« Mauritius deserves better…

Interview: Mrinal Roy


… if we want to give ourselves the instruments to achieve our most ambitious collective dreams for a brighter future for all”

Electoral reform is a serious business. It would be improper for a handful to tinker with it” 

“Mainstream Mauritius has already fostered nationhood. The removal of the Best Loser system will certainly consolidate this process further” Mrinal Roy has had a long career closely associated with the sugar industry of Mauritius. In this capacity, he has long seen the functioning in Mauritius of the public and private sectors of Mauritius. He comes from a background that has had deep involvement in the social and economic transformation of Mauritius from its colonial status to its self-determination. MT has sought his views on some of the current preoccupations of society. Here they are…

Mauritius Times: A correspondent contributing to Le Mauricien’s Forum columns this week expressed the view that what political parties have in common is « le souci de conclure, quel qu’en soit le prix, la mésalliance qui leur permettra d’accéder au pouvoir ». It looks like the current discussions with regard to electoral reform taking place between the Labour Party and the MMM are the prelude to yet another alliance between these two parties. What’s your take on that?

Mrinal Roy: Political alliances have been part of our electoral landscape since the general elections in 1967 leading to independence in March 1968. There is nothing wrong in contracting an alliance if the object is to gain power to deliver on a common programme and ‘projet de societe’ capable of enlisting the support of a majority at the polls. However, the disconcerting musical chair of alliances propped up with the cynical hype that goes with it and the tell tale frequency of broken alliances since 1982 is disquieting for the people. It saps their faith in the political class; the more so owing to the delays in the delivery of promises made to improve their well being through something as basic as the efficiency of public services and to generally facilitate their pursuit of happiness in a dynamic socio-economic context. It could also be a causative factor for the level of abstention at the polls. Furthermore, an alliance has the effect of squeezing out a certain number of aspiring candidates of each party leading to the condemnable practice of finding appropriate postings for them, more often than not at the expense of abler Mauritians.

From the tenor of the current discussions on electoral reform it is, in my view, pure conjecture at this stage that these will necessarily lead to a new alliance.

* We do not know if the intended electoral reforms will be tailor-made to suit the political conveniences of two men. You would expect the general good would prevail over the ambitions of a few men, wouldn’t you?

I do not want to speculate on conjectures.

We are not a Banana Republic. Mauritius is cited as a model democracy and we are proud of this heritage bequeathed to us by the political stalwarts who started the arduous struggle for the democratization of Mauritius as from the late 1920s. Electoral reform is a serious business. Numerous experts have pondered on the Mauritian case over decades and failed to deliver an acceptable solution. It would be improper for a handful to tinker with it through a collage of selective cut and paste. As a progressive democracy, we have to ensure due process comprising all inclusive consultations, transparency and the prior approval of any proposed changes by means of a national referendum.

I must add that the tenor of your question reflects a disturbing situation. Apart from a few lone voices, the media have hardly said a word about the necessity of an all inclusive process on such a sensitive issue, on transparency and the necessary endorsement by vox populi. Instead, the partisan ones are systematically hyping convergence towards a particular model of electoral reform, underlying the golden opportunity of agreeing on an historic reform, with jibes at purported conservative forces undermining it.

As spelled out in the US Declaration of Independence, it is our duty as the people of this land to vigilantly safeguard our unalienable rights wrested by our parents against rabid conservatives forces through hard struggle. Let those wanting to tamper with those rights be cautioned.

* What really calls for reform as far as the electoral process is concerned? Electoral financing? Transparency and real democratization at the level of political parties?

We cannot put the cart before the horse. There are more fundamental issues with the manner in which our political system has unfolded in recent decades that need to be addressed first. In contrast to the lofty ideals which bonded the downtrodden multitude irrespective of creed or caste in their common struggle to wrest their rights in the struggle for independence, we witness at each election a sorry picture of 62 candidates generally chosen in accordance with a well oiled national grid of ethno-caste profiles per constituency. This warped vision of imagined realpolitik spawns parochial lobbies and infects the whole political machinery. It is mirrored in the choice of the Executive, the head of key state institutions and regrettably it seems in an un-avowed quota system in recruitments to the detriment of using the best human resources and talent available for the common good.

The bonding of plural Mauritius into nationhood across the country is since long a reality, a reality that only political alchemists and vested interests that thrive on subdividing the nation refuse to acknowledge. All of us have among our close friends, who share pot luck with us, a microcosm of Mauritius based on friendship and shared values. Forty-four years after independence, the nation is mature enough to escape this retrograde mindset. It is time for the people to question political parties which do not apply this paradigm shift.

It is clear that we must in parallel ensure that all components of plural Mauritius are represented through talented Mauritians elected by virtue of their abilities rather than through their particular sociological profile. Good governance and the necessity to attract the best talented Mauritians to politics and public service for the benefit of all clamour for this sea change. Mauritius deserves better if we want to give ourselves the instruments to achieve our most ambitious collective dreams for a brighter future for all.

* It would appear that the Best Loser System (BLS) has constituted a major obstacle to finalizing an agreement between the Labour Party and the MMM in the matter of electoral reform? Do you personally feel any discomfort with the BLS? And do you think its abolition will really help foster nation unity and a sense of nationhood?

Time has come for us to get rid of the Best Loser System (BLS). It was established in the particular context of the circumstances at the time of independence and aimed at placating the perceived apprehensions then. There was an intrinsic trade off in the manner the BLS is couched. Its track record of enabling candidates rejected by the electorate to be nominated to the National Assembly and the related strategies adopted by some to benefit from this system have disqualified it. It perpetuates a communal bent in our political system and grooms the electorate to vote accordingly. As pointed out earlier, mainstream Mauritius has already fostered nationhood. The removal of the Best Loser system will certainly consolidate this process further. However, it is clear from press articles and comments that some are still sanguine about perpetuating this system. The all inclusive consultation process intimated earlier and participative democracy require that their concerns be heard and addressed.

* Speaking about the discussions pertaining to electoral reforms, Jean-Claude de l’Estrac, ex-Chairman of La Sentinelle, has expressed the view, in the columns of this paper, that what Mauritius really needs is a strong government. Not for the wrong reasons, undoubtedly. But are there indeed good reasons for a strong government in a place like Mauritius, and specially so at the present juncture?

What is important is for a government to have a comfortable majority comprising a pool of proven talents. Only a government with a clear majority can deliver on its electoral promises and take bold initiatives and progressive steps to improve governance and our democracy for the advancement of the people and the country at large. For it to take potent decisions it needs to be strong and demonstrate authority. It is however axiomatic that appropriate conditions are created to attract and induct some of the best talents into serving the country, albeit for a stint especially in the context of the present world crisis.

* Can it be that fluid political coalitions with blurred profiles, which give rise to weak governments, explain why such governments – the present as well as latter-day ones – fail to deliver and hamper their ability to provide the greatest good for the greatest number? Or is there more to it?

I thought that the present Government received a strong endorsement with a clear majority enabling it to take up appropriate initiatives to iron out impediments and to provide the necessary impetus to growth. As mentioned earlier the intrinsic shortcomings of the system in place needs to be urgently corrected first to ensure that the country is adequately manned to successfully take on the many challenges facing us. In the interim, what is perhaps needed is a structure enabling Mauritians willing to voluntarily assist Government to provide inputs to help identify problems in their fields of expertise and assist in the process of resolving them.

* A lot of blame and finger pointing always surrounds any discussion between our political parties concerning different national issues. With the result that the truth is very often blurred as to what really contributed to, for example, the MedPoint “scandal”, corruption generally, road congestion or the water shortage crisis. How do you separate the wheat from the chaff?

This is an important issue in Mauritius. There is a clear divide between the Government view echoed by the MBC and the alternative version of the same issues by the opposition parties through their weekly press conferences carried by their own partisan media drummed up in MacLuhanesque manner. It requires discernment to arrive at a balanced view. My own feeling is that as demonstrated time and time again, the common man has much more flair to intuitively arrive at the truth through the barrage of propaganda.

If we want to assure better governance and a clamp down on corruption generally, it is urgent that we put in place a more robust system of checks and balances. We cannot afford to allow scarce public funds to be pilfered through systemic loopholes in the system. It is equally important that as was the case previously that more civil service cadres stand up on principles as worthy custodians of public interest.

* If we go by what is being leaked out to the press on a daily basis on the circumstances surrounding the departure of Konrad Morgan from the University of Mauritius, it looks like the ‘ministre de tutelle’ will have a lot of explaining to do, isn’t it? What do these circumstances inform you about the state of public governance/misgovernance in Mauritius? Another classic case of institutional dysfunction or is it the consequence of overbearing political oversight into the affairs of an otherwise independent academic institution?

This is yet another example of the battle between two versions. It is a pity that our respected University is at the centre of such a controversy especially as we are actively promoting the setting up of Tertiary Educational Institutions attracting both local and foreign students as a new pillar of the economy. As other key institutions of the country, the University should be an independent body operating within the framework of its enabling legislation and under the policy guidelines approved by its governing Council. The lesson from the recent events is to revisit, if need be, and reaffirm the hierarchy of responsibilities and conduit of the decision making process so as to ensure a smooth functioning of the University for the quietude of its growing number of students, lecturers, dons and staff.

* Published in print edition on 27 January 2012

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