A Mandate For Change

People hope that 2018, the year of general election, will be the start of a new era of development and positive change — By Sada Reddi

Various interpretations abound on the landslide victory of Arvin Boolell and the Mauritius Labour Party in the by-election of Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes. The wide margin of the victory reflects a profound yearning for change in the country. Disappointed with a rudderless government that has brought endless turmoil in its wake, people hope that 2018, the year of general election, will be the start of a new era of development and positive change.

People hope that 2018 will reignite hope in the country and stop what looks like an inexorable economic decline. They will remind the political masters that a mandate is a tool for governing, not an asset to be hoarded for the next election. After the economic slowdown during the last three years, the public would like to see an economic growth rate of 5% in 2018, or at least the average 4.4% which they had experienced in 2008 and 2009 amidst the world economic crisis or even the 5.4% attained in 2007. Only a growth rate of this magnitude can improve the general standard of living in the country and create productive employment.

While agency and an external environment are crucial elements for our open ended economy, one cannot escape the fact that preparing our human resources both for the short- and the long-term will improve significantly the productivity of our enterprises. The last years have been lost opportunities, a failure to take measures to address problems confronting the labour force. Employers continue to lament the fact that they cannot expand their business for lack of skilled manpower. The tourism and the ICT sectors are in great need of a skilled labour force but face difficulties in recruitment. Not surprisingly growth of the tourism industry has declined while the ICT sector is still stagnating.

The need to create productive employment is only possible through training and skills development. It is useless to lament the skills mismatch which anyway confronts every country in the world. What is important is that the right measures are taken both in the short- and the long-term to address these issues. There have been timid measures in the past such as conversion courses at the tertiary level, job placement, changes in curriculum content or in career guidance. However, a host of issues remain to be addressed such as wage offers and unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of both employers and employees.

With a volatile economic growth and rapid technological change, employers and human resource managers find it difficult to plan their human resources needs. Even when priority areas for studies and training are identified by the authorities, the numbers required in each field are never worked out even approximately, and in a small economy, everybody rushes to get trained only to be faced with a glutted market.

Jobs and wages will remain high on the agenda for 2018 but living and working conditions are as important if we want to modernize Mauritius. Modernisation has so far been limited to mega-projects with well-known vulnerabilities and fragilities .The concerns of the ordinary citizens are very often ignored. New policies require that the demands and concerns of every citizen be taken on board.

One wonders why the problems of common citizens must be aired on radio programs to find solutions. The number of cases that one hears every day confronting the ordinary citizen who is deprived of water or faces power cuts, or the number of complaints on government websites underlines the inefficiencies in the Civil Service and in many parastatal bodies. Reforms in these sectors are long overdue.

Traffic noise and environmental pollution are important issues that need to be addressed for the health of both the public and workers. The authorities continue to approve morcellement permits without any provision for schools, shops and recreational facilities. Recently there has been the morcellement of hundreds, even thousands of plots including VRS in several parts of the country. Yet there has been no provision for space for even a government primary school except for sometimes a supermarket – as if we should all go to private schools and do our shopping in supermarkets. The morcellement regulations, land and country planning laws need to be updated to create a sustainable environment and meet emerging challenges.

In parallel, many of our institutions need to be revisited. Enforcement agencies at the level of local government are practically inexistent due to lack of resources, and people continue to ignore construction and environmental regulations resulting in the pollution of rivers and streams which feed into our reservoirs. Instead of new roads to accompany property development, the authorities allow subsidiary roads to be converted into main thoroughfares to the detriment of the public welfare and well-being.

Finally, the expectations of the people are many and the list is endless for 2018. A priority list must be drawn by the present or the future government, and should command attention in party programmes. One major issue that should not be ignored is the protection of our society from drugs and violence. The social environment has been deteriorating in the last few years. One hopes that the Lam Shang Leen report will make a major contribution in reducing the proliferation of drugs by recommending strong and actionable measures against drug barons and their acolytes – which the authorities must implement forthwith.

On the other hand we also need a proper investigation of drug addiction among our youth. So far it seems that strategies to combat drug addiction in educational institutions have failed, destroying lives of many young people and their families. The approach so far has been conservative and simplistic. We need experts in the field together with our social workers to make a detailed enquiry of the drug scene, and then prepare a proper educational programme for the young as part of practical and implementable strategies which take the young people on board and interact with them for solutions. This should be on an ongoing basis. It is not sufficient to get a few psychologist and educators to draft a program: well-meaning amateurism is no substitute for competence and expertise in this particularly complex area.

In January 2018, people will not wake up to a clean slate. Instead they will be hit by the reality of a past year where government is government and not the people. The time will then come when ‘democracy will sit up and look around’. People will no longer tolerate the divisive policies of ‘us and them’. There will be only ‘us’ just like in the last by-election.

One reading of the result of that election is that the people will be crying for change in 2018. They have very high aspirations and expectations: a government must deliver and party programmes must address their concerns and worries. Fundamentally, they want government to restore the trade-off which has informed our economic and social development. It is for the present government or a new government to respond to these challenges from 2018 onwards.

 

*  Published in print edition on 29 December 2017

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