Governance on Trial

Matters of the Moment

Elected MPs worth their salt can be bulwarks against the excesses of party leaders and those in power who are driven by their own parochial interests instead of the interests of the nation

By Mrinal Roy

Despite the government rhetoric, democracy in the country is in an appalling state. So many key elements of democracy have gone awry. In essence, democracy is a model of government in which power and civic responsibility are exercised by all adult citizens directly or through their freely elected representatives. For too long, this cardinal principle of representative democracy has been throttled and thwarted because MPs once elected to power by the people opt to unconditionally support the party and the policies and measures proposed by the government leadership even when these are against public interest and the interests of the people they represent. Such blind and decried subservience to those in power is the bane of democracies.

Deafening silence: ‘The recent disquieting events relating to suspect deaths and the killing of a person by gunshot have jolted the nation. How can the government and the Prime Minister remain deafeningly silent and not reassure the nation in the wake of such an unprecedented gun attack on a citizen?’

How can nepotism or the appointment of the coterie to key government posts instead of strictly applying the rules of meritocracy be in the public interest? Why favour the party faithful and deny the bright and the competent? How can the lack of transparency and accountability of government actions and decisions or the opacity surrounding billions of Rupees of government spending, procurement tenders and costly projects be in the public interest?

How can government extol the state of democracy in the light of the shameful manner parliamentary debate is conducted in the country or the deplorable manner national TV is monopolized by the government for abject daily partisan propaganda at public expense? How can government tom-tom about high standards of democracy when MPs once elected kowtow to their diktats instead of robustly upholding the public interest whenever government policies and legislative measures are contrary to the interests of the people who elected them?

How can government boast of safeguarding basic democratic principles and values when the standard of governance is plummeting?

Deafening silence

The recent disquieting events relating to suspect deaths and the killing of a person by gunshot have jolted the nation. They have heightened fears about security and law and order in the country. In the light of the press reports relating to the circumstances surrounding this gunshot death, questions have been raised by the public as to why a person wounded by gunshot was allowed by the police to drive himself from the police station to hospital. How can the government and the Prime Minister remain deafeningly silent and not reassure the nation in the wake of such an unprecedented gun attack on a citizen?

Bulwark against the excesses of power

In contrast, it was comforting to note that, when compelled to choose in a deeply divided America between the Constitution of the United States and support to President Trump in his rejection of the results of the US presidential elections, Mike Pence who has been a loyal Vice-President opted to choose the US Constitution over Donald Trump. Democracy in Mauritius would have been continuously buttressed if elected MPs were to unswervingly oppose policies or legislative measures which flout public interest and the interests of the people or are contrary to fundamental democratic principles in their countries.

Political leaders and MPs must realize that they are elected by the electorate to serve the interests of the people and the country. Their mandate remains valid so long as they diligently honour their pledge of service to the people and the country. Elected MPs committed to altruistically serve the people and worth their salt can be bulwarks against the excesses of party leaders and those in power who are driven by their own parochial interests instead of the interests of the nation and the country.

Politicians hold their position in government through the will of the people. This will and choice can be changed at any moment through the vote of the people. No politician, let alone a highly contested or disavowed one, can arrogantly presume that he/she is more important than the country and the people who elect them. Donald Trump was elected President of the United States in 2016 through the will and vote of the people because the majority of voters were disillusioned with the traditional US political parties and their leadership. The same people mobilized in larger numbers to defeat Donald Trump in 2020. The people have consistently demonstrated in our political history that they have the collective wisdom and will to make or undo governments and political leaders.

The fundamental problem with Mauritius is that too many political leaders feel that they are indispensable and do not want to give up their leadership or hold over their parties when it is the people’s vote and will which decide who to elect or reject at the polls. No leader or party can be more important than the supreme interests of the people and the country.

Power corrupts

America which was the first constitutional democracy to wisely limit the maximum number of terms of office of US Presidents to two was bang on. There is compelling evidence that the longer a President or Prime Minister remains in power, there is a higher risk that fuelled by the trappings and heady exercise of power, standards of governance and democratic values start to be seriously watered down.

Although three quarters of sub-Saharan African countries have limitations to presidential or prime ministerial terms of office, those in power in some 13 African countries have since 2015 ‘sidestepped or weakened term limits’, according to the US Pentagon’s Africa Centre for Strategic studies. Political dynasties or ageing politicians have ruled Cameroun, Gabon, Togo, Equatorial Guinea or Uganda over decades and are more and more intolerant towards democratic forces in their countries.

The erosion of democratic values and plummeting standards of governance in Mauritius stem from the political history of the country. The ethos, ideology and seminal values and principles which underpinned the battle for freedom and the fundamental rights of the people as from 1937 have been supplanted after independence by an endless battle to keep or wrest power by every means including a continuously changing permutation of political alliances prior to each general elections.

In short, the idealism and lofty ideals of establishing a significantly better socio-economic and political order have post-independence given way to dynastic parties and leadership, a no-holds-barred battle for power, an endless musical chair of political alliances, the stifling stranglehold of political leaders over their parties, clan wars and continuously falling standards of governance.

The patent lesson from this deplorable situation is that democracies will be better protected if beyond the necessary limitation on presidential or prime ministerial terms of office, people through their vote opt to choose to entrust government and the running of the affairs of the country to a new breed of altruistic politicians committed to serve the people and the country instead of their own interests and reboot our democracy to the highest standards of governance prevailing?

The country is at a crossroads. Entrenched poor governance and ineptitude have hindered the realization of our loftiest ambition as a nation. Decades have been lost. The choices we have to make to meet the daunting socio-economic and health challenges faced by the country in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic will determine the future prospects of the country. The hotchpotch alliance of ageing political has-beens is not a credible way forward. It will comfort and maintain the status quo and its widely decried governance.

We have as a nation the clout to denounce the culpable failings of government and the collective wisdom of identifying and choosing a credible alternative team having the credentials, professional track record, ability and intellect to fathom the new opportunities open to us, recast our economic model and chart and realize a far better future for all. There is a real window of opportunity. The time is now.

* * *

The stalemate over the Rs 375 compensation

The government decision to allocate Rs 375 as compensation in 2021 in a Covid-19 affected year when large swathes of the economy were not even operational as opposed to Rs300 allocated in normal 2019 begged quite a few legitimate questions as to its rationale.

It was generally thought that this decision was taken to help the finances of the most vulnerable in a pandemic affected year in a context of continuously escalating prices of consumer goods fuelled by the unchecked depreciation of the Rupee. What is then the government rationale of not paying the Rs 375 of compensation to the 224,000 pensioners of the country, most of whom depend on their pension to eke out a living in a context of rising prices?

* Published in print edition on 29 January 2021

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