Events took an unexpected twist on Friday 15th February. Robert Desvaux, a close collaborator of the leader of the PMSD, Xavier Duval, was revoked as Chairman of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA) by Michael Sik Yuen, the Minister of Tourism also hailing from the ranks of the PMSD.
A few days earlier, another PMSD nominee, Alain Wong, Chairman of the Tourism Authority, had suffered the same fate. There had been no previous intimation of differences that might have existed between the Chairman of the MTPA and the Minister leading to the revocation of Robert Desvaux. Given the known close proximity between Xavier Duval and Robert Desvaux, the question arose whether the Minister’s decision to sack Desvaux was taken after consultation with the PMSD leader. It appears not. In other respects, Michael Sik Yuen did not attend PMSD meetings called out to sort out matters in this connection. It was clear that a rift had come about between the PMSD Minister of Tourism and his party.
This incident in which Michael Sik Yuen, with whom the Prime Minister had expressed his solidarity in answer to questions by journalists, looked to be in direct confrontation with his party, became the new political distraction. The new preoccupation of the public was about the place of the PMSD in the coalition government. Questioned about it, coming out of a meeting with the Prime Minister after the Desvaux incident, the PMSD leader stated that “everything was all right”. This statement was made despite Xavier Duval having called upon Michael SIk Yuen earlier to honour his word, following the incident, to the effect that he intended to resign as Minister and sit henceforth as a backbencher. In other words, the PMSD would have been content with Michael Sik Yuen no longer continuing as minister in the wake of this incident.
The PMSD comes out in bad shape from this episode. It will have to eat humble pie if it decides to stay in government nevertheless. Michael Sik Yuen would then continue as Minister despite being cut off from his party. He might even shift over to Labour or to some other party if only to make clear his new allegiance. If, on the other hand, the PMSD decides to keep itself out of government following this incident, the PMSD will be opening up space for the MMM to re-enter negotiations in a bid to join Labour in government. In the process, barring a few defectors from the MSM and the PMSD, Labour will be left as the only survivor from the Labour-MSM-PMSD alliance which won the elections of 2010 but with numbers enough in the House to pass legislations.
It is not quite clear however why Labour would want to upset its applecart and it may well have good reasons to believe that Desvaux should be revoked for reason of mismanagement, come what may. If, in the event of a PMSD exit, the MMM found plausible “reasons” however to join forces with Labour, jettisoning once again its new-found MSM ally in the ‘Remake’ by the same token, an altogether new political configuration could emerge. This configuration of political forces will not be exactly what the polls of 2010 yielded. It may however have a sufficient number of combined votes in the House to make Constitutional amendments. It may be recalled that it is the sort of political alliance that Alan Ganoo was parleying for only some months back in the context of the so-called ‘electoral reform’ when Labour realized that it ran the risk of being eventually thrown out by the MMM.
All this shows that it needs a single incident, such as the revocation of Robert Desvaux, to provoke fissures in government alliances which may even go as far as to end up in a full re-composition of political forces. In such an unstable scenario, politics gets reduced to the replacement of one person by another, presumably better performing, or of one party by another, presumably better able to deliver on policies.
In the context of the revocation of Robert Desvaux by Michael Sik Yuen, the Prime Minister announced that he was contemplating action to set aside all those who abuse their appointment in parastatal bodies. Accordingly, another shake-up of the parastatal sector appears to be in the offing and the Prime Minister must have spotted a number of those who are failing, since he was speaking of a ‘tsunami’ change to be coming. No one will be unhappy if those who misuse or abuse the positions to which they have been appointed in public bodies are taken away. Boards of parastatals often fall under the sway of self-serving politically appointed dominant members who gulp away big budgets. Sometimes, chief executives of parastatals do not, for reasons of personal advancement, give their boards the information needed to take the right decisions. Inefficiencies of the sort are known to have wrought considerable damage, casting a shadow of non-performance on the parastatal sector as a whole.
It could well be that the revocation of Robert Desvaux might simply lead to a clean-up in non- and under-performing parastatal bodies at the executive and board levels, without involving a realignment of political forces. In that case, political repercussions will be contained but a warning will thereby have been served to those in the political establishments who might be tempted to aid and abet wrongdoing by their appointees in parastatal bodies. By the same token, one could think of laying down specific performance criteria for each appointee which would be regularly monitored by an independent body for suitable redress action before it is too late. That will help politicians not to have to bolt doors when the horses are already out of the stable.
Mauritius cannot successfully vie against the actions of public bodies of other countries whose executives and boards are made up of world-class competent professionals if it does not follow the same practice. Countries which don’t follow this best practice have consistently fallen behind. We must be having a number of truly competent people who don’t wear any political colours. But political parties have drawn rather persons of variable competence from within their own fold to fill up positions, as a payback for services rendered or to be rendered. This system has kept most of our public bodies in the under-performing range. The liability so accumulated calls for a serious rethink. On the other hand, there is such a hegemony of politics in almost all matters over here that a lot gets done for the sake of keeping or preserving political power. In that case, everything becomes part of a game politicians play. Unless we transcend this game-playing, we will keep delivering poor execution at the level of the country as a whole.
* Published in print edition on 22 February 2013