Democracy and Governance in Free Fall

The contrived spin doctoring blitzkrieg raises even more distrust and interrogations among the people

By Mrinal Roy

Despite government repeatedly tom-tomming about the standard of democracy and governance in the country, the stark reality is that both are plummeting in free fall as they are being systematically sapped by overbearing government control and interference and too many systemic failings.

The standard of democracy and governance in a country depends on the competence and independence of its institutions, on the robust checks and balances in place and the strict accountability and transparency of government decisions and in particular those involving public funds. They also depend on the quality, intellect, democratic ethos, altruism and level of probity of the political class and political leaders entrusted by the people to efficiently manage the affairs of the State.

As elected representatives of the people, one of the cardinal roles of MPs is to diligently ensure that all government actions and decisions are in the interest of the people and adhere to the best norms of good governance. Representatives of civil society, the independent media, citizens’ organizations and mainstream citizens must also keep a watchful oversight over government actions and decisions to ensure that they unswervingly uphold the interests of the nation. Without robust bulwarks and checks and balances to ensure that political power is democratically exercised, the situation can easily be derailed by political leaders and politicians intoxicated by the headiness of power. This is already happening.

Systemic failings

The most singular failing of our democracy is the blind endorsement and support of MPs, once elected by the people, to the actions and policies of the government and their party leader even when these are against public interest and the interests of the people they represent. Such decried subservience to those in power is the bane of democracies.

Nepotism and the appointment of the coterie or party faithful to key government posts, as ambassadors and at the head of important institutions and state owned companies instead of appointing the best qualified talents and seasoned professionals or career diplomats strictly in accordance with rules of meritocracy have littered the history of the country under successive governments with costly blunders. This decried mode of governance has systematically plumbed the prospects of the country over the past decades and is presumably a causative factor in Mauritius being classified in the European Commission’s revised list of high-risk countries with strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing frameworks.

The country is thus facing an unprecedented situation. Democracy is being undermined by those elected to strengthen and safeguard it. The appalling state of democracy and governance in the country has reached new lows under the present tenure. Parliamentary democracy, which is a vital element of a vibrant democracy, is being throttled. The role of the opposition in Parliament cannot be systematically undermined by high-handedness, partisan rulings, disproportionate sanctions, lengthy expulsions and filibustering shenanigans of every kind. Such abject stratagems are the hallmark of banana republics.

Stonewall

The government with the complicit support of its cohort of pliant MPs has systematically stonewalled legitimate questions of the people instead of honestly responding to their bona fide interrogations. This lack of transparency has spawned suspicion among the multitude and begged a host of straightforward questions on a series of glaring issues such as:

– Why is there caginess about the long-drawn out Angus Road saga, its acquisition modalities and sources of funds?

– Why is there such inordinate delay in concluding the criminal investigations on the allegations of corruption and bribery by members of the Mauritian administration and others’ made by the African Development Bank and the Danish contractor (Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor) in June 2020 on the Rs 4.3 billion CEB Saint Louis Power Plant Redevelopment Project, more than a year ago?

– Why has the costly Rs 16 billion Safe City project not been able to provide such delivrables as crucial video footage to help the on-going investigation into the suspect death of a political activist and assure justice to enable the family to reach closure?

– Why is it that, contrary to the repeated assurances given by the government, the dismantling of the BAI Group by the government in April 2015 has cost more than Rs 20 billion of public money to the State?

– Why does the government not make judicious use of the findings of the nTan report to recuperate the billions of Rupees of public funds used to alleviate the distress of the BAI victims?

Decried Opacity

Why is there such opacity which shrouds the Rs 30 billion so far advanced from the war chest of Rs 80 billion, drawn from the country’s foreign exchange reserves, to bail out distressed companies including some of the biggest conglomerates of the country? In particular people want to know whether:

– this colossal sum of scarce financial resources are being rigorously allocated on terms and conditions grounded on pointed technical analysis, sound commercial savviness and financial best practice norms?

– the advanced funds are secured by sound guarantees, currency protection and provide a fair return?
– the financially distressed companies seeking MIC bailout funds are subject to a thorough due diligence evaluation and commercial assessment of their viability, cede equivalent equity and grant board membership to assure oversight of the company’s decisions and strict adherence to principles of corporate good governance and sustainable development?

The recent laurels obtained by the Bank of Mauritius cannot however mask the patent IMF criticisms of the ‘policies deployed by the BOM in coordination with the government’. The IMF thus proposed measures to ‘enhance the central bank’s credibility’ and recommended that the ‘central bank should refrain from providing direct financing to the government and reform the Bank of Mauritius law, including to preempt further exceptional transfers to the government.’ The IMF also recommended that ‘the central bank be recapitalized within a reasonable time frame and relinquish ownership of the MIC and that its financing be provided through the budgetary process.’ What actions are being taken to comply with those directives?

In order to avoid future costly blunders and enormous losses of public funds such as the whopping compensation of Rs 5.7 billion paid to Betamax in June, people want to know whether those who irresponsibly took the questionable decision of terminating the contract between Betamax and the STC in January 2015 in the teeth of the legal advice obtained from the state legal services. will be made accountable?

Spin doctoring blitzkrieg

As regards Britam, how on earth can a Minister and a team of professional advisors sell the BAI Britam shares which do not belong to them without the approval of government and the cabinet? Why are Ministers, government MPs and the MBC being repeatedly press-ganged to defend tooth and nail the government’s tenuous position on these and other issues such as the Horse Racing Authority? How can young MPs be party to such rabid and abject propaganda? Where is the refreshing idealism of the young? Such contrived spin doctoring blitzkrieg raises even more distrust and interrogations among the people.

More than ever before, there is an imperative need to urgently enact, as is the case in the best democracies of the world, a Freedom of Information Act to assure absolute transparency of the decisions and actions taken by government, diverse regulatory bodies and state institutions so as to put an end to a decried culture of culpable opacity and confidentiality clauses which very often mask ineptitude and much more to the detriment of public interest.


* Published in print edition on 20 August 2021

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