As the year draws to a close, it is appropriate perhaps that we lift the veil of the unknown and seek to identify which course we might best steer for the country and its population to reap the highest benefits. The seeds of the future are very often sown in the present. Development is not the outcome of freak policy decisions taken in a particular year or a couple of years for that matter. Decades of dogged policy pursuits start defining the grounding on which development actually takes place. All will agree that we need more development. Development should not be equated however with sheer GDP growth which is a poor indicator in any case.
Development takes place where the fruits of our common efforts are shared in an equitable manner across the entire population. Without going as far as to identify it as a class struggle, we will say that there is no development if, for example, the majority of the public has to cope daily with a poor and worsening public transport system while a few keep overdoing it by riding increasingly big, shiny luxury cars. This may be the norm in places like America but it would certainly not be compatible with our specific heritage to continue driving down differences along this line, whether it be in the matter of transport, lodging, food, education, healthcare, etc. One of the reasons why we have a government is that it is the government which is expected to strike a good measure through its tax and redistribution policies so that we do not end up pandering to raising the unlimited demands for comfort of the few who are well off, neglecting those for whom even the daily struggle for a decent standard of living is too tough.
The focus should therefore be on development more than on growth. If there is a treasure we have managed to preserve from the past, it is certainly our “joie de vivre”. Go to many of the rich countries and you will soon start missing the warmth that Mauritius is and has been. We need to preserve this precious asset to the best of our ability, untainted by dirty consumerism which thrives by proliferating things like take-away, abusive use of plastics, gluttony associated with fast foods, excessive drinking and self-indulgence, etc. To keep this simple joie de vivre, a strong dose of governance is necessary in small matters as in big. Absence of governance is evident from the littering people shamelessly resort to in public places. Absence of governance also draws from the various irresponsible statements which persons in authority, on political platforms, or in religious garb make in public, as if the mere fact of wielding some form of power gave them the licence to drag down those not in their camps to the lowest levels. We need to groom up future leaders of society who have the brains to tolerate differences instead of wielding insult on every other occasion they are contradicted. This will give society a poise and balance with which we can interface with the rest of the world more successfully than we have been doing so far.
Consider the matter of Diego Garcia as far as our foreign policy goes. It should be clear to anybody with a modicum of good sense that the British have adopted an attitude of revolting duplicity all the way since they put the issue of Mauritius’ independence on the “negotiating” table. One should indeed be blind not to see their bad faith when declaring in November last the ocean around Diego Garcia as a Marine Protected Area as if they had an overriding ecological concern when we damn well know what sort of retrograde negative attitude they have adopted in the past years after Kyoto whenever world leaders gathered to put a limit of excessive Co2 emissions by industrialised nations. We can fight it up in appropriate international judicial instances but we should be parading on all occasions their duplicity and sham ecological posture if we want to get back our territory. It would have been preferable to get to our final objective without tensing up relations but in this world, Mauritius should become increasingly alive to the fact that you do not have genuine friends. You will have “friends” in the world if you can really leverage your position to make the potential wrongdoer realise that he stands to lose something precious to him if he were to persevere in his wrongdoing. Mauritius also needs to find this angle for its argument to have real consequences.
It is unfortunate that we have often missed the boat like this for not having gone far enough without breaking the chords of our permanence and continued economic progress. We are not “applied” enough about the theory. Consider the extraordinary teledensity that the use of wireless technology and mundane instruments like mobile phones has empowered us with during the past so many years. We have kept importing all the stuff, including even the sales management, in our territory but we did not make the small step to move into some bit of production in this line on our part as well. So doing, we have denied ourselves the chance to get a share in a field of technology that has been selling like hot cakes all over the world. While other nations like Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Philippines, Malaysia, etc., took the cue about the doing-at-home part right from the beginning, we remained content to sell the stuff they make over there on our market. Would we have sustained ourselves on textiles if, instead of manufacturing it at home for exports, we would have remained content to sell all the textiles foreign countries were producing on our local market? One can only imagine, given the absence of our back step in this domain, how difficult this has made it for Mauritius, a country with an essential export vocation, to try to penetrate such a sophisticated market when the next generation of those products will hit the markets.
We have been accumulating serious deficits of the sort in various potential domains and hence putting ourselves at a disadvantage when it comes to taking a serious leap into the future. Yet, this is where our future lies. It will lean on our having the precise experience, expertise and skills where the markets of the future are likely to open up the more. Strategic positioning in those markets requires study of how demand is evolving and the resources which need to be put in shape at home with a view to getting a share, howsoever small, in those upcoming markets. China did not become the factory of the world by chance; a lot of enduring work has gone behind it; India was not an information technology leader only a decade and a half earlier; that it has reached a place among the top performers in this domain means it has been building and strategically orientating its resources to get to its objective. We have no choice but to go in the same direction. All it requires is not the building up of a lot of commercial centres in various places or having luxury villas in the best located resorts; it needs working on a well-conceived advanced integrated plan so that the bits and pieces fit into each other and make sense with global evolution.
Politicians will no doubt concentrate on how best to preserve themselves in power or to catapult themselves onto the power platform. The bigger imperative for the country is to keep its head above water when it comes to its economic survival. Maintaining our competitiveness, sustaining employment, reducing poverty and stabilising prices should therefore override political quests for constitutional change and such things which are peripheral to our central economic and social pursuits. Will we act so as to improve visibility of what we are really headed for in these pursuits and clearly identify the tools that we are putting into our hands to achieve those objectives? If so, we will put together broader social coalitions in future than mere political coalitions. In that case, voters will cease to be fooled by mere rhetoric and empty promises. It will be a welcome change if we started crediting the voters with more maturity than it has been the case so far.
* Published in print edition on 30 December 2010
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