?
I am afraid that we are heading towards failure. Who will pay for the running cost of these multiple institutions? We have just seen riots in the streets of London just after the government decision to increase university fees. Our existing universities, University of Mauritius and University of Technology, are both suffering from the lack of funds. Seven months have elapsed. Nothing on the horizon. The few daring persons who have come up with new projects are facing tremendous difficulties on account of our bureaucratic system.
In the early dawn after the independence of India Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister told at a gathering at Allahabad University in 1947: “A University stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for progress, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of the truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards even higher objectives. If the universities discharge their duty adequately, then it is well with the nation and the people.”
Dr Manmohan Singh, in his address in the Indian Science Congress in Chennai on January 3rd, said that Jawaharlal Nehru was thoughtful and precise when he drew a link between humanism, tolerance, reason and progress. The practice of science is based on both the search for truth and the adventure of new ideas. He asked the Indian universities to be more hospitable to creativity and genius and be less captive to bureaucracy and procedure.
In Mauritius, we should ask ourselves whether we are not captive to bureaucracy and procedures. Are we open to talents and to the challenges of new ideas? The dream of the government, particularly, the Prime Minister to develop the tertiary sector can be achieved only if there is a complete change in our mindset and approach and especially, if we welcome the few daring entrepreneurs in the sector. I have a feeling that the present structure is totally inadequate to undertake this venture.
Kapil Sibal, the HRD, Science and Technology Minister of India, addressing the same congress has announced that India will soon have ‘Navratna’ universities on the lines of the eight Ivy League institutions, that is, Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University.
He also said that these universities will get generous financial support, freedom in accessing external and total autonomy so as to free them from the shackles of government control. Unfortunately, I do not see either university being less captive from bureaucracy and procedures or free from the shackles of government. In Mauritius we can nurture and make University of Mauritius and University of Technology, Navratnas of Mauritius and the region.
As a matter of fact, we are also trying to cope with rising prices. In the early eighties, Michael Holman, a journalist from Financial Times, warned that the single problem which Mauritius will face will be inflation. How true! The FAO has announced that food prices had risen to an unprecedented level in December. With the floods in Pakistan and Australia, our food supply will certainly be affected. We are already contributing more than a billion rupees as food subsidy. The Bank of Mauritius had sold foreign exchange directly to STC to allow it to import goods at affordable prices.
Such measures will only help to tame inflation. We do not realize that the subsidy on food goes to foreign farmers. Is it not time to devote some subsidy to our local farmers? This year, in spite of the drought, our local markets were full of fresh vegetables, litchis, mangoes and pine apples. This implies that with proper strategic planning and some government support, we can at least produce a reasonable amount of food in Mauritius. Should we not give a second thought to our food habits and consume what we can cultivate locally. I hesitate to mention manioc, patate, maize, breadfruit.
In the eighties, the MMM had given a bad name to these products through its mismanagement. I am aware of the fact that there cannot be any substitute for rice and flour. However, with the soaring food prices and scarcity of food supply, we should think of the worst and be prepared for the forthcoming challenges.
The good news has been that our Prime Minister has been awarded the title of Best Leader in the African countries. At the dawn of 2011, my wish is that we all do our best, for ourselves, our children and our country.