The Belle-Rose/Quatre-Bornes by-election is over and what l kept hearing from people is that the tide has begun to turn. This brought me to reflect on the following. In fact, what is needed is not a turning political tide but a rising political tide that will lift all the boats. It is about turning the existence of some of our people into livelihood and happiness.

Sunil Dowarkasing

This article is about the  “Inequality in our society” and the need to address it. There has been continuous equality struggle for civil rights, disability rights, women’s right and gay rights but here it is about greater economic equality. Greater equality does not mean that all the people should be living in the same type of houses or doing the same jobs so on so forth, but moving towards more respect and get rewarded for the work they do.

Equality also means being afforded the same rights, dignity and respect as other people including the rights to access resources on an equal footing with others. People differ greatly from one another and in what they enjoy most and what they are best at, but there is also the fact that some are born with odds stacked against them from day one, while others are born with more cultural and financial capital. So the segmentation goes from the extreme poor, the poor, the lower middle class, the upper middle class, the new rich, the extreme rich to the “more equal than others”- the elite. This issue is complex and complicated to address but it leaves us with no choice than the need to bridge the gaps and beat inequalities. Inequalities prevail in many countries and are not unique to Mauritius. Globally 1% of the world richest owns more wealth than the rest of the 95% put together (2015 statistics) and what makes it a huge challenge in Mauritius is firstly the huge disparity in wealth distribution where 2% of the population still controls the economy and secondly we are a  “welfare state”. (The welfare state is a concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the social and economic well being of its citizens- Wikipedia).

Thirdly the Gini-coefficient is on rise (35.65 in 2006 and 35.825 in 2012- assessed in 2017- WB) means that something is or many things are not working the way it should be in the welfare state. Are we a failed welfare state? – Would be an appropriate guiding question to the inequality challenge. Images of women cleaners on hunger strike to get a so-called decent salary speak volumes! It crosses someone imaginary capabilities to think that in a welfare state workers have to go to that level for obtaining justice. This is a pure case of economic hardship and the sad story is that the degree of inequality in a country is largely determined by cases of economic hardship. This brings me to the other related burning issue, which is maybe the root cause of our “failed system” – our FREE education system. Five decades of independence has given us an unstable education system where still more than 30% leave the primary cycle uneducated. Each minister from respective governments comes with his personal magic formula for Education but none has been able to address this high rate of failure.  A huge dark spot that no government has succeeded to address. “Is it deliberate? And a requirement for the cheap labour that serves the neoliberal system”- I keep asking myself.  I have never read anywhere in the world (unless I missed something) where a free education system has so many setbacks + our governments keep changing our education systems so often and leaving our children confused, disturbed and unstable. A murderous education system if I may call it – leaving 30% behind to fall in the inequality trap and the rest in a rat race confused, disturbed and unstable.

I want to be propositional here. The big picture and the long term Educational planning – The country needs to hire a futurologist who will need to work closely with the academics and all other stakeholders to produce a vision paper on education system for the next five decades – this vision paper needs to address the existing issues and craft an education system that will help shape the future of Mauritius, then get it communicated, debated and agreed with all stakeholders including political parties and if needed for sustainability get embedded in the constitution. I had to sidetrack on the education system, as it is the hatched mechanism of inequality in our country. I cannot close this debate to jump into the next one without mentioning the Ministry for social integration – Powerful label with missed opportunities and firing most of the time off the target. Its role has to be reviewed completely with a clear mandate to bridge the inequality in a sustainable way in the next ten years and then be dismantled or merge with the social security portfolio. I cannot complete this article without this famous slogan “ Bizin partaz gato nasional”. We have heard it so many times from some local politicians. Politicians love talking about it and couple it with the need for economic growth. The alternative of suggesting that eventually more and more economic growth will eradicate economic inequality is a mirage. Our political system under the huge influence of the big corporates makes it “a wishy-washy concept ”. It ends up as being a hypocritical abstraction. Neoliberalism justifies and rationalizes inequality, meaning that a complete debunking of the actual economic system and creating a new one is much felt to beat the inequality. (another huge debate)

Gaining greater equality has a set of particular effects on a society. The “equality effect” can be magical, making people generally happier (Mauritius is declining in the happiness index) and healthier; there is less crime, more creativity, and more productivity. People are less stupid, more tolerant, less fearful and more satisfied. Equality effect is the rising tide needed after 50 years of independence to face the next 50 years in harmony.