An Unending Mess

Concrete shape was given last weekend to the announcement made by Sir Anerood Jugnauth in October 2016 that he was contemplating giving up his prime ministership. Pravind Jugnauth, leader of the MSM in the government alliance, was anointed Prime Minister this Monday after SAJ resigned.

As expected, this became the occasion to fill up Cabinet positions left vacant after the PMSD’s decision in mid-December to quit the government. Ministerial portfolios were reshuffled among incumbents or were allocated to newcomers to the Cabinet. Unexpectedly however, the new serenity this exercise was supposed to confer on the government was sorely disrupted.

As it turned out, this became one of the most disorderly weeks in parliamentary life. Unexpected verbal blows were exchanged from within the ranks of the government, as if a lot of worse things than what appeared on the surface were hid from public view. Threats of disclosure of uncomfortable ugly facts were levelled. Totally unbecoming for the country as a whole.

The swearing-in ceremony in the Vaghjee Hall was marred by one notable absence. Former Minister of Good Governance and Financial Services, Roshi Bhadain, singled himself out by his absence from the ceremony in which he was expected to be conferred the same ministerial position again. Yet, there was a clear indication from the seating arrangements made that he had been expected to attend the ceremony making him a minister.

Apparently unhappy at his not having been appointed Minister of Finance in the reshuffle, he was on a war footing against the government. He lost no time to quickly point out that section 60 of the Constitution, which deals with the appointment of the Prime Minister, had not been complied with. He also stated that what was going on was not in accordance with the principles of good governance.

The mess so created was enough to shift the focus from the newly appointed Prime Minister and his Cabinet to Roshi Bhadain deciding to quit the government under whose banner he had been elected. As an explanation at a subsequent press conference he held, the latter insinuated that a “mafia organisation” from within (involving family members?) would allegedly have pressured SAJ into resigning as PM to the benefit of Pravind Jugnauth.

The ruckus so created was enough to relegate the new PM’s message to the nation into the background. The former PM, SAJ, held a meeting with the press at his residence in the late evening of Tuesday to refute the allegations made by Roshi Bhadain.

SAJ expressed his opinion that the appointment of the new PM had been lawfully done and that anybody thinking otherwise was free to challenge the decision before a court of law, that he had not been subjected to pressure, as alleged by Roshi Bhadain, by any “mafia organisation” to resign as PM and that, the former Minister of Good Governance and Financial Services had till the last minute found no legal flaw in the reconstitution of the Cabinet as it had been proposed and done. His view was that the former minister’s backlash against the government must have been due to his frustration at not having been appointed Minister of Finance in the new government, which he had aspired for.

The opposition was quick to cash on the cacophony surfacing up from the ranks of the government. The Leader of the Opposition, Xavier Duval, felicitated Roshi Bhadain for leaving his ministerial post “on a matter of principle” and employed the occasion to push the government, from which he had previously resigned, against the wall.

He called for a unification of the parties in the opposition against the government, but leaving out Navin Ramgoolam, Labour’s leader, to defend himself in his pending court case regarding Rs 220 million in cash found by the police at his residence. The call for unity was not so united after all. There may be deep differences over here just as well.

In the end, we’ve got a newly constituted government which began its career in an atmosphere of dissension and doubt. This puts it under challenge to overcome the public perception that it’s operating under a severe handicap of non-performance the past two years, by now showing concrete results in terms of bringing up and implementing uplifting economic and social projects. It knows that a lot depends on showing positive results as from now on these fronts. Time will tell whether it can muster the necessary skills and resources from within its ranks without faltering in mid-course and live up to such expectations, thereby restoring the freshly battered confidence in it as a working team.

On the other hand, the opposition, to which the PMSD has recently added itself, is a scattered force. Some among them would have been happy to join the ranks of the government, only a couple of days past, had the latter been in a position to offer certain “inducements” to them in the recent Cabinet rearrangement. There’s no common theme — other than displacing the government out of power – to make the forces of the opposition coalesce naturally around a shared vision for the country. True, the coming together of the four parties is but ‘conjoncturel’, the question however is whether the opposition front can raise a convincing alternative agenda beyond raking up arguments against the government, one stray issue after another.

The people, on their part, appear to have tried their best to get a set of leaders to properly govern the country in view of the formidable challenges it is facing. Instead of that, those they have successively placed at the top have kept betraying this trust, preferring to concentrate on their private quarrels in the quest for power. The shame to which public governance has been put in the latest political episode is a measure of how our leadership is actually poorly requiting the trust of the people.

Many are now asking the question whether the series of unending mess we’ve been witness to so far will keep being staged one after the other. Or whether, by some miracle, leaders will collect themselves enough and raise the desired public platform that might, against the teeth of all evidence as seen from the current parlous state of public affairs, incentivize those who are still capable of it to come back and help raise the country from its present mess.

M.K.

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