The Climate Factor

There were torrential rains in different parts of the country last Wednesday. This led to flooding in certain places, including certain wrongly designed roundabouts along the highways. Once the meteorological department announced in the weekend that a low pressure system was under formation some 700km North West of Mauritius and would attract rain clouds from the tropical region, the country was on the alert. Schools did not open up as from Monday.

As the rains associated with this weather system came down on Wednesday, the most vulnerable quickly flocked to refugee centres while their abodes started taking water or this was imminent. As expected, places like Canal Dayot which experienced the worst during the floods of 30th March 2013, were the most on the alert. Fortunately, there were no victims this time. Port Louis did not become the theatre of floodwaters coming down the mountain slopes only to hit against the high tide from the ocean thus preventing its evacuation, as it happened in March 2013.

The water drainage system, even though it was obstructed by some amount of careless throwing around of rubbish by unconscious people, did not add to our woes as it did at the time. A continuing dose of civic education to make our people manage rubbish more carefully will not be a bad thing, though.

An instruction was issued by the Prime Minister’s Office for those who were at their work places to be released by 11 O’clock. As expected, with all the people leaving their workplaces at about the same time, the transport system became chaotic. There were no casualties. Nevertheless, distress was around at the prospect of waters rising, given the significant amounts of rainfalls during a fairly short interval in quite some places.

This is the cyclonic season. We should expect such events in the ordinary course of business. And prepare ourselves to parry the worst consequences of disasters if and when they occurred. The phenomenon of Wednesday showed that many unattended factors should be firmly addressed to protect especially those who are most vulnerable and to deal with obstructions to the water channel.

Tourism is an important pillar of the economy. Our capacity to endure extreme weather conditions successfully and to harmonize our response to extreme situations will be a plus in our favour. Each occasion should help us identify weaknesses and avoid the worst. That should beef up our image as a well-prepared country. For, we depend heavily on our name and good standing to sustain a thriving tourism activity.

As we look at the start of erosion of some of our best beaches, we are reminded that there is the global climate change factor which can also potentially impact this important sector of activity for the economy. We can’t do much about the global heating phenomenon which is not of our making but we need not add to it by not managing our resources and our environment as best possible. Here again, citizens will have to be coached to act responsibly.

The events of Wednesday last show how vulnerable some members of our population can be when natural phenomena hit hard. The more we insulate them from distress, the more we can eke out the required element of solidarity from within us when natural catastrophes visit upon us. No one should feel left out in moments of distress.

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Signs of fracture in the government

Voters were looking for a strong and committed government to emerge after the election of December 2014. A 47-13 victory at the polls gave it a comfortable majority. The leaders of L’Allians Lepep who had successfully defied Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Bérenger in the polls against all odds, looked confident to take up the challenges. The economic challenge was the most important of these.

The country needed to move away from politics which had been highly personalized in the period before to a more objective, rule-based system of government. Despite the fact that the winning alliance was made up of the MSM and two breakaway groups, notably the PMSD which had been part of the previous government and the Muvman Liberater from the MMM, the public considered that its different parts will hold together for the country’s advancement.

It started becoming evident soon after however that the government was more keen to prioritize the politics of power than to deal in all earnest, with the required amount of maturity, with moving forward the country’s economic agenda. Although people took it with a laugh when Showkutally Soodhun, MSM Vice-Prime Minister in the government, openly criticized Xavier-Luc Duval, leader of the PMSD, for daring place public posters wishing Happy Eid 2015 to Muslims, it now appears that the cut goes deeper.

Opinion polls – for whatever they are worth – placed the leader of the PMSD in the highest position sometime after the elections. The latest of them show him still at the top. Emboldened perhaps by this favourable public appreciation of his less boisterous but effective role in the government, despite having been freed in the meantime of certain portfolios e.g., internal and external communications, Air Mauritius, he was originally in charge of, he has continued to consolidate his party’s appeal, hoping at first perhaps that the voter base of the MMM, then in disarray, would come closer to him. That would have given the PMSD a bigger national clout. Politics is about power, isn’t it?

While operating on the sidelines of government, as it has been its wont, the PMSD holds congresses and other activities to remain in touch with its voter base. Lately, it has been going to rural areas, that is, beyond trying to draw to it the former urban MMM adherents now alienated from their traditional party. This move by the PMSD might have been seen by the MSM as an incursion by the PMSD into what it would like to believe is its exclusive “territory”. The MSM has given signals that such incursion into what it might be considering as its own “reserved territory” – notably, the rural areas — is not appreciated.

Recently, the PMO-approved PMSD appointed press attaché to PMSD Minister Aurore Perraud, was sent off under PMO instructions. Something PMSD leader Xavier Duval called a “saddening” decision. Others see this decision purely as a retaliation against PMSD rural inroads.

It is in the nature of political alliances to deny that there would be any such differences among their constituents. But this is also the source of mistrust among alliance partners focussed on the political power game. Xavier Duval demonstrated during his preceding alliance in government that he has quite some amount of resilience against serious affronts made to him by his partner in alliance. If he keeps internalizing such affronts, he could survive assaults such as those of Showkutally Soodhun and the latest one about the press attaché. He might even put up with them until the term of the government comes to a close and then decide whether to join the same team or another more promising one.

On the other hand, the Muvman Liberater (ML) – the other constituent of L’Allians Lepep — appears to be feathering its nest within the confines of constituencies which revolted against the MMM in 2014 and voted it to power. This limited range of its action should be comforting the MSM that the ML would not be having ambition of its own to extend beyond its permitted remit, and thus potentially make inroads into constituencies that the MSM would prefer be left exclusively to it. Or, in the political power game, the MSM would simply be seeing the ML running out of the goodwill it acquired at the time of breaking away from the MMM, by continuing to caution controversial government decisions.

Given all this, it would appear that the MSM would like to have sole sway on the political front, more so after the impending Supreme court verdict in the Pravind Jugnauth case. Having contained and kept in reserve a tamed-up PMSD and the ML not really incarnating the MMM, the MSM may even be hoping that it will eventually neutralize the Labour Party or whatever is left of it and thus reign supreme on the local political chessboard. Much of all this belongs to the domain of speculation, however. Things change very fast, especially in politics.

The game can stretch even beyond the constituents of the present alliance in power. It could even involve other political actors, such as the MMM and Labour in future alliances with either Labour or PMSD or the MSM, in any permutation. This will be in keeping with the perpetually changing political affiliations that we’ve been seeing all the way.

Or, if the MSM was able to tackle the economic factor in a remarkable way and give itself credentials accordingly, which it has been losing by going after the political power game, it might raise itself to the level of challenger against any one of the other major parties. It could then pick up an alliance with a Labour Party without Navin Ramgoolam or the MMM itself if the latter succeeds to conquer back its base.

All this will be in perfect keeping with the debilitating political games political parties have kept staging up over the years. The only thing the politicians now have to remember is that voters may have become less dichotomous than in the past. They may spurn alliances of convenience much like what they did in the elections of 2014.

What about Mauritius itself? It can perhaps do away with politicians who have reached the end of their tether and can’t deliver the goods anymore. If so, that might usher in a healthier new phase of doing politics in the country with a political leadership geared to produce tangible results for the country. And less so for politicians’ own perpetuation in power. In that event, public institutions will cease hosting the cronies of politicians; they might start hosting professionals of high calibre just as well and take the country to greater heights above party political parochialisms.

* Published in print edition on 12 February 2016

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