It is perhaps a bit early in the life of the new government. But it’s beginning to emerge that an increasing number of voters who parried the Labour-MMM alliance of last year to elect L’Alliance Lepep instead already feel quite disappointed by the new government’s performance.
It must be said that they did not vote Lepep because of some deep conviction in any ideology it or its three components stood for. They voted for it because, except for some party diehards, they could not identify themselves with the awful political agenda the Labour-MMM alliance was presenting to them. They did not want a bicephalous political leadership prone to instability and unpredictable tendencies once in power.
Many were simply keen to ensure that even if the Labour-MMM alliance secured power by virtue of classic political arithmetic, it did not secure the majority required to bring about Constitutional changes to suit their private conveniences. The wave of protest against the Labour-MMM project was so strong, especially towards the final days of the electoral campaign, that not only did voters not elect that alliance to power. They elected, unwittingly, Lepep to power and that too, with a two-thirds majority.
Be that as it may, Lepep won and the people had great hopes that it would put an end to all the questionable practices the previous government had been employing – which was part of its electoral promises. People wanted institutions to once again function independently and normally in the discharge of their duties. They also wanted capable persons, free of political colours, to assume the leadership of public institutions which, they felt, had failed to carry out their mission objectively.
Lepep had promised during the electoral campaign that it would clean up the Augean stables of the previous regime. People assumed that that meant the new government would relegate to the past all such malpractices which had made them feel so jittery about many highly questionable decisions that were being taken in the past, making the government machinery a non-performer regarding real issues needing to be tackled.
Little did the people realize that they would very soon be confronted with nothing better after the installation of the new government. A large swathe of the urban voters abstained massively in the municipal elections which followed the general elections of last year to undoubtedly protest and send a strong message to Lepep against this state of affairs.
However, having tasted political victory a second time in the municipals, it would seem the new government started operating under the premise that all it had done in the short time after getting elected in December last year was being endorsed by the people.
The view taken was that the cleaning-up exercise they had undertaken – notably by dismantling the BAI group, the serial arrests of Navin Ramgoolam, the arrest of the previous Governor of the Bank of Mauritius on tenuous grounds, the arrest of an Attorney on his landing at the airport on his return after consulting with his client overseas, presumably to secure sensitive material from among his belongings, etc., – were being well seen by the population. That could have been true for part of the population. But many others were seeing in all this a sheer repetition – not necessarily involving all the components of Lepep – of all the bad things they usually get to see under various abusive dispensations in varying degrees. This time round, however, the police appeared to be focused on chasing political adversaries time and again. Old files were being unearthed to spot newer targets.
Despite averments to the contrary from the government side, it will not be easy for it to dispel or counter the groundswell of perception among the public that there is a deliberate targeting of political adversaries, especially Labour ones. Is the objective to not only attack the credibility of its leader and through that to also destroy the Labour Party itself? History will be the judge.
By bringing down the BAI group piecemeal the way it went about it, the government was not only dealing with financial malpractices that the group might have indulged in. It also showed in the process that it had no clear plan as to how to put the broken-down pieces of the BAI group together in pursuit of a concrete economic agenda for the country. There could be no better illustration of the economic and financial inexperience of the political protagonists who embarked on this adventure.
So badly was all this managed that certain BAI companies had to be nationalised in the absence of an alternative option. Others are being sold away. Workers are in a state of disarray, being uncertain of their future. A lot of public money has been pumped in as a face-saving device due to the amateurish way the whole thing has been handled. Whether the public money will be recovered at all is a different question.
As if the havoc thus created was not enough, it would now appear that the Double Tax Avoidance Agreement with India has been put in serious jeopardy. This Treaty is a major plank for the survival of our offshore sector. A lot of jobs and an important chunk of our economy are now at stake, if fears expressed in certain knowledgeable quarters are true. The resulting uncertainty can have devastating consequences for an entire sector of economic activity. That would amount to another let down unless repairs are done in time.
Instead of reversing any bad decisions that might have been endorsed in this context as a matter of urgency, the country is now caught in the throes of a legal battle involving the Police, the Independent Commission against Corruption and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). This could be a useful political diversion but what about economic and social priorities?
The objective apparently is to make the DPP go for having allegedly found himself involved in a conflict of interest position in a private matter some four years ago. In this same environment, the legal profession is torn by controversy. The President of the Mauritius Bar Association has resigned, stating that there are dictatorial tendencies that would stand in the way of his fulfilling the mission for which he has been appointed.
People know that political corruption is not something new. Many years ago, the ‘Carnet La Boutique’ of an official of Air Mauritius showed amply that corruption money had flowed out from the national airline to a whole range of beneficiaries including businesses, politicians, religious establishments and private individuals. This sort of corrupt malpractice has to be stopped, but not selectively.
A theory of the new government posing as “Jack-amends-all” barely carries conviction in such a context.
All this diversion from the realities of day-to-day life – unemployment affirming itself, cost of living increasing by the day despite statistics pointing in the opposite direction, lack of avenues for existing sectors of activity, a standstill situation in the construction sector, national investment stalling – has started becoming a bitter pill for voters. Have they fallen from Scylla into Charybdis, they justifiably ask?
They say that they voted Lepep precisely to avoid finding themselves in the current situation of perpetual irrelevant controversies. They wanted a government that would add to the economy’s development, not detract from it. They wanted people to be at the head of institutions for their competence, not for their political ties or similar affinities with the new holders of power.
Yet, for many observers of the situation, nothing has improved at all in these regards. Excessiveness for which voters threw out the previous government appears to be continuing as before. As disappointment gathers pace, people are asking themselves about alternative political set-ups which could take on more responsibly the job of governing the country. They have no liking for Labour and the MMM as constituted presently; they showed that in the municipal elections. The government’s highly disruptive approach is giving them serious cause for concern now.
They are increasingly facing a void, having no valid political party among the existing major ones to choose from. They have had enough of political parties going directly for the enjoyment of power, benefiting friends and cronies, pursuing irrelevant and immature agendas, etc. Since others who have claimed from time to time to be the “Third Force” against the classic political parties which usually face each other in elections have hardly any presence, the question is: how do voters get out of the trap in which they appear to be caught?
The country badly needs an answer to this critical question at the risk of seeing the deterioration of public affairs continue for good. The sooner, the better.
- Published in print edition on 31 July 2015