Cronyism and Bad Apples

Only a change of leadership and a system of management rigorously based on merit and competence can save the day and usher a new beginning

Despite the rhetoric dutifully aired on prime time TV about the appalling governance and shocking legacy left by the previous government and the political appointees heading public institutions and companies, lessons have not been learnt. The new government has, in the teeth of commitments made to the people to adhere to a code of exemplary good governance, blithely replaced the cronies of the previous government by its own cohort of blue eyed advisors and political appointees at the head of public institutions, parastatal organisations and State companies. This ingrained culture of every successive government of the past decades of distributing the high posts of the State and the handsome perks and remuneration that go with them to the coterie when it is not theirs to distribute, is untenable.

Such a condemnable system of administration based on allocating key jobs of the State to the party faithful at the expense of public funds instead of filling them strictly on merit is widely decried by the people. This deplorable culture has been espoused by all political parties. For example, in the eventuality of a victory at the polls, the MMM leadership has already designated one of its members as its future Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in compensation for not being allocated a ticket to contest the elections. This is tantamount to distributing the goodies in a mode which smacks of ‘vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué’ .

Under such circumstances, it is no wonder that each day brings its load of distressing news on the terrible state of governance in the Republic. The Commission of Enquiry on Drug Trafficking has exposed the extent to which drug trafficking has extended its deadly grip over the country, including in our schools unchecked, under the watch of government, the police, customs, the anti-drug and border control authorities. It has also exposed the nexus linking drug trafficking, money laundering, the racing world and some elements of the legal profession. Diverse drugs worth some Rs 2.74 billion seized in 2016/17 provides an insight into the colossal scale of drug trafficking in the country.

Convicted kingpins of drug trafficking on long term sentences seem to be running their deadly businesses through cell phones smuggled with disconcerting ease (through a variety of documented methods) and a network built on bribery and collusion under the nose of the prison authorities. Members of Government and the ruling party who are the object of diverse allegations in the context of the hearings of the Commission on Drug trafficking remain unscathed despite the public uproar and are disconcertingly allowed to continue in their different posts. This is outrageous and totally unacceptable.

Similarly, why on earth should the new Board of Air Mauritius, a listed company, officialised this week, be principally made up of government appointees with little or no experience in the specialized and sophisticated decision making required to successfully run a national airline? Yet again, lessons have not been learnt from the costly blunders of the past including the billions of Rupees lost through ill advised hedging operations. Isn’t it time for the board of the national airline to benefit from the experience, expertise and business savviness of professionals from the trade on its board to enable it to define in conjunction with the management the best strategies for a bright and successful future?

About a month after the budgetary economic forecasts, these are already worrying signs of deteriorating balance of trade statistics, lower growth forecasts and a brutal reality check of an uncompetitive sugar sector undermined by lower sugar yields and frequent factory breakdowns against the backdrop of the imminent expiry of EU sugar and isoglucose quotas and significantly lower prices. Will the heads buried in the sand finally come out to face the music?

Bull in a china shop

The bumbling Showkutally Soodhun cannot be muzzled. Like a bull in a china shop, he seems out of control, akin to a loose cannon. Are we witnessing a pitiful case of confused identity? Has his sartorial disguises and the heady (non-constitutional) title of VPM, gone to his head? L’habit ne fait pas le moine! Otherwise, how can anyone explain his don quixotic communiqué peremptorily declaring last month, without the authorization of government, that Mauritius was suspending all relations with Qatar in the wake of Saudi Arabia and its allies’ decision to impose a blockade on Qatar?

This caused immense embarrassment to the government in diplomatic circles and panic among the Mauritians working in Qatar. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was compelled to promptly issue a communiqué formally denying that it had broken diplomatic ties with Qatar. Such a blunder should have resulted in a justified rap on the knuckles to stamp the risk of further irresponsible gaffes. Why wasn’t he reprimanded by government?

Emboldened, his bumbling gaffes continue unabated and unchecked. He has once again provoked widespread ire and condemnation for irresponsibly declaring at a socio-cultural event last week that he would have killed the leader of the opposition and the PMSD in the National Assembly at the time he was addressing a parliamentary question on the contradictory communiqués issued on the conflict opposing Saudi Arabia and Qatar had his bodyguard given him his revolver. He added that this is what is called Jihad.

More than a week later, Soodhun has neither been chastised by government nor the party, despite the widespread public outcry. This is unacceptable to the multitude, the more so as the dangerous threats proffered seem to be in breach of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Criminal Code Act. It is flabbergasting to note that the police is yet to act on such a serious offense. He has even been allowed to leave the country on a private trip. By his threatening public statements widely available on video, he has risked endangering the harmony and peace of our multi-cultural society and has basically debarred himself from holding office. Such irresponsible and reprehensible behaviour cannot be condoned. He must be promptly asked to step down.

Keep them out

When will socio-cultural organisations learn that it is high time to ban political speeches by politicians at events to commemorate religious festivals and celebrations? The January to June period is every year marked by a series of religious and cultural events which vividly depict the rich cultural diversity of Mauritius. Politicians invited to these events repeatedly arrogate to themselves the right to make political speeches. It is high time to clearly spell out to politicians that this is no longer acceptable and that they will no longer be allowed to make speeches on the occasion of religious and cultural events.

Religion and politics are poles apart. They cannot be mixed. Religion upholds duty, morality, virtue and righteousness. It promotes the highest principles, a high moral code and ethical values. It unites humanity through a message of peace, tolerance, the pursuit of the loftiest ideals and goodness towards one and all. It uplifts the best in people. In the Vedic concept, religion is dharma.

Politics, as it is generally practised in the world, is the exact opposite. It is adharmic or irreligious. It debases ideals, corrodes principles and ethics. It is driven by an unquenchable thirst for power and its trappings by all means. Instead of promoting ideals of altruistic service to the nation, politicians in power relentlessly jockey for their interests and those of their coterie at the expense of the public interest and those of the people. Partisan politics and the poor governance associated with it have systemically hobbled and undermined the country’s progress and the improvement in the quality of life of the people. Cronies and sycophants are being favoured at the expense of the talented and the competent. Such an approach can only lead to a lose-lose situation. It has scripted the sorry state of affairs in the country for far too long. Our democracy will be much better if religion was irreversibly severed from rabid politics and its endless shenanigans.

History has demonstrated that religion and politics cannot be mixed. When mixed, they ignite and result in a destructive Armageddon. The Inquisition wreaked wanton sufferings with its summary executions, ruthless persecutions and cruel dogmas in the name of religion from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Recent events in the Middle East have again showcased the havoc caused by religious extremism. Ordinary people have paid a heavy toll in terms of their destroyed cities and homes, hundreds of thousands of casualties in Syria and Iraq alone, millions of refugees fleeing war zones and endless sufferings.

New beginning

No amount of rhetoric and TV blitzkrieg can mask the grim reality of the country and the inability of the government to sanction its bad apples. Nor can it hide the worsening economic fundamentals. In short, the stark shortcomings and limitations of a system of governance based on cronyism have been blatantly exposed. It has stunted growth and hampered improvement in the standard of living of people. This cannot be a viable option. Only a change of leadership and a system of management rigorously based on merit, talent and competence can save the day, usher a new beginning and innovatively define the way forward for a better future for all.

Mrinal Roy

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