The President of the Student Union was interviewed on the 27th of September 2010 at the University of Mauritius. He explains the ins and outs of the Student Union’s office and talks about his ‘bilan’.
– Pravesh Ramful, President of the Student Union (SU) of University of Mauritius (UOM), briefly introduce yourself.
I am the President of the Students Union since 2009 and my days in office are nearly over. 1881 students voted for me in the last student union’s election.
I am a student of BSc Economics with accounting, final year. I had a resit last year, so I have extended my studies by one additional year to complete the remaining module and I will graduate in 2011.
Ever since my college days at Emmanuel Anquetil SSS and Sookdeo Bissoondoyal SSS, I have always been involved in student movements, societies and extra curricular activities. After a brief stay at DCDM Business School (now Charles Telfair Institute), I joined UOM.
– When you acceded to the post of the President last year, what targets did you set and how far have you been able to achieve them?
My aim in the beginning was to cater for all needs: academic, sport, cultural and entertainment. So that when I look back, I can say that my office has atleast tackled most issues.
Th first point that I stressed during the SU election campaign was the abolition of the penalty fee. Students have to pay a penalty fee of Rs 20 000 when they repeat one year at UOM, in addition to the normal fees which may amount to Rs 15 000. Many students cannot afford paying an annual fee of more than Rs 35 000, so they drop out of UOM. Thanks to us, there are no penalty fees now.
Promoting sports activities on the campus was another aim. Many groups were created at various levels to increase students’ involvement in sports activities. We also successfully sent a delegation to Reunion Island to represent our university during an exchange programme.
We have also successfully introduced lockers in the Engineering Tower, at the Faculty of Agriculture and on the farm. Sitting accommodation has increased considerably as well as the number of trash bins on the campus. The project of building the path that leads to the Faculty of Engineering is ours. We got the approval for the restructuring of the Common Room. It is being repainted with the help of MGI students.
– What was on your electoral manifesto but you have not been able to achieve?
We promised to aggrandise the cafetaria of the university but we could not as it was a big issue.
– At what costs have you been able to complete those projects? Are you going to publish the accounts of the SU? Students have had enough of the false promises of transparency of the previous members of the SU.
If you ask me what are expenses of the SU, I can tell you. But the accounts of the SU are not kept by our office.
– There must be a treasurer I suppose?
Yes, we do but we have absolutely no access to the records.
– What does the treasurer do then?
The treasurer is here only to see how the allocated funds are spent on earmarked projects. Students wrongly believe that money is kept at the SU office.
– But you must atleast have some records of how the money is being spent?
No, we don’t. Because it is the University Administration which decides on the expenses on the SU.
– Which means that the SU of the UOM has no expenses ledger?
– But don’t you think, for the sake of minimum transparency, that you should have kept ledgers showing how money is being spent?
This happens because we do not know the exact costs of the projects.
Yes, an example would be the end of year party. The costs of such an event includes staff overtime, bus expenses, Police overtime… etc
So how can we keep records when it is the University Administration which pays for those costs.
As far as you know, what is the cost of the Fresher’s Party organised today (27/09/10)?
The artist ( including the dancers and musicians) charged us Rs 20 000. The sound system (including speakers, mikes… etc) costs around Rs 20 000. The total cost is circa Rs 40 000.
– Rs 40 000 for a party?
– Students contribute Rs 200 every year to the SU and they say that they don’t know how their money is spent. So what is really happening to their money?
I have answered questions pertaining to the expenses of the SU. Infact I will publish my bilan after the elections.. I don’t want to do it now because this will create uproar in the ongoing campaign.
– So you are not going to publish the expenses book of the SU?
I never said I will not publish it. I will do it after getting the approval of the University Administration as they keep all details.
– Is it not all too easy to shift blame on the University Administration by saying that you are not getting the permission to do so?
No, you misunderstood my point. I can publish the accounts as there was no wrongdoing at all. As the President of the SU, I can promise that. But, as I said, if we say how and where money was spent, this will create uproar as we are in an electoral campaign.
– But I don’t see your point. If you have nothing to hide, why don’t you make the books public? Are you afraid of criticism?
No, am not. I only dislike criticism which are “malsaines”. I can publish it after SU elections, subject to University Administration’s permission.
– Therefore we can safely say that all candidates who promise that they will publish how the SU ‘s money is spent are liars and bluffers. Because this is simply out of their control. They only use it as a bait to get votes, right?
A candidate standing for election can promise to paint the sky green. But it comes to the intelligence of the voters to distinguish between what can be achieved and the lies.
I never promised to publish the expenses ledger prior to my election as President.
– But you will agree that the candidates lie when they say that they will publish the expenses.
Yes, because nothing can be done without the permission of the University Administration.
– Coming to the office of the President of the SU, there is a perception that the SU is a joke and that it is not taken seriously. One fact that proves this is the low number of voters at the SU elections: 3000 over a total of more than 10 000 students.
What explains this perception? Are the persons who are elected liars and cheats who take undue advantage of their positions? How far this is true?
I believe that everyone has his/her own perceptions. For me, the post of President is a commitment. And I shoulder the responsibilities just like I shoulder the responsibilities of my studies. If we compare our SU with the SU of other countries, there are huge differences. Examples are as follows: members of SU get one year off when they are elected as union members; they get certificates for their work in their unions; they get allowances or salaries.
My job as the President of SU is purely voluntary.
– Do you mean that you get no salary, no pay or no allowance at all?
Yes. Till date I have heard that there is an allowance payable when you attend a committee as the a member of the SU. I was in more than 10-15 committees but never received any allowance.
– So what is the point of spending money and fighting elections to come to a post which is not remunerated?
Personally I have always liked the post but not the title. Being the President gave me the opprotunity to meet so many persons including the following ministers: Anil Baichoo, Xavier Duval and Rajesh Jeetah. Rubbing shoulders with personalities gives you another perspective and helps you gather knowledge.
– Coming back to my initial question, is the SU regularly consulted before decisions that regards students are taken? Is the SU active on that front or is it only a scarecrow?
It does not depend on the SU. It depends on the person who runs the office that is the President. If the President wants to be a puppet, he/she will be a puppet.
In my case, if I learn that an adverse decision regarding students is taken, I ll make myself heard. An example here will be the penalty fees which do not exist now. But I must say that many decisions are taken without even consulting the SU office. We are only notified of decisions taken.
– While going through what you have done as President of the SU, many persons have noted that you have favoured the organisation of parties and dances. But what about the academic side? How often were debates or talks organised for example?
The SU has organised job fairs. This week there is the Fresher’s Week. We started with a show and during the week there will be a sports gala, club fairs, job fairs, ancient games… etc. So we are always trying to strike the right balance between studies and entertainment. If you compare this SU with the previous ones, you will see that the lowest number of dance parties have been organised when I am in office. My first and last dance party was the one I organised when became I became President. There have been no other dance parties in the cafetaria since then.
– Fair enough. But tell us some concrete examples where debates, talks or workshops around serious issues were organised by your office.
Yes we have. For example we distributed the Constitution amongst students on campus. There were career fairs where students met prospective students.
– I agree but you are not answering my question.
We organised workshops where Mr Satish Boolell and the Attorney General participated. We have done around 15-20 talks which was done with the help of the societies affiliated with the SU office.
– What is the role of the President of the SU? What responsibilities does he shoulder?
Many candidates who stand for elections exaggerate over what he/she is going to do once in office. Unfortunately when they come into office, they face the reality.
I remember coming to UOM one day to attend classes after I was elected. I briefly went to the office and then headed to my class. On the way, a girl in tears came to me. In the absence of an expert in that field at UOM, I had to attend to that girl and try to find a solution to her problems. I cannot turn my back to anyone who comes to me. This is one example of my responsibilities.
Mudslinging is the easiest of all tasks. There’s one new group of students on the campus which claims that the President of the SU has achieved nothing. Whereas I spent all my time finding solutions to students’ needs, forgetting my lunch and classes. It is something I do selflessly as I get nothing in return.
– Do you mean that you have done your job at the best of your capabilities and that you have a clean record?
– What’s the rapport between the Vice-Chancellor and you?
I must say that he is someone I meet very often to discuss issues pertaining to students. We share a very professional relationship which is also cordial.
– Can we therefore say that the SU and the University Administration are on the same wavelength?
I beg to differ. Lets not put it in those terms. It s more about something between two persons than something between two organisations. The persons on the University Administration are very professional and they require professionalism from the persons they deal with.
– You once wrote on your Facebook profile that you want to be the Prime Minister of Mauritius, right?
Yes. I wrote it before coming in office.
– Some students say that if the current President cannot handle the responsibility of approximately 10 000 students, how can he handle those of 1 300 000 souls? What s your answer to that?
It is a fact that you cannot satisfy each and everyone. And there will always be some people who will never see any good in what you do. I have never turn my back to my responsibilities and if tomorrow I have to talk to the Prime Minister about the welfare of students, I ll do it fearlessly.
– The Prime Minister recently said that classes will extend to 10 pm very soon at UOM. You agreed on certain conditions to that proposal. Where do we stand now?
My three conditions were as follows: increase lighting, increase transport facilities till 10 pm and put a police post at UOM. And till date none of these conditions have been satisfied and as it stands now, we are against this project.
– When interviewed, some former SU presidents said that the SU office is their first step in the political field. How far is it true in your case? Were you offered membership to the local political parties?
No, I prefer not answering this question because I think we are still too young to talk of politics.
– Recently you said that you are in favour of the introduction of sexual education. You were quoted saying that there is a pressing need for sexual education amongst youngsters. What explains your inclination for that project?
Mindful of the way our society is evolving, I think we need to bring down the walls surrounding sensitive issues like sex. Temptation rules in an uneducated mind and many persons do things without really understanding the implications and consequences of their acts. So education can surely fill that void.
– Rightly said. So I guess your office has a blueprint of how to educate students on sex issues? How far have you been able to implement the plan?
We have stressed much upon prevention of AIDS on the campus. We have worked in collaboration with the KISS society on some projects.
– Shifting to the national scene, recently the president of a sociocultural group torched a copy of a weekly. What do you have to say about that?
As the President of the Student Union I have nothing to say because it has nothing to do with the SU. But i personally think that there are more constructive ways of making one’s voice heard that to burn newspapers.
– What is your opinion on the following themes which were the talk of the town recently: the death penalty and abortion?
If death penalty can curb premeditated crimes, then maybe it is a positive thing. Infact death penalty can act as a deterrent. I have mixed feelings on the question of death penalty but i don’t think it is the ideal solution. It is one of the solutions but it is not the solution.
The first thing when attempting to debate the question of abortion is to leave one’s assumptions at the door step as it is a sensitive issue. Abortion can be useful in rape cases where victims have to bear the kids of the rapists. So I am for abortion but am not fully convinced about it s advantages.
– What is the issue about the newspaper Insight, Universities of Mauritius?
The newspaper Insight Universities of Mauritius is not affiliated to the SU. Recently articles were published about that the newspaper in the local press and I was asked to comment on it as the President of the SU.
Since the University Administration is dealing with it, I will make no comments about it for the time being.
– Recently emails were sent to UOM students about the newspaper in question. According to some sources, it is the President of the SU who orchestrated the mud-slinging to make sure that the newspaper does not back any candidates for the SU elections. How far this is true?
Personally I have nothing to do with the elections as I am the outgoing President.
– What about your group, the Student Power?
First of all I must say that it is wrong to say that i belong to the Student Power family. I was a candidate at the United Students when I stood for elections last year. Second, I have friends in both Student Power and Campus Movement. So I have nothing to do with the elections.
– So what do you have to say about the allegation that you are behind the mudslinging as it is believed that Insight is gaining popularity on the campus?
Let’s not talk about the popularity of Insight as it is subjective. I must point out that if I was against anyone on the campus, I would have prevented all groups or societies from doing whatsoever. Which is not the case.
For the time being I wish to not comment on the Insight matter anymore as it is being dealt with by the University Administration. Infact the email issue you pointed out is not really against Insight. It is more against Krishna Attal. I have nothing against the latter.
– Tell me about something which you accomplished on the campus and of which you are the most proud?
Some students of Management with IS were informed by UOM that their course is being terminated. They came to see me and I finally found a solution to their problem. They were enrolled in another degree and they are still at University. So I will be very proud to see those students with their degree in their hand tomorrow.
– To conclude, tell us what are your plans after university?
After the degree, I will look for a job first because I have a family to look after too. I will decide about further studies after securing a job.
( The article also appeared in the October 2010 issue of Insight.)