A less precarious political structure should improve our chances to do better
Mauritius has many strong points. Instead of employing them to its best advantage, it often allows conjunctural vicissitudes to stifle higher pursuits.
Among its strengths, we have its great natural beauty despite the small geography. This is keeping up despite invasion by concrete. Many countries would want to be as richly endowed by their physical environment. We have it God-given, getting spoilt but not overwhelmingly. There were in 2013 efforts to recognize the risk of losing this natural advantage when a movement was set off to ‘Clean up Mauritius’. We need to persevere in this direction, not only to maintain our appeal to outsiders but for keeping up the composure of our own peace and serenity.
We have a multicultural society. Unlike many other places, our multicultural dimension is not a source of perpetual tension and bloody conflicts. We have known how to preserve it together with the advantages it confers upon all. We need to keep putting all under one roof instead of pulling it apart to secure private advantages to the point of “breaking the camel’s back”.
We were overtaken in 2013 by certain unmanageable situations such as the floods in Port Louis and the bus accident at Sorèze, which cost many lives. We have learnt from them. We are standing back on our feet, maybe not fully immune to catastrophic situations, but more ready than before to pre-empt future disasters.
Many may not be realizing how important it is for a country such as ours to be governed by the rule of law and abide by democracy. These are important corrective tools at our disposal to redress the situation if there is a tendency to go amiss at any level of governance. Many countries have it in name only.
Despite the crisis hitting our main external markets, we have managed to grow the economy. It shows that somewhere the foundation has been well laid down and the springs are still well lubricated to generate enough revenues to the government not only to meet its growing expenditures but also to bring up impressive new road and other infrastructures. They may not be doing as well as they did in the past, but our sugar, textile, tourism, ICT and financial sectors continued to prop up jobs and the economy.
There is no doubt that we could have done better. That would have been the case if we had consciously laid down additional pillars contributing effectively to compensate for any loss of momentum in any one of our existing sectors of activity. We could have done more to bring up an innovating, new breed of risk-taking investors if only to perk up our drooping rate of private investment. We would then not be operating in an environment in which those who, like the existing IPPs, would be sabotaging indirectly the upcoming of new investors in their field of activity.
What then has prevented us from scaling up new heights, thereby insulating our economy from the adverse effects of the international crisis?
It is decision-making and implementing. A country which engages in open public conflict involving its top institutions to the point of trading insults, when arguments fail, shows that it is not prioritizing what it should have prioritized. A Westminster system which does not act decisively to stop indiscipline when its ministers call into question the decisions of its Supreme Court or that of the highest political authority in the matter of appointing advisers, is evidently weak. The Westminster system asks for solidarity “sans faille”, nothing less.
All this reflects structural weakness in the political structure. As a result, political decisions that should have been taken for the greater good of the totality of the country get fractured away, compromising for particular interests and all manner of lobbies, if not yielding to outright blackmailing. Such decision-making, apart from projecting inherent a system of ad hoc decision-taking at the national level, shows that its fragility makes it nigh impossible to take the necessary decisions for the good of the country overall. Is there then a long way to go between crippling lobbying by all manner of religious, socio-cultural, ethnic and business groups and weak national institutions?
If we want the country to do its best in all domains as it should at the macro-level, we cannot carry on along this path. Politicians need to be empowered differently so as to take on the destructive lobbies and prevent them doing more damage. Politicians have been unable to detach themselves from such perverse influence even when they wanted to because we have so many opportunists in the political arena ready to undo the best we could have done, abstracting from private seeking by distinct lobbies.
Will 2014 improve this state of affairs? It is sad enough to recognize that we do not appear to be poised to take dispassionately the decisions which can make the country go to greater heights and put it firmly on a higher path. Opinion makers take every opportunity to play up to sectional/business lobby/religious interests keen to protect their own private parishes, even if that means sacrificing the national objective. The whole country gets absorbed in those smaller short-run issues and there is little energy left to look beyond. Moreover, the fragile political power will create fertile grounds for making extravagant promises to catch votes on the eve of the elections of 2015.
One may wish that no decision is taken the effect of which will be to introduce even more instability in the electoral system now and in the future. If so, using the old cliché, we could still maintain “guarded optimism” that it will not all be for the worse and that we will collect ourselves before we have drifted beyond the point of no return. The country has shown in the past that it is capable of taking courageous decisions when it matters. Despite all, we might after all take some of those courageous decisions which will take us in the direction of global achievers instead of floundering at the altar of disruptive sectional interests. It is on this sincere hope for the country that we would like to end 2013.
* Published in print edition on 27 December 2013