Who runs the government?

Points to Ponder


A First Point: This reminds me of the book ‘Yes Minister’ in which we see a newly appointed minister behaving as if he does not really know what is happening in his ministry. Does the minister have a policy of his own or is the ministry being run by the Civil Servants and therefore the policy does not change from minister to minister, that is the policy is decided upon by the top Civil Servants and they make it appear as if the minister himself has decided on the policy that is being followed?

Why do certain ministers sometimes backtrack on decisions they took earlier? The reasons may be many but first and foremost among these seems to be that the minister who had decided in the first instance was not very sure of what he had decided. This clearly shows that ministers may not be fully aware what is being done in their ministries.

Of course when things start going wrong, the minister, and nobody else, has to take the blame. This is the name of the game.

This can happen when the minister is still raw and without experience, but it happens that even ministers with experience occasionally have to backtrack. They cannot have the excuse that they have no experience and they have been bamboozled by their senior Civil Servants or by their advisors.

Or maybe the ministers are intellectually not capable of grasping the intricacies of a policy measure, in which case the Civil Servants would have wrongly advised the concerned minister. Should we in such cases say that the person should not have been given a minister’s job? But we must understand that anybody who is elected as a Member of Parliament is entitled by the Constitution to be appointed a minister. And this is what democracy teaches us. It is the responsibility of top civil servants to clarify issues for him.

We expect that a policy decision once taken and announced to the public will be implemented. Before taking the decision, the minister should consult all the stakeholders, all the organizations likely to be affected and all the higher Civil Servants and the advisors in the ministry and then the minister should take his decision. Once the decision is taken, the minister cannot and should not backtrack.

One matter that I do not understand is this desire of some ministers to change a measure that is working perfectly well and bring in some changes that raise a lot of controversy. We should say try to make the existing system better, but do not change it simply because some people want to see some change.

Of course when a government wants to bring in new measures to meet the new circumstances, the situation is different. And this must be distinguished from measures proposed by a minister who backtracks. Should the minister listen to his conscience or to those persons who think only of their interests? We would tell the ministers to be bold, take courageous measures and once a decision is taken, have the courage to see to it through.

May Day Rallies & the Rantings of Politicians

A Second Point: I listened to the speeches of both Dr Navin Ramgoolam and of Paul Bérenger at their May Day rallies. Both pinpointed to what would be called the weaknesses of each other, politically speaking. Both laid emphasis on the incompetence of the other. Who has been telling the truth?

I cannot judge them, nor can any other Mauritian for that matter for nobody is politically independent. But we have some evidence that can help us to form a basis for our opinion. Navin Ramgoolam has quoted facts and figures, official ones, which cannot be gainsaid. Paul Bérenger’s rantings, on the other hand, generally consisted of unproven allegations, matters that have not been enquired into as yet.

It looks like Navin Ramgoolam has scored over Paul Bérenger.

The best judge on the performance of Navin Ramgoolam and of Paul Bérenger comes from the really independent quarters. To start with, we have the views of the international institutions. They have mostly been full of praise for the government, and this gives a lie to Paul Bérenger. Then we have the opinion of foreign politicians and foreign citizens and I do not think that they are biased in favour of Ramgoolam. They have, all of them, said that the country has done extremely well in times of the recent crisis as well as at other times.

Paul Bérenger was Prime Minister for only a short time and therefore we have to judge him over that short period of time. We have not heard much on his performance either from the international institutions or from his political colleagues from other countries.

Here also Navin Ramgoolam has scored over Paul Bérenger.

What is the self-assessment of the two politicians concerned? Paul Bérenger has judged himself when he said that the economy was in shambles – he spoke in terms of “an economic crisis” — when he was the Prime Minister for a short time. I have never heard Navin Ramgoolam saying that the economic situation is such that we have to face a crisis in spite of the economic downturn that has brought many a rich country to its knees.

On this score also, Navin Ramgoolam has scored over Paul Bérenger.

When Sir Gaetan Duval was very active in politics, he wanted to be the Prime Minister. This was a very legitimate aspiration and he tried to satisfy his followers. But once he realized that it was simply not possible for him to be Prime Minister, he accepted the situation with serenity and he became a first class politician, a number two in the government who has not had his equal. And people remember him with fondness. Why fight an eternal battle that he knew he could not win? This is what I say to Paul Bérenger: stop fighting for the post of Prime Minister and people will have fond memories of you as well – provided you perform and show concrete results as Sir Gaetan Duval.

Even if Paul Bérenger himself were to accept this situation, his followers will not, especially those who want to have their names mentioned as fighting the Labour Party-PMSD-MSM alliance. Such is the ambition of certain half-baked politicians.

Let me put down a few points mentioned by Paul Bérenger and his friends.

Bérenger talks of incompetence, as if only his party has the necessary competence to run this country. Let others judge the MMM and you will see the result. By others I would not say those who oppose the MMM, but I am speaking of independent persons from abroad, the international institutions and such like.

Paul Bérenger has said that he wants “une autre Ile Maurice” and a country “où il fait bon vivre”. Ask the majority of Mauritians whether they want to live “dans une autre Ile Maurice” and also whether Mauritius is not “un pays où il fait bon vivre”? If Mauritians would have agreed with Paul Bérenger and the MMM, they would have voted for them a long time ago. For the past years, how many times has the MMM governed the country on its own? Never, I would say. It has been in coalition with other parties and so on a few occasions, it has been able to be a part of a coalition government. And those in the MMM have always said that the MMM is the strongest party in the country, maybe they say it for a laugh. Bérenger lives in Mauritius and therefore surely he knows what the international institutions and the foreigners think of the country as it is.

Bérenger says that the workers should be given a good compensation. How easy it is to say so, especially when you are in the opposition and the next general election is four years away! We know the record of Paul Bérenger when he was the Minister of Finance, no need to say more.

Bérenger keeps on repeating that the Alliance that is governing us has won the last general election through fraud. If he has the proof, the evidence, even an iota of them, he should be the first person to seize the Supreme Court with a well prepared case and he will surely win his case if he is telling the truth, and the Labour Party, the PMSD and the MSM will be debarred from fighting future elections and the way will be clear for the MMM to win all future elections. I am not mentioning Ashock Jugnauth and the famous case in which he was involved. But I am told that Bérenger will not go to Court for reasons best known to himself. I have confidence in our judicial system, to say the least.

Bérenger also says that if his party wins the next general election with the required majority, he will give additional powers to the President. There are very few cases where the President has the power to act “in his own deliberate judgment” and in all cases barring those few I have mentioned, the President has to act on the “advice of the Prime Minister”. Being given that the power in the country rests with the Prime Minister and the other Ministers, because they have been elected by the people to exercise that power in their name, how does Paul Bérenger think that some of the powers of the Prime Minister should be transferred to the President? For me it smacks of a political arrangement whereby Paul Bérenger will try to convince the people that he is for sharing power with a President. But he should remember that in the system in which we operate, there in only one centre of power, it cannot be divided and it cannot be shared except what the Constitution says. If you want to operate in a different system, then go for the presidential system, but here you will to face more problems than you do now.

And lastly, Paul Bérenger has been speaking about an amendment to our electoral system. I do hope that he does not have in mind to bring in Proportional Representation. This a much damned measure and it has not been successful even in Rodrigues and the main party there has been saying that such a system has not given satisfaction to the people and therefore the electoral system in Rodrigues should be amended before the next election for the regional Assembly is held.

Anyway, the MMM should tell us what variety of Proportional Representation it is contemplating for Mauritius and where that particular model has met with success.

Independent journalists?

A Third Point: During the May Day meeting, Navin Ramgoolam has hit hard against some newspapers and those employed therein to propagate the ideas defended by those papers. But I understand that the criticism was not aimed at the factual reporting of the news items but rather at the unfair and biased manner in which those items were commented upon.

As I know, we have papers that declare themselves to be “independent papers” but most people know that they are far from independent. They are the mouthpieces of the opposition and I wonder if they do not contribute in the formation of the policy of the opposition – that may well explain the defeat of the opposition in the general election.

Those newspapers may perhaps be thinking that Mauritians are stupid enough to swallow everything they write, but everybody knows that they hold a brief for the opposition. They can criticize anybody and they expect to get away without a proper rebuttal. They have been criticizing the government but the rebuttals to such criticisms have been mild and so they thought they could continue criticizing as they like.

We all know about the antecedents of most of those journalists, we know where their loyalties lie. I do agree that they are entitled to criticize, but at the same time they must accept that those who are the butt of such criticism are in their turn entitled to give a fitting answer to them. They should not take it badly. After all, politicians do not say that they are independent politicians because such a politician does not exist. Likewise, an independent journalist does not exist though every journalist can falsely make such a claim. So we say “batter render pas faire mal”. Is it not so? So they must stop whimpering like a puppy that has lost its master.

Just show me one independent journalist, then we can talk. Am I an independent person when I write for this paper? I know what I am, that is enough for me.

* Published in print edition on 7 May 2011

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