As 2018 draws to a close, if one were to ask a cross-section of people from different social classes and professions to share their views on the key events, trends and highlights of the year and their expectations, it’s quite likely that it is the latter that would dominate their thoughts. It would be their anticipation of change that would prevail in their minds and conversations, over and above everything else that one may bring up with them.
Change, or ‘changement’ has become a very loaded word in the Mauritian context, given the use of this very emotive term by different political parties in the past ‘to gain support, sway opinions, degrade others, gain a political foothold, or push an agenda’. The revised version has in recent years been ‘Vire Mam’ and the anticipated one is ‘Devire Mam’.
One need not go too far to understand this anticipation of change this time round as well.
2018 has proved to be yet another of the tumultuous years since December 2014. As in earlier years of the current Government’s mandate, it succeeded in spinning off more negatives than positives. Politics and the doings and mis-doings of political actors captured the stage, similarly to the last four years. The political dimension predominated, with the Prime Minister having to deal with a succession of troubles and scandals all through the year – from the highest level of the State (with the Caunhye commission of inquiry’s hearings revealing a poor picture of goings-on at Le Réduit and the former President’s questionable dealings with Alvaro Sobrinho and alleged interference in Government institutions to facilitate Sobrinho’s business in Mauritius) to the second- or third-rank operatives present in his party and government establishment. This was brought out in the report of the Drug commission in relation to the alleged involvement or conspiracy of lawyer-MPs with drug traffickers.
With more of such distractions present, the (few) achievements of the current government were thus completely overshadowed, while those in charge of the political establishment kept themselves busy extinguishing fires lighted up by their own people a number of times. It wasn’t necessary for the government therefore to fight against the adversary from outside. There were enough of such adversaries within to rein in, what to say about opponents from outside!
It is difficult to properly govern a country in which scandals erupt at any time from unsuspected quarters to undermine whatever is being undertaken in some compartments of public life. We have had the introduction of the 9-Year schooling program initiated as a way out of the CPE system, though it remains to be seen whether this will indeed bring relief to the kids who were heretofore exposed at a tender age to a very competitive education system, or will instead displace upwards and accentuate the competition and stress within the new system. Protests coming up lately from parents and the media point to the discriminatory nature of the NYS reform against public sector educational establishments, resulting in renewed interest in confessional colleges which have chosen not to join the Reform.
There was also the initiative to introduce, at long last, an alternative public rail transport system, the Metro Express, in the face of persistent road congestion spanning over dozens of years and showing no sign of easing. But protests by citizens against the inconveniences caused by the works on their daily living and on the already congested traffic have blunted the appeal of the metro.
What stands out as well is the acrimony in Parliament when the electoral reform bill was introduced. It did not do honour to the Opposition in particular, with some members resorting to language and taking a stand that threatened to revive the old monsters of communalism that shook the nation in the pre-Independence days, and that good sense would demand that they had better remain buried. The country could have done without the Parliament closing the year on such a dark note.
On the other hand 2019 promises to be an eventful year for a number of reasons. It is quite likely that the economy will be relegated to the backburner given that politics will undoubtedly remain high on the government’s agenda during the year. Mauritius will have to go to the polls in the coming year or early 2020, but whether 2019 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 the MMM on the strength of an electoral reform acceptable to Paul Berenger. Those in the know suggest that discussions have started, 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.
The pursuit – and the preservation – of power will therefore figure high on the political agenda of the respective parties and of their leaders. If change does happen, will this have a bearing on the quality of life of the people through an improvement in the governance of the country, or will it be much of the same?
It is the hope of the people that the traditional parties return the trust of the electorate so that they don’t come in alternately by default – the vire mam phenomenon. All parties keep pow-wowing about transparency and accountability in national affairs. Since charity begins at home, they could start with themselves by bringing about a true, democratic reform in their internal functioning for a start.
Electoral reform or not, 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.
The political leaders need to walk their talk. Civil society should take an interest in this matter and ensure that they do so.
* Published in print edition on 21 December 2018