A “failed state” not yet but dangerously close

The greatest let-down by the present government up to now
has been its utter failure to live up to the mandate given to it…

for a radical overhaul of our governance structures… The depth
of disappointment has only been matched by the
height of expectations


“Guide the people by law, subdue them by punishment; they may shun crime, but will be void of shame. Guide them by example, subdue them by courtesy, they will learn shame, and come to be good.”
— Confucius


One should never waste the opportunities created by a good crisis, said Machiavelli in one of his treatises on the lessons of effective governance. In this same spirit it is perhaps appropriate that we should attempt to try and extract some good from the series of scandals which have shaken the country over the past more than two years by drawing appropriate lessons about the fundamental flaws which represent a real threat to our “democratic way of life.”

Needless to point out that whatever has been happening recently and over these past two years cannot be ascribed solely to the coming to power of this government unless one is completely blinded by a form of fundamentalist partisanship unbecoming of any serious observer. It is nonetheless probably true to argue that the greatest let-down by the present government up to now has been its utter failure to live up to the mandate given to it for a radical overhaul of our governance structures. This was in order to put a final stop to the putrefaction of our institutions which had already started to permeate the governance structures of this country earlier.

In this regard the depth of disappointment has only been matched by the height of expectations.

As we suggest in the title to this paper, it would perhaps be a bit of an exaggeration to state that Mauritius is now a “failed state” as has been intimated by some analysts. However it is our serious contention here that, in the absence of a serious change in the prevailing trajectory, it is to be feared that we would sooner rather than later be joining the infamous category.

The Wikipedia defines a failed state in the following terms: “a political body that has disintegrated to a point where basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government no longer function properly. Likewise when a nation weakens and its standard of living declines, it introduces the possibilities of total governmental collapse.”

Going by this simple definition, it should become clear why it is suggested here that we are coming dangerously close to being a “failed state”.

In an annual exercise, the respected and famous Foreign Policy magazine and Fund for Peace, an international non-governmental organization, track the countries which are on the edge of collapse. They have identified the following criteria, which by contrast, distinguish those countries which are on sound institutional footing:

‘They appoint independent judges, develop a competent Civil Service and implement effective anti-corruption campaigns.’

In the absence of any scientific and systematic research, one will have to rely on general perceptions and impressionistic data to decide whether, based on these three important criteria, Mauritius has witnessed substantial progress or continued deterioration of its institutional capacity.

Sadly, if we go by the few national surveys which have been published recently and the events which make the headlines almost daily, the only conclusion is that on all three counts the public perception is indiscriminately damning for our successive governments, say going back to the turn of this century. There is as yet no indication that our extant political leadership has the political will let alone the necessary competence, to take the bull by the horns when it comes to stopping this institutional rot that will fast “introduce the possibilities of total government collapse.”

As has been consistently argued in this column, no amount of half measures and “muddling through” will ever be enough to change the course of events away from a catastrophic future for our country. Already the most visible parts of the huge iceberg of social dysfunction are hitting the headlines of local and sometimes international news: breakdown of law and order, sordid crimes and increasing armed robberies, countless petty thefts, the proliferation and abuse of drugs among the youth, the appallingly high number of fatal road accidents are precursory signs of a worsening situation resulting from a fragilized state.

The persistent weakening of institutional barriers to abusive practices by those in power constitutes the single most important breakdown of our democratic system. It has induced a sense of ownership of the State and its bureaucracy to an extent that through systematic use of patronage and nepotism the political class has all but monopolized the executive apparatus to achieve private ends for their family and close circle of friends.

Such a state of affairs constitutes a denial of one of the basic principles of democracy, namely, that there is no place for such a thing as the “winner takes all” in such a system of governance. Shorn of its system of checks and balances which lies at the heart of its proper working, a democratic system becomes a mere formal apparatus for execution of the wishes of the governing class without any mechanism for proper accountability to the governed.

This is arguably the principal explanation for the electoral behaviour which consists of the voters choosing to get rid of the incumbent governments in a collective rage against the corruption and abuse of power of what has been dubbed as the “elected autocrats”, only to vote in a new set of people who in spite of their electoral promises to the contrary have no intention to carry out any fundamental change to a system so beneficial to the elected potentates.

While this vicious circle is played out over decades, the state apparatus and its institutions including the Civil Service, its executive arm, are inexorably weakened, resulting in a dearth of capacity to deliver even when the government identifies useful and beneficial projects for the country. The capital budgets for 2015-16 and 2016-17 have been underutilized by 50 and 30 per cent respectively while salaries and compensations and salaries for the “minions” who have been appointed presumably to implement the governmental projects have increased to scandalous heights. What could be a better (or is it worse?) Illustration of the fact that we are dangerously moving into the angst of soon-to-be a “failed state”.

Rajiv Servansingh

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