The Role of the State

While it is true that governments can be facilitators par excellence in the process, there is also the need for the private sector to adapt and bring to the table projects that they can develop successfully

Ordinary people, it appears, have a gut feeling when things are expected to change for the better. The element of trust cannot be computed mathematically but it is very much a key ingredient in the advancement of nations.

The previous Indian government had done all it could to set things right but the general feeling among the people was that it was merely trying to set right things that had gone too far wrong. Hence, the expectation was that it could not be worse with a new government taking over and steering the course. There were hopes also that the BJP’s leader, Narendra Modi, a tried hand in the state of Gujarat, was an excellent bet to right things that had been going wrong and, more importantly, to steer a more promising course for the country.

This kind of positive perception about a government is an important ingredient for individual countries’ progress in social and economic terms. Wholesale conviction that a government is equipped to address problems effectively acts as a spur to help governments and countries perform.

If we go back to the days when Britain, a relatively small geography, was busy colonizing countries much larger than itself straggling across numerous time zones on the planet, we realize how success builds upon itself. The entire British people governed their global dominions with such a sense of confidence and superiority that many erstwhile colonized people in different parts of the world still hold their descendants in awe until today.

Raising the Feel Good Factor

Countries like Mauritius with a chequered political history of ups and downs have a tougher task.  Nevertheless, governments have sat down at the working table and set the stage for growing the scope of our economy from time to time. The confident feel good factor has thus been upheld in the population. With the world economy slowing down and international competition heating up, more needed to be done to harness the situation for us.

The impression is that bits and pieces are being addressed on an ad hoc basis whenever the stress already starts appearing in different places.

Consider, for example, Mauritius’ vehicle park. It has been growing at a very rapid pace during past decades and the NTA must be aware of its pace of growth and the reasons for it. Any driver knows the traffic pressure resulting from such a high rate of vehicle growth on our limited roadways.

The reason for this trend may partly relate to the individual’s desire to have a vehicle of his own – do as the Jones’s are doing. In a place like Singapore, prohibitive taxes and vehicle auctioning systems manage this kind of uncontrolled drag as a way of keeping road congestion under control.

Another significant reason for the spurt in vehicle growth in our case could be the lack of a rational country-wide transport system with capacity to pick up individuals safely at specific points and specific times, day or night, at more reasonable cost than through private ownership of vehicles.

Governments act in such a case by providing an efficient public transport system catering for the observed pattern of flow of passengers. Waste of resources is thereby minimized at the country level.

The efficient management of our public transport system is but one of the different issues claiming the attention of the government and the private sector. We have a whole lot of areas, such as proper globally adapted education, employment, tourism, the services sector, land management, water supply, electricity, the quality of infrastructure, etc., to deal with if we are to avert a situation where problems assume unmanageable proportions.

Coordinating to set future goals

It must be acknowledged that we have progressed from a fairly rudimentary economic structure in the beginning to a more complex one today. The more complex an economy becomes and the more it opens up to the world, the greater is the pressure to coordinate the whole range of our activities closely. This is because there is a stream of technical and associated developments taking place continuously at the international level. And we need to keep pace with them to survive.

Countries drive an edge on some areas of economic activity, depending on their comparative advantages compared with the rest of the world. In our case, we need to secure and maintain comparative advantages in at least two areas: the provision of international services and extending our manufacturing scope. Other activities include the provision of international communications and Mauritius becoming a logistics hub.

Not only does supporting growth along these lines depend on the quality of our human resources and the efficiency with which we embrace fast-changing technology. It also depends on how far-sightedly we identify, trail and close in on markets for our goods and services to the world.

This kind of country agenda is not driven solely by governments. While it is true that governments can be facilitators par excellence in the process, there is also the need for the private sector to adapt and bring to the table projects that they can develop successfully. Both go hand in hand. This is how rich industrial countries of the world have built up a strong base for production of goods and services.

Being one step ahead of others is what brings in the result. A coherent and comprehensive framework is what produces results for the country as a whole. It is the role of governments to see to it that such a framework is kept working and that the country’s think-tank is full time busy to give it a secure edge on markets. The sooner we move to this stage of busy coordination between the public, private and people sectors of the country, the sooner will we also embrace the wave of optimism that makes other countries succeed against the biggest obstacles in the quest for a brighter future for everybody.

 

* Published in print edition on 28 November 2014

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