Mauritius is at a crossroads. The shoddy benchmarks of those who have successively been in power are aeons distanced from the lofty objectives, ideals and ambition of the young talented Mauritians for the country
I am just back from a break abroad exploring the rich history and culture of Andalusia in Spain and its Moorish heritage. A trip abroad always brings about a fresh perspective and outlook. I must say that I have found the country on my return in an appalling state of disarray and so disquietingly dysfunctional in so many respects.
Despite government proclaimed determination to fight the drug cartels in the country, no concrete and potent actions have yet been taken to urgently implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking rendered public since end July 2018. To make matters worse, the Deputy Speaker who has had to step down in the wake of the findings of the report and is now a government backbencher has opted to take unwarranted legal actions against the Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry instituted by government in July 2015. Despite the recurrent government hype and rhetoric to ruthlessly combat drug trafficking, such dithering gives the wrong signal in respect of the government declared intent to rid the country of this scourge and drug barons. The task force set up in this context held its first meeting only this week.
“The government has the gall to give priority to electoral reform proposals when the Prime Minister has no legitimacy and no mandate to govern, let alone tinker with the present electoral system. It seems from press reports that despite being systematically rejected from before independence by a majority of voters and the enduring mess caused in Rodrigues by the introduction of a dose of proportional representation and the recent tweaked version thereof, the government is including a dose of PR in its proposals. The replacement of the Best Loser system by a system where party leaders will subjectively chose ‘best losers’ is also being envisaged…”
The proposal to eliminate the Rs 2000 banknote and to gradually replace the family of banknotes in the country by digitally more secure ones would certainly be a potent means to combat money laundering and the illicit hoarding of cash. Why is there patent indecision and ambivalence to implement this measure forthwith as the more we wait, the less cash holdings will be held in Rs 2000 notes? Are occult lobbies insidiously at work? The rationalization and replacement of the present family of banknotes would also help transform the country into a cashless economy by bringing the underground cash economy estimated at more than Rs35 billion into the mainstream economy whilst also having positive fall outs on government revenue and the economy. The widespread use of various modes of cashless payment such as credit cards, smart phone apps and internet banking is already shrinking the space of legitimate payments by cash.
The hearings of the Commission of Inquiry into the alleged violation of the Constitution and any other laws by Mrs Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the former President of the Republic, is unfolding into a messy situation with some of the main protagonists locking horns in open conflict with claims and counter claims against each other. The ex-President has accused the Prime Minister of lying. One of her legal counsels has alleged that she was not speaking the truth. The press is obviously having a field day. It is obvious that such a public settling of scores is bound to take its toll on the image and standing of Mauritius.
“The proposal to eliminate the Rs 2000 banknote and to gradually replace the family of banknotes in the country by digitally more secure ones would certainly be a potent means to combat money laundering and the illicit hoarding of cash. Why is there patent indecision and ambivalence to implement this measure forthwith as the more we wait, the less cash holdings will be held in Rs 2000 notes? Are occult lobbies insidiously at work?”
The financial services and banking sectors have once again been shown in a bad light and been exposed to public scrutiny and interrogations. The exposure of the State Bank of Mauritius to allegedly billions of Rupees of risky loans granted by the bank begs a host of legitimate questions about the in-house client due diligence procedures and large loan vetting and approval mechanisms. This disconcerting situation in a publicly quoted company has led to the resignation of its CEO. Similarly, the adverse rating maintained for Mauritius by the Council of Ministers of the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG) on measures in place to protect the country against money laundering at their meeting in Seychelles last week despite the assurances given by the Minister of Financial Services and Good Governance and the recent set of amendments made to the Finance Act have yet again brought to light the intrinsic shortcomings plaguing and undermining the financial services and the banking sectors.
The decried allocation of operating permits in the financial services sector to questionable investors and the lack of rigour in carrying out due diligence exercises and risk assessment are crying warning signs that all is far from being well. Is it not high time to review both the financial services and banking sectors and benchmark their enabling legislative framework, modus operandi, code of best practices and professional competence of their personnel to the highest standards prevailing in the best financial jurisdictions in the world? The status quo which has been plagued by so many questionable decisions, setbacks and criticisms is untenable and has to be overhauled and aligned on the best practices in the business with the induction of seasoned professionals in the field able to re-engineer the financial and banking sectors towards higher value added and remunerative segments of these sectors. The present situation will not do. We therefore need to act quickly.
The writing has been on the wall for decades that sound policy making and efficient management of the problems and challenges facing the country will get out of hand ever since meritocracy was supplanted by those in power by the appointment of the coterie and political nominees to occupy important posts in Ministries, key government institutions, state owned companies and parastatal bodies. Such an inept policy was scripted to take its toll. Such appointments have basically crippled managerial acumen and multiplied costly blunders in a context when the challenges facing the country have become more and more daunting. The resulting situation was always fraught with risks that… muck would hit the fan sooner than later. No wonder so many key issues such as the dire problems faced by the sugar sector or the re-engineering of the economy on a productive growth path, the gainful employment of young graduates or the urgency of bridging the growing inequality in the country, etc., remain pending.
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Tinkering with the electoral system
In the midst of this appalling situation, the government has the gall to give priority to electoral reform proposals when the Prime Minister has no legitimacy and no mandate to govern, let alone tinker with the present electoral system. It seems from press reports that despite being systematically rejected from before independence by a majority of voters and the enduring mess caused in Rodrigues by the introduction of a dose of proportional representation and the recent tweaked version thereof, the government is including a dose of PR in its proposals. The replacement of the Best Loser system by a system where party leaders will subjectively chose ‘best losers’ is also being envisaged.
The leader of the MMM who has from the outset been an ardent champion of PR which had also been assiduously canvassed by the reactionary forces who opposed independence to bend the rules and thwart the people’s will, has obviously announced that his party would support a dose of PR even if it does not match his own preferred model. What is obviously important for the MMM is to put a foot in the door in respect of the introduction of a dose of PR in the electoral system.
Quality and ability rather than quantity
This is anathema to the multitude. PR and the power sharing constitutional amendments were the main causes of the debacle of the Labour-MMM alliance at the December 2014 general elections. This crying lesson has been repeatedly taught by the electorate to politicians bent on bending the rules to tip the scales of the time tested electoral system in place.
Furthermore, it is an established fact that Mauritius has a significantly higher ratio of MPs to its population than that in major democracies such as the USA, UK, India or France. The number of elected MPs plus the best losers is already high enough given the size of the population and must remain unchanged. Quality and ability of MPs rather than quantity should be the way forward.
There is also a hypocritical approach towards an ethnic census by those who have scientifically balkanized the people into caste, religious and ethnic components to no avail instead of promoting and cementing nationhood. This Pandora’s box has since long been opened and nurtured without success. Statistics improve policy making. Community data are already being collected by Statistics Mauritius.
On the political front the situation is even messier. Instead of a salubrious change of leadership and a rejuvenation of the various parties with new talent, it is business as usual with the same leaders and their coterie of apparatchiks exercising an iron grip over the party and its decision making process. The standard of political ethics and good governance leaves much to be desired. This is not a credible option for the future. It is a recipe for defeat.
No to mediocrity
Everyone who keeps an ear close to the ground knows that the people are fed up with having to compose with the same cohort of disavowed leaders and political has-beens and their relentless pursuit of power by all means for power’s sake instead of dedicating their political engagement towards the continuous improvement of the socio-economic well being of the people. There is a potent will by the multitude to challenge the political establishment and the status quo. New national parties comprising bright new talent providing new leadership in a collegial manner and teaming up to brainstorm an innovative pathway towards inclusive prosperity will be the determinant catalysts for victory at the next general elections.
Mauritius is at a crossroads. The shoddy benchmarks of those who have successively been in power are aeons distanced from the lofty objectives, ideals and ambition of the young talented Mauritians for the country. It is high time to sideline mediocrity and entrust the country to the bright men and women of the country to map out and realize a game changing and significantly better future for the benefit of all.
* Published in print edition on 13 September 2018