Economy will be relegated to the backburner given that politics will undoubtedly come to dominate the government’s agenda during the year — Editorial by MK
An eventful year in perspective: that’s what 2018 promises to be for a number of reasons. First, it is quite likely that the economy will be relegated to the backburner given that politics will undoubtedly come to dominate the government’s agenda during the year. In two years or earlier, Mauritius will have to go to the polls, but whether 2018 will be election year or not will depend on a number of variables, including the success of the MSM-led alliance to forge an acceptable electoral arrangement with a weakened MMM post-No. 18 to face the Labour Party. Those in the know suggest that discussions are already on, and a deal would be finalised once things get sorted out regarding the modalities of power sharing between the two party leaders. We are not there yet, since the MMM leader may also choose to wait for the determination of the MedPoint case currently before the Privy Council.
On the other hand, on 12 March this year, Mauritius celebrates its 50th Independence anniversary. An important milestone in the chequered history of the country, it opened the way to building a fairer society, a diverse economy more resilient and robust than could have been imagined in the early 1960s by the likes of James Meade, Nobel Prize winning economist, a democratic political system, a strong social safety net and productive engagement with the outside world.
Opinions may differ on the progress achieved since Independence, on the way we tackled the challenges that faced the country and how we overcame these. But the fact that we have been able to keep the country together, where others in the region were falling apart, and made progress together is no mean achievement. What is also significant is the gradual evolution towards appeasement in the political discourse and practices leading to political collaboration – not necessarily dictated by opportunism all the way but mostly political realism – amongst erstwhile fiercely-opposed political adversaries. Such collaboration was buttressed by a consensual view of and commitment to democracy, the rule of law, respect of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual and different forms of protection as enshrined in our Constitution.
Political collaboration has seen the 1967 elections’ adversaries – the Labour Party and the PMSD – coming together at different times during the last 50 years and presiding over the destiny of the country from Government House. So also have we seen the MMM and its offshoot, the MSM, and earlier the now defunct PSM, engaging with the PMSD and the Labour Party together or separately. The pursuit – and the preservation – of power have no doubt figured high on the political agenda of the respective parties and of their leaders, and as it is to be expected when ideology and interests are concerned, this has at times caused acrimonious outbursts and personality clashes amongst the contenders for power. Nevertheless, overall whatever regime was in power it stayed the course for the development of the country, and willy-nilly the rule of law ensured that both political stability – despite attempts to make use of ‘colourable devices’ – and relative social peace were maintained.
This is what enabled the country to move ahead through its first and second waves of industrialisation in the 1970s and ‘80s respectively, with diversification of the economy and with an eye for opportunities that presented themselves, such as when Hong Kong was returned to China by the British in the 1980s and the textile magnates invited to relocate to Mauritius. By the same token in the ‘90s the IT industry and financial services provided further opportunities for development which the country was prompt to seize.
All this would not have been possible without the system of parliamentary democracy that provided for alternance at defined intervals through an electoral process that has proved its robustness over the years. This happened once again last December, when a number of small parties, some committed individuals, and the so-called traditional parties – except the ruling MSM alliance – pitched in to secure the one seat available in the No. 18 constituency. The result, namely the election of the Labour Party candidate Dr Arvin Boolell by a significant margin ahead of his rival from the MMM, has confirmed that the electorate by and large is still in favour of traditional parties. This, however, in no way diminishes the honourable performances of long-standing combatant Jack Bizlall and newcomer Tania Diolle.
Given this outcome and indication on the part of the electorate from a constituency which is supposed to reflect the country’s political tendencies, the message to the traditional parties is clear: they have to return the trust of the electorate so that they don’t come in alternately by default – the vire mam phenomenon – but because of a genuine desire on the electorate’s part for the victorious party to lead the country on a defined path of development.
All parties keep pow-wowing about transparency and accountability in national affairs. Since charity begins at home, they could begin with themselves by bringing about a true, democratic reform in their internal functioning for a start. Next they must come up with a viable and transparent solution to the crucial issue of financing of political parties, and this must be accompanied by an equally democratic and transparent mechanism of the allocation of tickets to potential candidates. These are recurring challenges that have been aired regularly, and unless they are addressed concretely the image of politicians and their parties will continue to be tainted.
By the same logic, good governance which has been on a slide for a good number of years now must take centre stage in the running of the country. Mere mouthing and lip service cannot be a substitute for the rigorousness that must prevail at all levels of governance according to accredited international standards and norms that must demonstrably prevail. Last but not least wealth production and distribution must looked into in depth so as to allow a level playing field for businesses and entrepreneurship. This is closely linked with access to finance, with a beefing up of the supporting facilitative and regulatory structures. Related to this is land reform with the objectives of ensuring food security to the country, and the unleashing of opportunities for all citizens based on a model that should move away from the less productive types of employments that result from putting a priority on the real estate type of development. All of the above-mentioned issues will hopefully figure at the top of the programmes of parties that matter.
* Published in print edition on 12 Ocotober 2018