In a few days, 2010 will be gone. The question that one usually asks on such occasions is whether events during the year have ushered in a change for the better. It will be recalled that it was the year of yet another general election. The elections of May 2010 brought back the same government to power, with the difference that this time, it was the MSM that was allied to Labour. It was not as comfortable a victory as it was thought initially for the government. Some constituencies gave a clear signal that they will not accept sub-par political performance. Seen from another angle, voters did not approve “la manière de faire du MMM” and that of its objective allies in the media. This made a lot of difference in the electoral outcome. Although victory margins were narrowed down in the circumstances, the general election was, on the whole, fought in the classical mould. In other words, there was no advancement of the political stage.
It is true that the international economic environment has not been quite favourable to a country such as ours. We could not therefore be expected to make too much headway, the more so as most of our customary international economic partners were facing problems of their own at home. When constraints to growth of this sort appear for countries which can actually make a difference, they rise to the occasion and break new grounds to overcome their vulnerabilities. Nothing of the sort happened over here. Our economic structure hardly evolved so that we remain exposed to past vulnerabilities, with depressed international economic conditions not in a hurry to quit the stage so soon.
A lot of time was spent attending to problems confronting management of parastatal bodies. This unhealthy situation diverted the focus on the wrong priorities. It is not the management of those bodies that should have received public attention; it is the work that has been entrusted to them and the degree of success with which they would have delivered the goods in spite of constraints that should have won our admiration. In this environment, it is not surprising that there were hardly any path-breaking policies adopted by them to raise fundamentally the manner of doing business in a difficult international economic environment. Too much energy was devoted to extinguishing internal passions and power-plays. That’s the Mauritius of old, again.
We have appeared to be engaged in a fight against people who are perceived to be acting contrary to the interest of the public in general. For one, the IPPs come to mind in this respect; they were presented as having abusively taken advantage by hedging against all possible risks to themselves while passing on excessive costs to consumers of energy through well constructed contracts. The matter was subjected to mutually agreed arbitration. While consumers are still waiting for the positive outcome for them from the arbitration, they are having to face in the meantime a 10% increase in their electricity bill as from 1st December.
The time is coming therefore to shift towards giving more concrete outcomes which touch the daily lives of people. A lot of unfinished business needs to be completed the like of equal opportunities in both the public and private sectors, tackling the problem of infrastructure, water supply, etc. The priorities need to be set right so that we stop indulging in Pyrrhic victories. International economic conditions indicate that any slippage of policy action at this stage will have dire consequences. Economic positioning with a clear strategy is not only a necessity; it is a must. This situation puts the Minister of Finance in a particularly vulnerable position, unless he starts showing results. It will not be sufficient, as in the past, to claim that we have parried against the worst that could have befallen us. We have to move the stage from sheer speculation of the disaster that could have hit us to a higher station in which we concentrate on bringing results for the country by taking smarter decisions. In the circumstances, let 2011 be the year of tangible realizations and a sharp departure away from the numerous internalizing disputations that have sapped our vitality in 2010.
* Published in print edition on 23 December 2010