The Great Leap Forward


By M.K.

We saw the MMM opposition play out from a potential political alliance last week while it was holding an alternative alliance in abeyance at the same time. There was a lot of talk about electoral and constitutional reform just before. All this was brought to naught and the whole matter postponed sine die. A lot of energy was consumed to no valid purpose.

If we look at the global situation, it is commanding bold decisions if only so that we might keep ourselves ahead of the threatening curve of economic downturn. Not a single far-reaching idea has been addressed concretely by any party whomsoever to put us out of danger, let alone to chart the road ahead. At best, our efforts have been limited to damage control, leaving it to the automatic pilot to take us to an unidentified destination.

This situation shows that we have been prioritizing issues that are of lesser direct importance to the well-being of the nation as a whole. We appear to have been playing to the gallery on issues which are not of immediate concern. The consequence has been that certain establishments in both the public and private sectors which, in the past, used to come up to grapple with difficulties facing the nation by providing practical solutions, are now absent.

Indeed, there are some institutions which find themselves in unviable situations despite their predecessors having been spearheaders of growth and development in the past. Others are pushing ahead as much as they can at the mercy of boards and managements which appear to have reached the end of their tether. Absent also are those actions which fire the imagination of followers to go out into the higher reaches of their calling.

The horizon should have grown in times of generalized difficulty such as this. A few would have come out from the fold to identify and demarcate new domains to venture into, to steer clear of areas that do not hold a promise for a brighter tomorrow and to re-orientate efforts towards new goals to target. Why has this kind of intelligence that marked a past generation of constraint-breakers and project initiators been lost?

Instead of breaking new grounds, the tendency is to look for who is to blame for a situation that has hardly progressed over a number of years now. It is not unusual in private business to embark on a novel project at great risk. Had the first constructors of the twin hotels of Mauritius not taken the risk, we would not have seen the hidden scope of this sector and worked towards its betterment. Had the Central Electricity Board not ventured out to produce electricity in the colonial days, how could we have supported our vastly expanded industrial base of today with its power needs? Had the Air Mauritius without the least carrier not started it at one time, we would not have seen a national airline with so many aircrafts flying to a variety of destinations and giving Mauritius its vital international connectivity today.

We cannot hope to make new grounds unless our overall business and political leadership is fully focussed on what it wants to achieve for the country. We cannot achieve even this much if there is no common shared vision by one and all on what we are currently set out to achieve. Ask anyone around as to what this objective is and you will be stunned at the absence of answers or at the confused response this question will evoke.

Of course, technicians in their separate compartments in different public and private sector institutions are attending to the day-to-day. That however is not enough. Some of them even know where they will be at their next stage. This is better. But if you were to assemble them and ask what collectively they are out to achieve in one single piece that fits into the nation’s future aspiration, you will be surprised at our weakness to identify that common objective. This sounds like a serious lack of leadership.

Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain the one-after-the-other ad hoc approach of many stakeholders in today’s society. This is an environment in which even the Land Based Oceanic Industry is not taking off while our neighbouring island, which did not chalk out such a project when the idea was first thrown up here in Mauritius, has reached its implementation phase. The disjointedness of our approach in different aspects of our being is pointing to the lack of a collective leadership which goes out to attack our immediate priorities and get things going the way they should.

In the past, there were Civil Servants bold enough to rubbish all the nonsense that was being voiced out to them by irrelevant proposers; they knew what they wanted done. By so doing, they made the sterling projects come up at the surface and get the attention they needed instead of wasting time and resources to decide between good and less good projects. Today, much time is devoted to get right what has gone wrong. Underlying this formula is a significant element of waste and indecision. Had it been otherwise, we would not been caught up dithering about key issues like assuring the power supply or meeting domestic water needs when the catastrophe had already hit. There would have been no delay implementing as simple a system as the points system for sanctioning careless drivers, daily putting at risk lives of innocent citizens.

Anyone with a small amount of exposure to decision-making knows how much deficit in this type of decision-making towards a higher overall goal can be costly. The problem is that costs multiply with time. An action not done at the correct time can of course be done some time later, but not at the original cost. As time runs out, typical project costs become inflated and at times unaffordable. It is not solely a question of money. It is largely an issue of interlocking decisions that lean upon each other to get related projects going in tandem. If those decisions take time to fructify because attention is being diverted away to non-issues, entrepreneurs start looking for greener pastures and the opportunity is often lost for ever.

Having delved for long into non-priorities, one should make efforts to catch up with substantive issues. For this, a mental quantum jump is necessary. A whole new world of opportunities has to be identified and acted upon to send the signal that we are now open for business. Entrepreneurs need to awaken from their long slumber. Rather than suggesting tax cuts, monetary depreciation and wage containment at each budget to carve out more “rent” for themselves each time, they should state their concrete “sunrise” project proposals and how they can be helped out to realize them for the general good. The dearth of this kind of innovative initiative in the last years is pointing to a serious overall management deficit.

Many a time there have been talks of paradigm shifts in the country. More than anything else, there is the need now for a paradigm shift in leadership in all walks of our local life. Without it, we will keep losing the focus and paddle instead in muddy waters of confusion for much longer. A total reorientation in how we do politics and the economy will bring about the needed turnaround. The locksmiths who will open the locks to this space have been away for too long; they need to come back at the risk of our being mired down for good. We badly need this great leap forward.

* Published in print edition on 25 August 2012

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