Avoiding a Repeat of Past Wrong Choices

Rather than addressing who is going to take up the reins of government at the next turn, the priority should have been to address the issue of correct political ideology vacuum

After the recent by-election in Belle Rose-Quatre Bornes, certain observers have been asking the question as to which new political alliance is likely to come to power next. They are possibly right. New political alliances have usually been contrived in the past before general elections.

Political parties joining in such coalitions have bet on their chances of winning under each new proposed configuration, not essentially on what to deliver in terms of social progress or advancement of the nation. The pattern has been that, once in power, politicians have proceeded to gratify supporters by appointing them and their close associates to high positions in public offices. Such appointees have not always delivered the best in favour of the country, due to varying levels of competence or for lack of commitment. In other respects, decisions, laws and regulations have been changed to lift up the business interests of corporate supporters, even if that hurt the public interest.

This system has hardly helped to clean up the Augean stables in public institutions where they existed from before. In some cases, they have become worse and put in jeopardy the future of the public interest they are supposed to defend. Resulting maladministration of public affairs has led to continuing failures and sometimes even deterioration of the state of affairs in some public domains, depending on vested interests using public offices for private gain.

Some examples

Consider the unfurling recently of numerous cases of drug trafficking before the Commission of Inquiry set up for the purpose. Clearly, this is a thriving business, churning up huge amounts possibly in the billions of rupees per annum. It appears to be running like a parallel economy, supported by complicities at different levels from within the public service. Some have thus found a new avenue for earning a dangerous livelihood for quick and substantial gains but also partly because other avenues were getting foreclosed.

Those involved in this illegal trade have left no official stone unturned to increase the scope of their market, be it at customs point, the port or the open seas and skies, which is what the revelations made before the Commission establish clearly. Successive governments haven’t turned this tide back, which hurts the nation at the core by aggravating drug dependency, crime and ill-health. The point is that personal self-enrichment has taken the upper hand, damn official responsibilities one may have to stop the scourge!

Consider another example from the financial sector. People desperate to get more decent returns on their savings than what the market was giving went as far as to entrust them to all sorts of shady agents without established good credentials on the market, Ponzis like Sunkai, Whitedot, etc. If counterpart assets can’t be traced, that will be a dead loss to ordinary and less ordinary people entrusting their money to untrustworthy custodians.

We’ve also seen how those who had subscribed to the so-called Super Cash Back Gold policies of the ex-BAI were confronted with a huge funding gap in the Scheme when it came to returning them the monies they had subscribed. A crisis of public confidence in the financial sector was averted only through public injection of funds to partly repay policy holders and giving them promise of later reimbursement in the form of government securities. It very much looked like a case of public maladministration for not bringing to account beforehand those who had diverted away the funds, a case of bolting the doors of the stable when the horse was already out.

Part of a larger phenomenon

These are only the tip of the iceberg. Public maladministration of different sorts has impaired the good functioning of many sectors of activity in the country. It is the reason why, when there are heavy rains, it’s only then that it is discovered that drains, rivers, waterways, etc., are cluttered up with litter, including plastics of all sorts. Or, it’s when water supply starts getting rationed that long-standing inaction to replace underground pipes in a state of utter disrepair needing to be replaced for 50 years or so surfaces up.

If there are so many protests in different parts of the world today, such as the one in Iran at the turn of the new year and the one on-going in Tunisia at the moment by people feeling increasingly economically oppressed, it’s because of the same type of public sector indifference to public welfare once governments are installed in power.

The majority of people face not only pressures from growing inequalities of income and wealth as government policies of austerity disband the welfare state, make jobs precarious through hire and fire contracts or encourage automation and weaken trade unions, socialise losses and privatise gains in favour of the speculative financial sector and end up concentrating it at the top of the income and wealth pyramid. The people also face inequalities of opportunity and of power. It looks as if they give power to politicians for the latter to disempower them by doing the bidding of greedy corporates in the name of the so-called “free market”.

Governments, whether left or right-leaning, become indifferent because they are soon captured by the pursuit of private, including corporate, interests, no matter the cost of such indifference to public welfare. The existential threat to a united EU derives from the same source as the one likely to set America on a more or less standalone course.

Social dislocation

The situation is becoming untenable in the face of popular revolt because governments, trapped in the ultraliberal mode of delivery of social policies, are finding themselves clueless how to address the so-many legitimate demands of populations to set the balance right. For decades now, the State has retreated in front of corporate power and is left with no plausible ideology to enable the social participation of the citizen, or to help him participate more fully in the social endeavour and flourish, as it has been the case in the post-war period up to the 1970s.

Rather than addressing who is going to take up the reins of government at the next turn of events, the priority should have been to address how the vacuum in terms of the correct political ideology should have been filled. Political parties, as they have evolved in past decades are, unfortunately, not in a position to reinvent themselves given the amount of entrenched damage they’ve fostered with their pursuit of unthinking ultraliberal policies.

They’ve allowed their social responsibility to shrink, wilfully. This is the reality. Unless this failure is firmly and radically addressed as a priority and there’s a realistic new re-balancing, social dislocation is unlikely to see a turnaround for the better. In such a case, successive governments will keep delivering short-term palliatives, far inferior to the strides they were able to make socially in the immediate post-war period.

 

* Published in print edition on 19 January 2018

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