The financial sector of a country is highly sensitive to the reputation it has both internally and at the international level. It is therefore of utmost importance that its image is upheld in the brightest possible light. That helps financial agents who may be tempted to travel contrary to norms to beware and not to transgress.
It is totally unhelpful, on the other hand, to smear a whole area of economic activity such as the financial sector with allegations of misfeasance. Much long-term harm can be done looking for culprits in such a sector, despite the fact that this is one of the favourite games many undertake for the sake of “pleasing the crowd”. As in several other areas, the financial sector – and professionals who serve it — merit to be free from unjust castigation of blame. Of all sectors of activity, the financial sector is one that should not become the playground for lawyers’ tricks at identifying who could be taken up for blame.
There are plenty of experiences where those who set out looking for persons who are guilty end up shooting themselves in the foot. Here are a few examples which should warn us that we should be wary of not going too far in the blame-game.
When the issue of climate change became a widely accepted reality the world over, people started looking for the culprits. Yet, if you consider it seriously, the world became aware of its impending catastrophic effects and accepted it as a reality only by slow degrees. So, it wasn’t realized or accepted all at once that extensive large-scale burning of coal and fossil fuels in certain parts of the world – developed and emerging economies – was behind this upcoming catastrophe. The December 2015 Climate Meeting in Paris is merely a culmination of this slow process of recognizing the harmful phenomenon.
This search after culprits can be said to be instinctive among most peoples in the world. What was needed actually was a solution to this problem, taking into account that economies had to function and that economic operators and consumers needed to take immediate steps to minimize carbon-production, so destructive of our protective ozone layer. But many people delight to bring others to shame. As if, that was a panacea against all ills.
This manner of exorcising one’s own inefficiency by constantly putting the blame on others has become second nature among most individuals. Even large groups are affected by the same syndrome.
A Great Democracy, Really?
For example, we take pride in the fact that we are a great democracy since we have successively been throwing out governments which did not perform. Little do we pay attention to the fragilisation we inflict in the process on our political system. Instead of owning up our own lack of proper insight when changing governments interminably, we keep putting the blame instead on politicians who did not deliver the goods … after the event. We castigate them for their licentious behaviour when they were in power and so on and so forth.
We bring in another batch of politicians under the assumption that all the misdeeds or failings for which previous regimes were rejected would become something of the past and that we would now embark on an altogether better footing. Really? We should stop dreaming. Haven’t voters kept repenting time and oft after they cast their votes when the new set of politicians showed their true colours? So, is it justified to blame politicians for all that has gone wrong?
Truth to speak, it is voters who have frequently misguided themselves into voting non-performers to power alternately. Consequently, they should take the blame for having erred so often and changed governments almost unendingly since 1982. It is they who, by putting themselves in narrow strait jackets of ethnicity and all sorts of sub-divisions, and by constant self-seeking abstracting from the bigger national agenda, have made nonsense of the correct political structure for a country such as ours.
Why? Because this constant shift of voter allegiance from one set of politicians (presenting themselves in ever “fresh” alliances) to another set has wrought harm at other levels in the economy and society.
How the public service kept being undermined
Take, for example, the public service. We must acknowledge first that overall our public service hasn’t been as bad as what we can see in other places not far off from us. It has produced brilliant ideas and implemented them reasonably well with the result that we are not so backward as some other places. Our aim should have been to consolidate the primal brilliance the service was vested with as the way forward in a global economy which is unforgiving towards countries which become laggards.
But many will acknowledge that the drive and dynamism that characterised the public service when it performed at its best in past years has slowly been receding. One of the reasons for this situation lies in the frequent change of public officers that politics has brought about.
Succeeding waves of politicians have to gratify many of their self-seeking followers who sometimes take the opportunity to use political power to discard their better-performing colleagues for fear of being proved incompetent. As this happens, a significant element of sound continuity in the country’s path to further progress is destroyed, sometimes for long enough to rob specific areas of the service of their very substance. Through this process, we have successfully emptied a lot of our public service of its “brains”. Much to our deep loss.
Since voters keep changing the political alliances in power, they caution, by the same token, this work of perpetual disruption in the public service. Instead of perseverance towards consolidation of this key public decision-making hierarchy, new batches of politicians, placing their own minions in one economically strategic position or other, in one ministry or other, or in one parastatal body or other, end up disrupting the natural flow, far-sightedness and needed growing strength of execution of business in the public sector. They destroy the experience and then go out scouting for it from outside the country.
Some political appointees toy with stupid pet ideas of their own in the institutions they are politically put in charge of. Is it surprising then that a void of consistently forward-looking ideas building up on work previously done, reigns supreme in quite some compartments of the public sector? That’s how certain public sector bodies are finally emptied of their true mission.
In sharp contrast to this state of affairs, the global world keeps asking us to stop the ad hocism that has come into place out of this political process and to go for longer-haul concepts if we want to truly survive.
Can we go on fudging it up?
We are increasingly ending up fudging it up all. There are many examples of this state of affairs, even in companies where the state has a major shareholding.
To avoid the pitfall in which we find ourselves as a consequence of all this, we need to focus on coming challenges for a country such as ours. To make sustainable headway, we cannot do without continuously increasing our stock of committed world-class talents, whether it be in the public or private sectors. Nothing will happen by chance. Old industries will exit and new ones will come in. Product cycles will become shorter. We have to prove to whoever is targeted to set up business here that we are the ideal location and resource centre to come to. And we should live up to it.
In future, we will have to go for higher value adding in the entire range of our production. For example, we cannot content ourselves to be intermediaries putting together different ends of the financial market – local or international. We’ve got to get deeper into the business by making actual deals and employing those deals to pan out more substantially into the region. We can take advantage of conjunctures such as the current falling price of oil, but that is no substitute for working on a substantial economic strategy. We’ll forcibly have to work on a more performing infrastructure – physical such as roads but also technological and intellectual by doing real R&D from our vantage points. Why should we give ourselves up even without trying our hand at it, for being too small at the global level? The old adage is: ‘Practice makes Perfect’.
The more we place ourselves at the edge of global trends, the more active we’ll become as drivers of business. If our time is occupied on such matters, we will hardly have any to dwell on the blame thing that we are risking becoming masters of on current trends. Hopefully, that will take away the parochial concerns that have brought about disruptive politics and its sequels on national life and we’ll see each other more as Mauritians than we’ve done before.
- Published in print edition on 2 October 2015
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