By TP Saran
Election on Thursday, final election tally released in the early hours of Saturday because of delay due to recounting, etc., the list of ministers worked out over the weekend, the swearing-in of the new team on Tuesday, with the parallel announcement of the Opposition Leader, Chief Whip of the Opposition and Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee – if this is any indication of the alacrity that will characterize the style of running the country from now on, then we may yet have reason to think that a refreshing wind of change has started to blow. True, it is early days, too early in fact, but let us in good faith give the benefit of doubt to the government that has emerged out of the fiercely fought electoral bout that engaged the three main protagonists: MMM, MSM-ML, LP-PMSD.
The fact that it is the outgoing MSM that has been voted in has probably made the task of putting together its new team easier, since there are several ministers who have retained their respective portfolios, and fitting in the fewer new entrants may have been helped by their respective professional profiles and track records. What is to be welcomed of course is precisely that – namely that there are younger members of calibre that have been inducted, so that overall the average age of the team is lower than that of previous regimes. Who knows also that perhaps the electorate had tired of the ageing past by dates who had contested the elections, and hence the ‘youthification’ that has resulted?
Whatever be, the tone is set now for speeding up the chantiers that were mentioned as part of the electoral campaigning, and making good on the promises undertaken within reasonable and realistic timelines. It is the winners who have pitched expectations to higher levels than before, thus placing upon themselves a heavier onus to deliver promptly and more transparently than has been the case so far.
There are challenges on all fronts, and although we may talk of priorities, as far as the electorate is concerned everything is equally important: that is, everything is a priority! Thus, though there may be some hopeful signs – such as the completion of the Verdun road track and its opening just before the election (though that did take 5 years!!); or the restoration of Vandermeesch street with the diversion that had lasted weeks together being finally lifted!; similarly with the road lanes running along the Jumbo supermarket, which have recently been resurfaced and opened, easing traffic flow towards the roundabout and lifting the earlier mayhem – the fact is that the transport and traffic situation in Mauritius is getting worse by the day. Again, although the metro track seems to be progressing and a lot of visible hype built up around it with the much publicized mini-inauguration, the new Minister responsible Alan Ganoo will have to renew the assurance given that this project will really transform the transport landscape, and explain how. But that is only one aspect of the many others such as the ‘free’ shuttle service, the pricing of tickets among others. There are going to be more disruptions as the works extend towards the South, and with the experience of sections of the population that have been affected by the first leg of the works, there are major apprehensions that will have to be addressed proactively.
As we averred, there are priorities galore, but there are some that are of the utmost urgency, and that are cross-cutting at a national level, such as transport as discussed above. Another one is in the education sector, where there have been genuine concerns raised by a number of impartial observers belonging to the education field, industry, etc., as to whether our education system is preparing our youth for the future? What with the advent of smart technologies and Artificial Intelligence with its potential to take over many traditional jobs, there is clearly need for much rethinking in a multidisciplinary ecosystem that involves other ministries, such as that of the SMEs, as well as the private sector to plan the long-term strategies that need to be put in place to face this challenge.
Another major issue is that of the drug menace that has infiltrated all layers of society, and in particular the enticement of the youth by the so-called drug mafia with synthetic drugs that have spread in schools and are destroying children and families. It would be recalled that there was a denial of the problem of synthetic drugs by a former minister in the previous government, but this is a problem so acute and so devastating that burying one’s head in the sand like the ostrich cannot be accepted. A vast programme targeting the youth in all settings, the schools and colleges especially, has to be quickly worked out and implemented without any further delay.
On the other hand, it is the Prime Minister himself who in answer to a Parliamentary Question last year had given details about a Task Force that had been set up to look into the recommendations made by the Lam Shang Leen Drug Commission. Before the Opposition starts needling him, and rightly so, the Prime Minister should perhaps update the country on how far the Task Force has reached as regards implementation of the recommendations.
These are a very restrictive few items that we have flagged, and the individual ministries may no doubt have started to take stock of the tasks ahead and draw up their own priorities. But there has to be more intersectoral networking and interlinking, and also fostering a philosophy of lateral thinking, which will mean considering alternative views and scenarios coming from different voices – all in a spirit of serving the clichéd ‘national interest’.
On another note, this is the first time in our electoral history that there have been so many complaints about the conduct of the elections by the Electoral Commission. Serious observers and analysts have expressed grave concern about a number of irregularities, such as the thousands of voters who did not figure on the electoral a list and were thus deprived of their right to vote, disorganization and delay in the counting process in a number of centres, sealing of the ballot boxes, etc.
Only yesterday, the Electoral Commission had to come out with a communiqué following receipt from an MP of a marked ballot paper: It reads as follows: “The Office of the Electoral Commissioner has this morning (Thursday 14 Nov 19) been informed by an elected member of the National Assembly that he has been handed over the original of a marked ballot paper by a person from his constituency, unknown to him, late last night. He has in turn handed over a photocopy of the recto of the ballot paper to the Electoral Commissioner in presence of the Chairman, Members and the Secretary of the Electoral Supervisory Commission. In view of the nature of the information provided and after consultation with the Electoral Supervisory Commission, the Electoral Commissioner has referred the matter to the police for an urgent enquiry.”
The Electoral Commission will have to come forward and give clarifications about all that are alleged to have happened and which are likely to tarnish our reputation as a democracy if no cogent explanation is forthcoming. With the Labour Party planning to take this to court, there is a serious risk of the issue exploding into our face if it is not addressed urgently.
The LP had talked of rupture. That’s not bad in itself, so long as politicians walk their talk. In the meantime, let’s settle for fresh winds blowing away prejudices and mental cobwebs, and replacing them with bubbling new ideas that belong to the century we are living in – the 21st. It is not ours, adults in retreat – it is that of our children and grandchildren, and our role is to be catalysts in preparing their future. This means that we have to engage disinterestedly, be more mentors and guides than actors in their games for their future, and step back even as we help them negotiate the taking over of the reins to lead their own chariot forward. Therein lies the hope for the future of this country.
* Published in print edition on 15 November 2019