The Importance of Strong Institutions


This is a heading that has been used more than once in this newspaper. It is worth reiterating. 

The names of certain establishments – at the local and international level – are a source of much happiness to evoke. Such establishments have a track record of achieving. They have created name and fame for themselves and their countries as they keep trying to excel in their areas of activity. No doubt, they have gone through the trammels of failure on occasion. With effort and perseverance, however, they have overturned such temporary setbacks to assert themselves even more strongly as path breakers in the domains of their endeavour. They have contributed to raise the standards of living of entire populations across the globe. Despite the prevailing doom and gloom, they are quietly working out their way and it is they who will lead the world out of its current predicament.

In Mauritius, whatever be the current weaknesses of the education system introduced by the British, it may be said that this institution has been one of the key pillars of our uplifting success, as enhanced by successive governments. The judicial system has likewise put us at a level of a trusted jurisdiction that has contributed to bring in investments of all sorts in the country, along with employment for the population. An intelligent, committed and far-seeing Civil Service, working selflessly hand in hand with high calibre political leaders of all hues and colours dedicated to the uplift of the nation, has in years past given solid moorings to our social and economic construct. This is still playing out beautifully to our advantage despite the creeping in of many shortcomings afterwards. Several private sector establishments have taken risks to develop, along the initiatives so taken, the existing economic architecture of Mauritius.

This serves to highlight how much we have depended on strong institutions to carve ourselves a relatively trusted and comfortable place in the world. The institutions – mainly in the public and parastatal sector — have charted the course of development in general. Without Air Mauritius, our isolation as a tourist destination would have become more pronounced and tourism would not have got off the ground as an important economic activity. Without the MSIRI of those days, we would not have been able to improve constantly our cultural practices in agriculture and cope with emerging economic difficulties when Mauritius was a monocrop economy. Without the offshore sector, our financial sector would have shrunk to become a narrow space limited to the domestic economy. Were it not for the CEB, our industrial activity would have failed to come up as it has done, had it had to operate against the backdrop of irregular power supplies accompanied by unpredictable power shedding we see in other places.

Strides have been made by such local institutions which have effectively accompanied the pace of progress of the country. They have also worked methodically to lay down a solid foundation for sustainable development in the diverse fields of activity we have hosted so far in the country. The thing to do was to build on this solid foundation with a sense of vision. To some extent, we have made it. A strong leadership has kept the performing institutions focussed on their objectives, monitored their deliveries with rigour and kept pace with changes taking place in the overall environment.

Two factors at least have made this possible. The first of these is the confidence factor. All stakeholders, at different levels of demand and supply, have placed their trust in the institutions in charge of their respective areas to be able to do the very best to advance the platform of progress. And those institutions did live up to that expectation; they executed work according to their precisely laid-down missions; they took initiatives to cope with future demand; they made themselves respected for the proactive stand they took in matters of their concern; a lot of professionalism acted as their regular accompaniment.

The second of the factors is an adamant leadership having a singularly strong sense of understanding of its true mission. It will not be deflected from its primary objective no matter what; it will not commit blunders and spend time and resources unnecessarily repairing the consequences of its incompetence; it will master the area of its concern fully and not seek the shelter of political and socio-cultural leaders after having blundered; it will want to leave behind a stronger institution than the one it inherited initially, not a sick one unable to find its bearings without external support. More than anything, it had no time to waste in irrelevant disputations over overlapping personal interests to protect. It was concerned rather with the bigger picture – the goal of the institution first and foremost.

We need not outrageously paint past institutions as effective and glorious in all manners. It is a mistake of complacency that will stand in the way of progress. In many domains, the successors of the previous leadership have proved themselves worthy of their pioneering peers. They have successfully transformed their departments into world-class service providers or manufacturing units. They have spared no effort to deal effectively with emerging problems much before the latter have surfaced up. We still have this blood coursing in the veins of our true modern administrators. What can even they do however when faced with a new reality which was ushered in from the 1980s in particular?

By then, certain lobbies had become so strong that they could force politicians to do their bidding even if their action hurt confidence in the superstructure of the country very badly? As this became a cornerstone of the new power politics, institutions increasingly came to be sacrificed at the altar of incompetence. Many square pegs had to be fitted into round holes to meet the exaggerated demands of lobbies. This trend has proved to be irreversible. Not that politicians in power would like the inefficiency dictated by this state of affairs to continue. That will hurt them eventually and the country as well. But they become helpless and cannot pose as archetypes able to transcend the pettiness of numerous political snipers and infighters who have gone on undermining the effectiveness of our institutions in the pursuit of personal advantages. No one having a genuine love for the country would wish this kind of undermining and serious impairment of our institutions hurt us where it matters most.

Public opinion in Mauritius is also biased, inasmuch as part of the media is concerned, so that acts of public redress are constantly thwarted by diluting the actual facts from private biased interpretations of those facts by certain editors. This part of the media, having the protection of shortsighted interests of a certain myopic private sector in view, manages to mix the two artfully enough to confuse facts from their biased opinions with the intent to lead the people astray. It keeps hammering the government in place, especially if the party of its choice does not form part of it, at the least decision the government will take to put order in the place. It will turn every event into a puerile but convincing enough anti-government view, at least to its readers. By so doing, it is at once reprimanding the governments for accommodating narrow private interests under pressure (which is right) while putting it in embarrassment when it is trying to nip the same bud in the worm before the damage is perpetuated (which is wrong). It blows hot and cold as suits its frame of mind. This media attitude has helped to keep well-meaning governments fragile when it comes to the right reasonable decision-making acting to stifle the negative factors bent on securing private sectional advantages and privileges at the cost of the proper functioning of institutions.

It is clear enough that we should empower our institutions to carry out their missions fully without such perverse interferences. All the institutions need is to equip themselves with the most competent and the best to be able to deliver in the country’s highest interests. This is a herculean task but not impossible. It requires courage to reverse a tendency that has gone too far to be of much benefit to the country in time to come.

If the people of this country do not wake up to this reality in time, they will go on disempowering their political leaders to address the problem firmly and everyone, including the snipers and infighters garnering private gains, will pay a heavy price along with the country. We cannot overlook the matter much longer.

* Published in print edition on 20 January 2012

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