As was to be expected, in his first budget as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Pravind Jugnauth was upbeat and had no choice but to strike a positive note all through. Of course it has been the same as in all past budget presentations whatever the government in place, so in that sense one could say that this was nothing new. On the other hand, there was also the usual mixed bag of responses: good for some, bad for others, nothing in it for many more.
So much so that people were seriously querying, perhaps for the first time, whether the annual budget exercise served any purpose at all. After all, so the thinking goes, apart from the effets d’annonce, what is there in the budget that gets the economy going as it should: as it should have been doing, in fact, for the past couple of years that have been wasted, instead, in chasing enemy brothers? If there had been something to show as concrete results – such as recovering the monies that were expected to come from the sale of the BAI conglomerate assets, winning the court cases against those who were charged, or winning against Betamax at the Singapore International Arbitration Court among others – then there would have been some justification to be optimistic about the next two years.
But this is not the case, isn’t it? The country’s debt as percentage of GDP has increased further, and there has been no indication of how and when the new debts accumulating on the citizenry will be settled, especially given that the big ticket projects in the pipeline, such as the Metro Express, will not generate income as expected. There’s the long list of projects that had been announced in previous budgets and that have yet to get off the ground. Is it any wonder therefore that the feeling of uncertainty about the future persists?
This is compounded by the fact that, on the political front, there is no hint on the horizon of a renewed, perhaps younger leadership with fresh ideas emerging. It seems that the only party which had a succession plan was the MSM, with Sir Anerood Jugnauth having silently crafted his plan of when to exit – albeit not completely, since he remains as Mentor-Minister – and have his son installed as Prime Minister. The issue does not yet arise for the PMSD, whereas for the MMM and LP both their leaders still occupy the frontline with no indication that this is going to change any time soon.
As for the Reform Party of Roshi Bhadain, except him perhaps no one else knows where it is going. He claims to have a sizeable following – on social media. But so far that is about it. Who can trust someone who in such a short period of time made a complete volte-face against a person whom he gratified with such a conspicuous baize-main but a few months ago? Besides, like Xavier Duval, as long as he was still in government he did not raise the issues that he has brought up in his response to the Budget Speech, especially about the Metro Express, despite his reeling off facts and figures about the cost and so on.
Why did he not elaborate on his failures and miscalculations about dismantling the BAI conglomerate – even granted that it was a Ponzi and needed to be exposed — , with an overinflated asset evaluation which has now left victims crying to get the money that they had invested back, and the taxpayers now having to foot the bill? And for that matter Betamax too, since the contract was rescinded on the principle of a breach of good governance principles in its allocation?
And what is his answer to the criticism that if he had been granted the Ministry of Finance portfolio he would have kept his mouth shut and gone along with every government measure that he is up against now?
All these aside, though, the country’s atmosphere is soured by the language and behaviours of the Members of the National Assembly towards each other during the debates. Now that they are being televised, such a low level display does not do honour to the country, with the Speaker struggling to maintain order and decorum, and having to repeatedly suspend the conduct of business in the House.
What example are we giving to our younger viewers in particular? Doesn’t this spectacle discourage them from taking up politics? After all, their ambitions notwithstanding, the current breed of politicians must surely realise that they cannot be there forever, and that the new generation will perforce have to take over? Instead of inspiring them, they are being alienated. And this is no good for the country’s future. But who cares!!
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