Stemming the Rising Tide

The first two years of the present government were not peaceful. They invited trouble upon themselves by mishandling the BAI affair barely four months into power. They cast doubt on their democratic credentials by passing a Good Governance and Integrity Reporting Bill which, to all intents and purposes, looked like the Executive taking on powers of the judiciary to make summary confiscations of private wealth. As if that was not enough: the tax avoidance treaty with India was overturned, casting a long shadow on the Global Business sector of the country.

All this soured the mood of the country, despite positive action having been previously taken to raise basic pensions and to free Port Louis from the encumbrance caused by street hawkers. When the Prosecution Commission Bill was introduced towards the end of last year, not only it did not go through. It aroused grave concerns for being a disguised attempt to appropriate the independent powers of the DPP. The government was split, with the PMSD leaving for the ranks of the opposition.

With the benefit of hindsight, it now appears that the government was busy undermining itself. It was taking decisions not so much to improve the chances of the country and economy to see better days – for which it had been voted to power in December 2014 – but to assert its power and authority without delivering in terms of improving economic and social prospects. It had become some sort of a self-harming machine.

It could not therefore take advantage of opposition parties having lost their credibility vis-à-vis voters in the last elections. It was as if it was offering them an opportunity to come back due to all the negativity it was spreading around. To the point that some in the opposition started employing for themselves the slogan “Viré Mam” (Change affiliation now) which the new government had exploited to win at the elections. The pendulum had as if swung to the other extreme.

As if that was not enough, it is emerging for some time now that people close to the parties in power were being appointed to public and other state-controlled bodies with sumptuous perks and remunerations. This is the same thing they were reproaching the previous government of doing when they won in the December 2014 elections.

All this has been impairing the good standing of the government. And opposition parties are busy driving more wedges to split the government again. This strategy is most probably behind the current targeting by the MMM of the Muvman Liberater, one of the two remaining members of the Alliance Lepep currently in power.

The MMM stands to gain doubly if successful: it might, by casting the Muvman Liberater (ML) in a bad light, regain its traditional voters who abandoned it for the ML in its very strongholds in the last elections. A discredited ML, ultimately discarded by the MSM, might also thus weaken the latter party and force it to seek a compromise in view of forthcoming elections. For, in Mauritius, the joy ride of political coalitions to power is never too far behind.

The challenge for the government is to withstand this accumulated assault from the gaffes of previous years and, now, the surfacing of alleged favouritism towards people close to political parties. Even when drugs have been traced out and related arrests effected recently, the paradox is that attempts have been made to entangle thereby the government into such matters. All this points to weakening of the government’s grip in the management of the country.

With about half the term of office left for the government to turn the economy around, it is not evident that its prospects are improving, as things stand today. It is not only that the right sort of investments required for an expansion of a durable economic growth is not taking place. The private sector appears to be still on its guard after the unsettling situation which prevailed during the government’s first two years of tenure. Concretely, therefore, we are seeing little of the scope-enhancing type of investment.

The international environment continues to remain uncertain. Had it been otherwise, the economy might have ventured out into a higher amount of activities taking advantage of a world economy cruising at high speed. Since the outlook is still unclear, all the government – or for that matter, any government – could do is to go for infrastructure projects as a stop-gap. It will require investing a lot more effort and time to grow up the ocean economy as a new area of economic growth.

Something can be done to keep the economic pot boiling in the meantime, although it is not clear whether enough will be done to stave off the discontent that has been accumulated so far on several fronts. But the challenge is powerful. It is powerful enough for the MSM government to start thinking hard about all it can do to still get back into popular esteem for the next elections. The question remains: can it do it? Or, will it get caught up struggling with all the mess bubbling up from so many quarters?

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