The foundation for the immediate future of Mauritius should have been laid down in 2015. Measures to this effect were announced first in the Budget Speech. Perhaps due to their lack of conviction or to supplement them with second thoughts, or simply to revive the economic agenda which risked being drowned by other preoccupations, the Prime Minister himself came to announce another set of measures a couple of months after the Budget, as a vision statement for public policies.
Questions were asked towards the end of the year – against the background of the government’s forecast plan that 100,000 jobs would be created by 2018 — about the lack of results in this regard. The Prime Minister answered that the outcomes from policies endorsed by the new government will take time to show results. This is perfectly understandable.
Announcements have been made that a number of construction and port development projects have by now been endorsed between the public and private sectors to the tune of tens of billions of rupees of investment. Construction includes real estate projects, such as ‘smart cities’, new hotels and road development. The port is increasingly seen as a regional bunkering hub and a base for the development of what has been called the ‘Ocean Economy’. The government sees in these measures the forerunner of what it considers a high period of sustained growth or, in the political jargon, a ‘second economic miracle’.
Somehow, a view has crystallised that the government is not so well equipped on the delivery side as far as positive economic outcomes are concerned. This kind of perception may well have to do with its handling of the BAI case, starting with the dissolution of the Bramer Bank in April. The view was reinforced later on with the equally clumsy handling of our Double Tax Avoidance Agreement with India, putting in jeopardy a significant segment of our financial sector. Ex post justification of this faux-pas by reference to the G20’s decision, months later, to go for a proposed Base Erosion and Profit Shifting agreement potentially nullifying double taxation benefits, also carried no conviction that we were on the right track. The effect of things like this catching the limelight is to put a screen on other good work the government might be doing.
Sometimes a well-intended initiative may have been drowned in the confusion created around it. Despite popular approval that ill-gotten wealth should be dealt with decisively to avoid corruption taking firm roots, public opinion is today divided about the manner in which government has conferred quasi-judicial powers to its Executive in this regard. Yet, the public has been vehemently asking since long to put a stop to this malpractice emanating from illegal activity and political connivance involving donors to political parties. The lack of conviction even on such a positive action seems to indicate that the public wants the government’s good faith to be re-established after some clumsy handling of certain national affairs during the year, including what are perceived as arbitrary arrests of political adversaries by the police on “provisional charges”. We should put behind this gloomy episode at the earliest possible.
2016 may prove more productive than the year before if we now proceeded with our feet firmly planted on the ground. Some ingredients needed for this include: a good and highly motivated leadership, imparting more business confidence and some practical successes in diverse domains to show that work is actually being done. There is no need to dwell any longer on fault-finding; things like this don’t take us too far. Instead: encourage those who can help undertake projects and sustain jobs. Do not keep blaming someone or other if things don’t happen the way you want them. Find the solutions and let’s get going. Enough of the perpetual adversarial stance of suspicion and mud-slinging: Mauritius is not in need of such things.
Confidence should once again be restored. This will happen the more the public sector plays on a level playing field and chooses holders of high public officers on nothing less than on grounds of pure merit, not personal proximity. Clearly, our progress will accelerate if we succeed in one project after another. Implementers and drivers of constructive action appear to be in short supply in some sectors. This deficit needs to be overcome. There is also a need to ensure no hiccup in the provision of basic necessities of modern life: electricity, good water supply, safe and adequate roads, reliable and safe public transport, high class teachers to create the practical skills for tomorrow and a strong sense of discipline in public life. This will maintain confidence in the overall set-up.
It needs be remembered that neither Dubai nor Singapore were the thriving places they are today. They became so because their leaders were committed visionaries who knew how to keep implementing their vision in a balanced way, but at the same time giving their countries a strategic importance they didn’t have in the beginning. They may have struggled with the local politics but that did not prevent the coming into place of their progressive economies.
Mauritius is today in a position to make better strategic decisions to shape its future. Not irreverently, but it can be said that we are no longer immensely relevant in global geopolitics. Places like Dubai and Singapore, by virtue of their intense positioning in the global order, have a right of say in international affairs, both as regards business and political strategy. While they have kept increasing their international clout, we have not hesitated to paint ourselves black, including in international forums.
Power is getting redistributed at the global level between Washington and London on the one side, and the emerging world on the other. We have a duty to fit into this changing landscape. We can do so by becoming an important link in the new world order by contributing to it or by becoming a meaningful part of it. We have to become bigger. Looked at even from this perspective, there is no doubt that we should be seen by the powers that be to be an enduring player. We have to travel for this much beyond our insular blinkers, much beyond replacing one set of leaders by another.
We will not go there if we consider ourselves surrounded by local enemies on all sides, not even sparing the good standing of our public bodies in the process. Isolated as it is, Mauritius has to fight it out on all fronts. It finally needs to come to the reckoning that it’s not all a matter of money and wealth. It’s a matter of bringing up, as quickly as possible, an overarching sense of common purpose binding all of us to a higher objective than sheer infighting.
Barring some unfortunate incidents that have marred our past, our country has on the whole remained socially stable with good neighbourly relations prevailing in general, as well as the different faiths respecting each other and when the need has arisen, the leaders putting up a common front strongly condemning all devious behaviours and insisting upon the need for social peace. Indeed, Mauritius has a reputation for its accueil among foreigners – and why shouldn’t we extend this good will among ourselves as citizens so as to enhance further this image and to forge stronger bonds of patriotism? We need more civility and politeness among ourselves in the public sphere, and even when opponents are pursued according to due process, human dignity must at all times be maintained in dealing with whoever irrespective of status.
From being a foregone basket case as predicted in the Titmuss-Meade report in the early 1960s, sound political and social management since then has lifted us above the tide mark of those days, and we continue to march forward along the path of development in this country. Let us in the coming years give ourselves more reason to be even more proud of our country through leaders who lead by example and citizens who assume their responsibilities and duties towards the common good, even as the national authority ensures a safeguard of their rights based on internationally accepted norms.
* Published in print edition on 31 December 2015