Recent events on the political front – two ministers facing investigations on allegations of attempted corruption – have weakened the government. The Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) is back in business but this time it is government ministers who risk being publicly embarrassed. To compound matters for the government, this new situation is coming on the back of a past year in power during which it can hardly be credited with any lasting economic realisation.
The effects of the dismantling of the BAI conglomerate last year and an apparently egocentric pursuit of power à outrance by at least one minister have dampened hopes for the better voters had placed on the newly elected government. Despite all of this, the one factor which has made voters still look up to the new government was the fearful prospect of a comeback of an MMM-Labour combine as in 2014, especially as regards their controversial Second Republic agenda and the sharing of power that went with it. Or, a scattering of forces in a three-cornered fight to the end.
It must be acknowledged that the Prime Minister has this week taken decisions that were expected. He has asked Raj Dayal to step down after listening to the recorded conversation allegedly involving the minister. He has also stated that should Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo, another minister, be provisionally charged following the investigation he is under by the ICAC, he will also be asked to step down.
Such a principled stance adopted by the PM is commendable, despite this principled decision hurting the government in power politically. If that is something which will abide, it will restore confidence to the effect that institutions of the country may be allowed to function objectively and independently, irrespective of the political price the government may have to pay for it.
But we are not there yet. It was recently announced that Showkutally Soodhun will be put in charge of implementing 13 ‘smart city’ projects that were announced earlier on. It is not known how far this decision will get translated into reality. But such a decision, if it were true, starts making it all look once again like a fairy-tale story. The story doesn’t carry conviction.
Some amount of coherence in government action would have conveyed the impression that the government is finally taking the bull by the horns. It doesn’t appear to be the case. Certain ministers appear to be seeing things from conflicting points of view, which they appear to be prioritizing rather than tangible results out of government action. Different poles of power within the MSM – and in the government – appear to be pulling things in different directions. This explains the want of tangible results from government action so far.
The prevailing situation shows that politicians in power may have lost sight of the country’s bigger agenda and its longer-term objectives, which has nothing to do with the clash of personalities within the ranks of the government itself. The ups and downs of the political discourse do not augur well for the long-term prospects of the economy in particular. All this has to be evened out decisively. The sooner the better.
Voters who voted this government to power were more or less convinced that the team presented to them included some good drivers at least who would be able to take up the challenge collectively – especially the one facing the economy. This will certainly not happen if ministers, instead of attending to their duties, get into each other’s way from time to time, ending up depleting rather the collective force of the Cabinet.
As recent events have demonstrated – if at all that were necessary – sterile confrontations within the government’s ranks will only diminish the government in the public eye. With the recent events, people are aghast at the fact that what looked already like an uphill climb for the government as a whole, given the state of the international economy, has actually been rendered even more difficult by the depletion of the government’s public image.
It is said that in matters of government, success builds upon success. A general wave of optimism gets unleashed once the first goal post is reached successfully. One success leads to ever-newer decisive actions, relying on the confidence created by the first one. Surely, one is not speaking here about prioritizing outcomes like reining in corruption over everything else. One has in mind progress which raises the economic and social prospects of the population in tangible forms.
At this point in time, despite being depleted in the numbers of its active decision-makers, the government would do well to collect itself. It cannot go on undermining itself, the way things have been happening.
There is a risk that politicians in power could make abstraction of the challenging reality confronting the government at present, blinded by the prospect of becoming individually better empowered. This is not the priority of the moment. Rather, the government should reverse the negative perception of itself it has created in the public due to malfunctions and repetition of the same mistakes past governments had made.
People would be happy to see the government reasserting true good governance in the conduct of public affairs. They would also be happy to support it to deliver economic results they have long been expecting from it. For the good of the country, it should not allow itself to lose its way, by all means.
* Published in print edition on 8 April 2016