The political class stand accused of repeatedly failing the country through their inept blunders costing billions of rupees of public money
By Mrinal Roy
A government voted to power by the people through general elections has the sacrosanct responsibility of judiciously and efficiently managing the affairs of the State and in particular assure a sound and cost-effective use of public funds. The elected government therefore has a contract of trust with the people and is accountable for its decisions and actions. Being in power is thus not a licence for costly blunders, rash decisions undermining public interest or investment in white elephants at public expense.
However, the galling reality is that the history of Mauritius over the past decades is littered with botched decisions by successive governments costing billions of rupees to the public exchequer which have had to be borne by the people. For too long, successive governments have repeatedly made the people carry the can for their repeated blunders.
During the 2008-2014 period, a series of risky hedging decisions taken by Air Mauritius and the State Trading Corporation (STC) backfired. In all, they cost more than Rs 10 billion to the country which again had to be borne by the people.
Contrary to the repeated assurances given by the government, the dismantling of the BAI Group by the government in April 2015 has cost more than Rs 20 billion of public money to the State. Why does the government not make judicious use of the findings of the nTan report to recuperate the billions of Rupees of public funds used to alleviate the distress of the BAI victims?
It is equally disconcerting that the protracted investigations relating to the allegations of corruption and bribery by‘members of the Mauritian administration and others’ made by the African Development Bank and the Danish contractor Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor A/S (BWSC) in June 2020 on the Rs 4.3 billion CEB St Louis power plant contract allocated to the latter in 2014 are yet to be concluded a year later.
People have also questioned the process of emergency government procurement tenders to source medicines, protective equipment, medical supplies and equipment and laboratory supplies in 2020 to fight the Covid-19 pandemic at a cost of more than Rs 1 billion from a nondescript array of suppliers. As a consequence, 50 ventilators purchased since 31 July 2020 at a cost of Rs 80 million lie distressed and uncommissioned by the suppliers.
It is pointless to have institutions to ensure transparency of tender procedures while at the same time allowing emergency procedures, derogations and exemptions to enable some leonine proposals to dodge the test of objective scrutiny and evaluation to ascertain whether they are competitive, abide by all the terms requested and represent the best value for money for the country. It is equally unacceptable that confidentiality and non-disclosure clauses are used to mask full transparency of the disputed and controversial terms agreed.
The latest source of litigation and the object of legal action for compensation is the excessive percentage of manganese in the fuel supplied by the STC in 2019 on the local market which according to theMotor Vehicles Dealers’ Association has allegedly caused irreversible damage to some 3300 vehicles.
To crown it all, the whopping compensation of some Rs 5.7 billion awarded to Betamax last week by the ruling of the Privy Council will not be paid by those who irresponsibly took the questionable decision of terminating the contract between Betamax and the STC in January 2015but once again from public funds. It is condemnable that such a rash decision was taken in the teeth of the legal advice obtained from the state legal services.
It must also be remembered that despite being repeatedly decried, the 20-year leonine contracts signed with the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) as from 1997 were not terminated as they were so securely carved in stone. These contracts signed with government and its institutions beg the key question of striking the right balance between corporate interest and public interest. The Rs 5.7 billion whammy certainly has a bitter aftertaste for the people. Can hardnosed businessmen put country and the public interest above everything else?
What is particularly galling for the nation is that there has not been a single word from government to admit its costly mistake. Instead of honestly assuming and apologizing for their patent blunder, the MSM-led government and the opposition Labour Party, the two main political protagonists responsible for this costly debacle are callously indulging in a futile blame game.In a surrealistic scenario in a context where the country has to pay out Rs 5.7 billion, the government is blaming the Labour Party for saddling the country with a leonine and allegedly tailor-made 15-year contract whereas the Labour Party is accusing the government of scuttling the contract out of vindictiveness.
This huge loss to the country and the people at a time when the country needs every available rupee from its strapped finances to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic and reboot the economy, seems secondary to the two political protagonists. For the multitude, they all stand guilty.
The political class stand accused of repeatedly failing the country through their inept blunders costing billions of rupees of public money. For the people, the current situation of impunity of governments and ministers causing enormous losses to the country through their botched decisions is anathema. This cannot go on.
Accountability is a key element of a true democracy. The bottom line is that all those responsible for huge losses incurred through their questionable decisions must be made accountable.
The laws governing accountability and transparency of government decisions must therefore be urgently reviewed to ensure full accountability and transparency of the government decision-making process with related sanctions for those causing losses or prejudice to the public interest through their rash decisions.
No to costly blunders
The long history of costly blunders also focuses attention on the quality, decision-making acumen and competence of the political class to overcome the daunting challenges of post-Covid-19 recovery. There is an urgent need for far more qualified and apt politicians having recognized credentials and sound decision-making acumen to eliminate the risk of costly botched decisions. The onus is also on the citizens of the country to be vocal watchdogs of governance and government decision-making process to ensure that decisions unswervingly uphold public interest at all times.
* Published in print edition on 25 June 2021
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