The Priority of Politics

We’ve witnessed over the past 6 months several goings-on at Line Barracks. The centrepiece of the various police investigations has been the former Prime Minister. It is being said that he is chalked out for further investigations and possibly for a deeper probe into his purchases, including purchases of luxury items in and out of Mauritius. 

If that is the agenda, matters can drag on for long enough. Not that institutions should not do the work assigned to them discreetly and thoroughly. And expeditiously. But it makes a difference if too much public attention gets focussed on a single pursuit, to wit, to establish that the person in question would have been involved in numerous questionable transactions.

This kind of persistent frontal attack we are witnessing on the political front is something new. Heretofore, there used to take place a number of highly rhetorical attacks against political adversaries until the polls were taken to decide who had won the battle of words.

The matter would then be laid to rest, with sporadic verbal attacks in between to cow down the adversary, but not much beyond. The idea was perhaps that yesterday’s adversary could ultimately be joined up in alliance if the current arrangement broke down. The current onslaught against the former Prime Minister seems to be endless and is playing out in the manner of a serial until, apparently, he would be finished up politically. The way politics is done may have veered course.

But we are not quite sure that this kind of single focus will create jobs, not only for those younger ones who land on the labour market each year, but also for those who are out of a job for quite some time now. Already, we are informed that several thousands have lost their jobs over the past six months. Perhaps more of the same could be expected until the lost momentum of the BAI group is fully restored.

Nobody is under any illusion that the government will ultimately be judged by voters by its economic performance. Not by the extent to which it establishes the guilt of the former Prime Minister or whomsoever. People are not here sitting in a law court, admiring the subtlety of the arguments put forward by lawyers on the different sides of the case. They have bread and butter issues foremost.

Already, they are feeling the pinch of the rupee’s significant depreciation against the US dollar in their monthly grocery bills. They have been facing this situation over the past three months and they will no doubt reckon with it even more as the euro also manages to regain its slow ascent against the US dollar, with the rupee’s import exchange rate worsening not only against the US dollar but also against a euro no longer confronted with an immediate breakup of the Eurozone. We can only keep our fingers crossed that oil which has picked up slightly to $65 a barrel this week from below $50 in the beginning of its downfall, does not move up soon enough.

These are hard facts which land on the consumer’s budget resonantly. Job losses coupled with rising inflation make up a toxic recipe when they go together. Voters will not be swayed by political rhetoric if it comes to that. This is the reason why, letting public institutions do their work diligently in matters of investigation and so forth, it would be a priority of the government to address firmly the economic situation.

Jobs will be procured the more economic activities gain in scope. For an outward oriented economy like that of Mauritius, economic activities will depend on the extent to which we are able to enhance our interactions with external markets.

In this context, initiatives to tie up more closely with the most promising regional economies would play a part. We would also gain by pushing hard in the more traditional external markets. These things call for a lot of prior domestic re-engineering to gear us up to meet those external markets.

Bottlenecks which have surfaced up with our economic partners would need to be dealt with decisively, For example, the country cannot suffer even an iota of doubt, in these difficult times for the international economy, about its good standing as a financial centre.

Already, even though it may be devoid of substance, the mere allegation last week by the EU Commission, at the behest of ten of its member countries, that we would be a tax haven, will present us in a defensive frame of mind. This is like bargaining from a position of weakness. We could have avoided that.

The same holds true for our on-going discussions about the India-Mauritius Double Tax Avoidance Treaty. Instead of allowing things to hang in suspense – which has long been the case to the utter dismay of investors going to India through the Mauritius jurisdiction – we should best have been ready with a set of proposals that will at once set doubts to rest and restore the full functioning of the treaty platform. There is an impending uncertainty created so long we do not settle this matter firmly and finally – but also intelligently so as not to lose the edge we’ve cultivated over years. And it is also a matter of keeping the economy and jobs going, not a playground for lawyers’ sterile sophisticated disputations.

This is also perhaps not the proper time to be told that things are not proceeding smoothly at Air Mauritius. The national airline has been beset by a series of under-performances for quite some years. Last week, the Board informed that the company had incurred a further loss of a billion rupees.

Since Air Mauritius is critical to our international connectivity, everything should have been done in proper time to give the airline its timely reorientation to enable it – rather than competitor airlines — to regain its financial soundness and good health. The airline business is highly dynamic. Those who don’t adapt to changing circumstances fast enough encounter failure. Two weeks earlier, Malaysia Airlines declared that it had gone bankrupt. Frankly, at this critical juncture, can we afford to deal with problems that were allowed to perpetuate themselves because of undue political interference in the good running of the airline?

If at all it was needed, politics should have helped reinforce rational decision-making to deal with problems facing the airline before they become uncontrollable. It’s a matter of jobs, of international competition and of getting our best resources in the right places. It is dealing with problems which crop up that should have been the priority of politics. The best it could do was: if you cannot help resolve the problem, at least do not hinder the solution.

All of us know that the world economy has not really moved out of the turmoil which erupted in 2007-08. We do depend on its re-gathering of strength. Until that happens concretely, we cannot dissipate our energies in the wrong directions. There’s plenty of concrete work to do. We cannot afford to lose our way in the woods in the meantime.

 

*  Published in print edition on 3 July 2015

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