In the next few days we will be completing the end of the 2010 decade, which has been marked by many an upheaval both locally and abroad. It began in the midst of a global financial crisis and subsequent international recession dating from the late 2000s. The impact has been such that to date the global economy is still not out of the woods. Inevitably, the Mauritian economy has not been spared either – besides its manufacturing sector experiencing a period of decline and facing new challenges, on other fronts too problems continue to plague the country, not least amongst which are escalating public debt, the financing of electoral promises, the social havoc being caused by what has been called the drug epidemic, the uncertainties about the transport situation, etc.
It has also been a decade of significant political upheavals that began with the break-up of the Labour Party-MSM alliance in July 2011. It has resulted in an increasing polarisation of local politics through to November 2019. In between, there has been the rejection by the electorate of the LP-MMM 2014 alliance and the election of the Alliance Lepep. Very soon, the latter began to be marred by a series of scandals during the first years of its mandate. There followed the nomination of Pravind Jugnauth as Prime Minister in replacement of the elder leader of the MSM, and the re-election of an MSM-led alliance last month, with the two major parties which have dominated Mauritian politics for decades left in a quandary about their future.
Although the challenges facing Mauritius presently and in the years ahead are daunting, most economists would argue that the country has the potential not only to overcome them but to do even better if the appropriate conditions are set in place by the government. It may be too early in the day to pass judgement on the intentions of the PJ-led government about changing course and reversing the trend that has marred the proper running of the country’s institutions, so that confidence can be restored in the country at all levels.
If the recent appointments in different institutions recently are any indication, it does not look very encouraging or promising. We seem to see the same pattern follow on, despite the electoral promises from one election to another for remedial changes and doing things differently. The renewed pledges for transparency, meritocracy and competence soon give way to the old habits of appointing relatives, political sponsors and agents and so on. Here, as our interviewee Dharam Gokhool points out, ‘the new Government had the opportunity to opt for more diversity, competence and inclusion. Instead, the composition of the Government follows the old, classical pattern – our people first’. Raising of voices through the media and other forums soon seem to peter out as the government forges on regardless.
Furthermore, it is not as if under-performing countries do not have a plethora of similar institutions that we see in the well-reputed jurisdictions. They have them all, but those institutions fail to live up to their mission either because political powers have scorched them or because their top brass do not possess the moral fibre needed to execute their functions to the highest ethical standards and norms and to deliver in the larger national interest. Having or not having efficiently functioning institutions can make the difference between a country which achieves and one which does not.
It cannot be said of Mauritius that we have been benefiting from this kind of drive and commitment to the national weal and efficiency from all our institutions, akin to what is obtained in countries such as Singapore, the robustness of whose institutions have enabled them to make steady progress as they planned ahead with remarkable foresight in the march towards the 21st century. Regardless of whether their institutions belong to the public or private domain, they have consistently aimed to do their very best in the course of fulfilling their respective mandates. This is what has contributed to place the country among the top rankers of the world according to several indices of good performance. And this good performance has collectively uplifted Singapore, which successive governments here have aspired to emulate – but we are very, very far behind indeed!
This is not to say that progress has been made in the country. Overall, our public infrastructures are quite good, despite shortcomings in certain sectors. Nonetheless, economic and institutional transformation has not taken place to keep us going faster and more effectively ahead in keeping with the demands of the time. The economic model needed to be revisited in the light of international developments. It is likely that we’ll pay a price for not having done enough to overhaul and adapt it to emerging new circumstances.
While it is true that transformation of this sort will take time to be in place, with determined political will 2020 could be made to be the start of this transformative process if we want to insulate ourselves from the negative consequences of an international situation which keeps throwing up all kinds of challenges. For once, during the political campaigning there was no talk of le vrai changement, a tired cliché. In fact, the people do not expect any government to change their lives. Instead, the role of government is to bring about the conducive conditions and provide the opportunities that people can avail of to ameliorate their standard of living. This is also where civil society and a proactive media can contribute to raising awareness about the lacunae and provide a forum to bounce ideas in a spirit of constructive criticism.
The hope for 2020 is that the new dispensation pays more attention to such inputs. Coming as they do from those engaged at the grassroots, they could be the trigger for the desired transformation of the country. Herein lies an opportunity which must be seized by the powers that be.
* Published in print edition on 27 December 2019