The new government moved one important step further this week. The President announced the Government Programme on Tuesday last.
This programme sets out a number of positive objectives and government projects intended to re-launch the economy. They include a number of initiatives such as creation of additional jobs, leaning particularly on a targeted boost of the SME sector, provision of social housing to those unable to afford it, and launching the ocean economy as another pillar of economic activity. In other cases, including the further diversification and expansion of the manufacturing and tourism sectors, developing the port and the airport as strategic international and regional hubs and providers of a more extensive range of services, repositioning the ICT sector, strengthening the provision of financial services from Mauritius, developing Mauritius as a duty-free centre, and promoting Highlands as an alternative centre of administration – the intention is to add to the scope of activities undertaken while removing obstacles to development.
The main thrust of the proposals, it appears, is to deal with issues that needed to be expeditiously addressed and to bring about what the alliance in power has been referring to as ‘the second economic miracle’. In other words, the government hopes that by a combination of all the measures proposed, it will bring about required changes to tie up loose ends in a bid to generate a higher rate of growth than before. By balancing social and economic outcomes in a fair-sharing economy harmoniously, the government looks forward to bring together stakeholders in the public and private sectors for promoting a common cause – improving the overall standard of living for all.
The overall aim is no doubt noble. The crux of the matter however is how far policy makers walk the talk without trampling down the fundamental principles of a true democracy – fairness, equitableness, rule of law. The key to all government programmes is how far they get executed and operationalized. The record hasn’t always been commendable, unfortunately.
If one were to examine the declarations of intent in the programmes of several governments past, there is hardly anything to reproach. Prospects appeared to brighten up suddenly from the existing state of affairs before the governmental programmes were given out. New hopes were raised. Yet, many of the programmes proved disappointing when “put into practice”, to the point that the next government in power had to restate the same objectives, but in words other than those employed previously.
This means we have to take the proposals made with a dose of cautious optimism. We need not be carried away by the perception that merely stating the lofty intents means that the goal has been achieved. Usually, there’s ‘many a slip twixt the cup and the lip’. It has been the shortcoming of several governments that they have failed to translate all their intents into reality.
A cursory examination of why the slippages occurred will for instance show that in some cases, such as the ‘democratisation of the economy’, by which people understood that many more people beyond the traditional economic elite would be truly economically empowered, the country saw instead an intensification of income inequalities as shown by the increase of the country’s Gini coefficient between 2003 and 2012. The ‘Land Based Oceanic Industry’ did not take off, due perhaps to a clash of divergent economic interests. In the process, the target was not attained. It proved impossible for governments to overcome resistances. So we had to be satisfied with the status quo, i.e., doing nothing.
We did not overhaul to the extent needed our human resources because we failed to evolve education and training in keeping with changes in the pattern of global demand for goods and services. There were resistances of all sorts over more than one decade which led to postponement of the right real actions and decisions to needed to increase the employability of our educated and less educated workforce. Politicians could not overcome the bottlenecks.
Our entrepreneurs proved sufficiently risk-averse not to venture out in newer domains and geographies than those they were used to. We therefore lost out to more adventurous countries which went on to explore and fructify every possible opportunity. Mauritius thus failed to go to the higher stage.
All this goes to show that a country comes out of the rut when it knows clearly where it wants to be in the concert of nations. It should put in place the result-oriented resources it needs to match its ambition. This cannot happen in the absence of a clear vision as to where the country wants to be in time to come and a proper understanding of the environment in which one is operating. All this can happen by having the right people in the right place, and the correct actions and decisions taken at the appropriate moment.
Miracles, if this is what people decide to call a sharp turnaround for the better in the country’s economic fortunes, are the result of prior actions and decisions, nothing less nothing more. For example, the US and the UK have embarked recently on the path of sustained growth from their economic downturn while the euro area appears to be sinking by the day. This changeover in their fortunes is not fortuitous. A brilliant public service manned by the best brains acting in concert with the political leadership has made the difference over there. It should be no different in the case of Mauritius.
The weakness of many governments in Mauritius has resulted from a failure to implement. This has been due to weak political and business leadership. One would expect that a government which means business and which knows what it wants will give the sort of non-compromising and sturdy leadership which is necessary.
Here, the quality of the men and women in leadership positions will make all the difference. If they are the right people in the right place, they will waste no time playing to the gallery. For the present government, the elections have already been won on December 10th. There is no need to continue on the campaign tone again, pulling up irrelevant things to distract people’s attention. Public servants should do their jobs soberly and bring results; that will help groom a country that doesn’t stop at sensations but goes far deeper.
What the country now needs is a coherent and strong collective leadership which knows what it wants and which can deploy, without losing its way in the woods, all the right resources needed to bring to life, one after another, the critical elements of its programme. It is on this kind of effectiveness that we need to demonstrate that there should be no gap between the programme and its implementation.
* Published in print edition on 30 January 2015