The crowds that have flocked to the beaches, invaded the popular malls, and taken over the Swami Vivekananda International Convention Centre to seek bargains at the Salon de la maison over the past weekend may give the impression to any visitor to the island that things have gone back to normal after the lifting of the lockdown. In fact, this perception would probably be reinforced on learning that the country fairly rapidly gained control over the Covid-19 pandemic and was free of any new case for nearly a month before activities were allowed to resume in a phased manner.
It is true that the country can boast of an honourable record, compared to other countries that are more developed and have more resources, as regards its handling of the pandemic. However, this relative success and positive picture projected in one sector is not matched by an equivalent performance in many of the remaining aspects of the country’s running. Indeed, events that have been unfolding since even before the pandemic came on the scene show that we still have serious problems that are undermining the country’s viability and stability. If these are not addressed with the degree of seriousness and honesty – by squarely confronting the realities – that is required, we are afraid that the downward spiralling may cause irreversible damage to the polity.
The win at the polls of December 2019 which was propelled by the series of the outgoing regime’s achievements – launching of the flagship Metro project, much mediatised visit of the Pope, holding of the Indian Ocean games at the billion-rupee Cote d’Or stadium, victory in the case of Chagos at the ICJ, pensions hike, etc – was no sooner over than very serious allegations of electoral corruptive practices were made by the opposition candidates and cases entered in court where they are still pending.
As if Covid-19 was not enough trouble, more of that came in the form of the blacklisting by the European Union, the crashing of profit at SBM even as board members were walking away with no less than a total of Rs 32 M while profits stood at Rs 15!!, the debacle of Air Mauritius to be followed by the accusative report from the African Development Bank in what has come to be known as St Louis Gate, and the latest being the termination by Zambia of the DTA Agreement. If we add to that the roaring debt of the country and the recession that IMF and World Bank have warned is coming, it should be clear to all but the most obdurate defender of the status quo as to how the country is being managed that, to put it mildly, we do not present a pretty picture nor a reassuring one to attract capital.
How can we? After all, all these preceding matters have uncovered major lacunae in governance and accountability at all levels of the national or corporate/ State Owned Enterprises which only can explain their failure to fulfil their respective mandates. Inevitably, one cannot negate the widespread perception that there has been dereliction of duties by functionaries, boards and top management in the way certain important decisions have been taken and approved over the years. These have seriously damaged the financial status and integrity of these organizations in terms of good governance and sound management practices. And there hasn’t been down the years any holding to account of those who might have failed to exercise due diligence in the performance of their duties that has resulted in the damage and prejudices caused. Is it because the messing up arises from the connivance between board/management and the successive governments, and a preference to maintain the status quo which served their interest instead of that of the organizations they were responsible for?
An absence of independent and reliable scrutiny exercises carried out to investigate any major decision-making and approval process, along with wrongful HR practices and a rubberstamping culture have neutered the accountability that is central to an effective governance culture. Whereas in fact these concepts of Good Governance and Accountability ought to have been be living values, part and parcel of the governmental and organizational culture. It is not simply a matter of laws – these values of personal and professional ethics ought to be practised alongside the legal framework.
Besides the heavy-handed politicization under every government in terms of appointments and interference in strategic decision-making that kept undermining all the sound principles of governance and management, there was also the gap in competent leadership succession planning. Instead, political prerogative and political loyalty held sway: every new government meant a new CEO, a new Board with new chairperson, a new clan with new protégés ruling the roost. To the extent that what mattered was not what one brought to the organization but to whom one was connected in the political power hierarchy and inside the organization.
No one among our politicians who have been or are in power will confess and own up to their share of responsibility in the chronic mismanagement or crash of institutions and State Owned/Controlled Enterprises. However, political interference does not explain all nor does it absolve individual responsibilities in failing to uphold personal integrity and exercise of due diligence when fulfilling one’s duty. Many have abused of political patronages or other high-level connections and wreaked havoc in governance and finances.
Unfortunately, there is little evidence of the will to turn things around and usher in a new era of governance and holding to account. Unless this is done, the country is set to remain on foundations that do not bode well for the future.
* Published in print edition on 30 June 2010