Questioned lately about the lack of economic results since the coming in place of the new government, the Prime Minister rightly replied that such results take time to manifest themselves. The question itself was prompted no doubt by the amount of time and attention the government appeared to be giving to exposing the former Prime Minister and what it has called a “cleaning-up exercise”.
There had been several announcements of projects, such as port development, the construction of “smart” cities and an “ocean economy”. True, such projects take time to come up. But, for a government which had been elected on prioritizing the economy, there was not much to show in terms of ground realities or the first green shoots.
A strong government signals itself by a committed leadership. Despite all the efforts he has mustered to this effect, there is a growing impression in the public that SAJ would have somehow abdicated on this leadership role. There’s also the impression that he hasn’t gathered his troops around a sound cohesive political project, rising above differences. This may be due to an atmosphere of mistrust/incompatibility among coalition partners.
The coalition he heads appears to be going in different directions and content to do the administration. Guns also now often appear to be turned inwards. Let alone members who feel uncomfortable at decisions taken and express themselves publicly to state disagreement, as did recently Sangeet Fowdar of the Muvman Liberater. The Minister of Finance himself looks indisposed, to the point he hasn’t attended some Cabinet meetings lately.
All this may be concealing a possible struggle for power at the top. Thus, in mid-February, the Cabinet refrained from approving the ‘Pailles Smart City’ project which was being piloted by the Board of Investment, the State investment Corporation and the Ministry of Finance. It is reported the Independent Commission against Corruption may in fact be called upon to investigate certain aspects of it. In practical terms, this means the project is unlikely to happen any time soon. On the other hand, despite an evident lack of clarity about its financing and potential impact on the economy, another construction project called ‘Heritage City’ sponsored by the Minister of Good Governance, obtained the Cabinet’s approval at its meeting of 2nd March.
It is understandable that the MSM in particular has been shaken by the Intermediate Court’s judgement last year to the effect that the party’s leader was, in the court’s opinion, involved in a case of conflict of interest in the MedPoint affair under the Prevention of Corruption Act. This decision of the court may have upset contemplated succession plans at the level of the government. This situation of stalemate does not favour stability in the political establishment. Part of what’s going on may be reflecting the uncertainty that has set in due to all this.
However, the government has been entrusted with running a country. This task asks for a lot of self-restraint and giving clear orientation to the affairs of state. Good decisions reinforce the confidence the political establishment has in itself. They help members stick together, the more they feel that the pulse of the public goes in favour of what the government is undertaking.
As things stand as of now, that doesn’t appear to be the case. The public has a feeling of a lack of coordination and purposeful orientation among members of the government. One-upmanship by certain members of the government may be to blame for generating this sort of perception of government management in the public.
A strong political leadership would have at once identified the loose ends, dealt with them effectively and made the entire team collect itself and work towards a common objective. Instead of that, numerous contradictions have been surfacing up from time to time, creating the impression that the whole structure may not hold together.
The difference has to be made between affairs of the perennial state and private conflicts involving members of a government. A good leadership minimizes private conflicts in order to prioritize the affairs of state. It gets detached enough so as not to taint its vision with what Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve Bank of the US, once qualified as “irrational exuberance”. We seem to be drowning in a sea of useless verbiage trying to hide its amateurism.
The state apparatus should once again measure up the consequences of all and sundry decisions proposed to be taken to avoid getting into an untenable situation eventually. This measured approach appears to be lacking. More importantly, it is not clear who among the leaders of the government will take the bull by the horns and restore the serenity the country very much needs to get back on track and consistently prioritize the larger objectives.
* Published in print edition on 13 March 2015