Ending Disruption

A decision was taken by Cabinet to stop the Heritage City project. As expected, sentiments were divided. Minister of Financial Services and Good Governance who had been advocating it the most refused to swallow the bitter pill even after the project was rejected. A minister is expected to abide by a collective Cabinet decision.It looked like the Minister was not abiding by this established principle.

The Minister of Financial Services directed criticism against the senior adviser of the recently appointed Minister of Finance who had stated in a paper that the contemplated City might not be able to withstand the fury of the waves of Bagatelle Dam if the latter were to breach its bounds. He referred to ‘Mahabharata’ or a condition in which kins and family are pitched in a terminal war against each other. The senior adviser might have been making a metaphorical statement about the undercurrent of pressure building up in public opinion about this project needing to be jettisoned for the good of the government. Not the Dam itself.

But the Minister of Finance stepped in directly not before long to publicly express his support to what his senior adviser had to state in the matter. This must have been singularly embarrassing to the Minister of Financial Services, who would have preferred not to cross swords with the new Minster of Finance this time. It remains to be seen how the latter will tackle the disruptive factor which has bedevilled the government’s public standing so far.

It has been the bane of the present government that decisions have been taken time and oft by specific wings of it without overall mature consensus on the political and other consequences of such decisions. Heritage City appears to belong to this category in which a minority view and a certain highly controversial style of decision-making were imposed on the rest. The rest of the Cabinet were exposed to the risk of finding themselves opposed to the party hierarchy if they dared express dissent, assuming they were given such an opportunity.

Another similar poor decision was the roughshod manner in which the decision was taken in April 2015 to dismantle the BAI group. Not that the group had nothing to reproach itself for the manner it was conducting financial business. The major flaw was the boisterous unmannerly way in which action was taken.

Proof that the case was handled with great amateurism lies in the fact that problems have kept cropping up in the aftermath of the hurried dismantling. Policy holders and investors are unhappy the way they are being treated. A weaker banking structure has emerged as a consequence. The new Minister of Finance only recently injected close to a billion of supplementary expenditure to keep afloat Maubank, the merged banking offshoot after the BAI decision. The central bank has poured billions to pay up insurance policy holders, with no end in view with what assets of the now defunct company would its claim be redeemed and when? Worse, the handling of the whole matter has put into serious question good governance practices in the country. An international case in arbitration has been instructed against the government for not giving the prior right to recourse to the aggrieved party.

Even as regards internal affairs of the government in power, matters were splashed out in public to embarrass specific colleagues in the Cabinet. It looked like a scenario of unending internal conflicts playing out. At this pace, many in the government would have despaired about their chance of being elected again. But the MSM was the senior partner and few would have taken the risk to incur its wrath by dissociating themselves with all the pandemonium being unleashed from time to time.

The MSM itself appeared not to be realising or not to be able to stem those disruptive acts despite the risk it faced of eroding support from its potentially volatile pool of voters shared with a party such as Labour. A brave act of disruption from this self-destructive path was necessary. The recent budget of the Minister of Finance gave the first signal that matters will not drift into generalities again and be again punctuated from time to time by some disruptive action or other. But let us wait and see whether and what will henceforth be prioritized. The budget may not have evoked the ‘wow’ reaction but it was socially more tangible. It gave the signal that the government intended to restore its lost credentials.

It was a luxury to keep shooting ourselves in the feet, disrupting internal order, in the face of serious challenges facing the economy, at a time the external environment is also so fragile. There will be consequences no doubt to all that has been mishandled so far. It will be a plus however if that trend were to stop, as it appears to be the case with the stopping of the Heritage City project as a first signal that matters are back under control.

The country is not in need of another election at this stage. It is least interested in a fresh round of political alliances whose perennial message has been that the electorate can be fooled again and again in the hands of clever manipulators of diverse alliances among major political parties. The pressing need of the moment is not to garland heroes with laurels for showing their exceptional feats at fomenting a permanently troubled situation in the high spheres of local politics. A new culture of meticulous care is needed to make the country breathe again freely.

M.K.

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