By T.P. Saran
At the end of the day, the wide coverage of the Medpoint affair before the Privy Council which for obvious reasons has polarized so much of attention and consumed so much of media time, will have been but a major distraction at national level. As regards all the analyses and interpretations of the legal issues pertaining to this case, they will eventually turn out to be of merely academic interest. This is because at the core, the issue is really not about what will be the ruling of the Privy Council.
From the beginning of the ‘affair’ to date what is certain is that it has cost the exchequer, that is the taxpayer, a lot of money at a time when the country is sinking further in debt, and as yet we don’t know when this drain on the treasury will come to an end. That definitely is what we could call an impact! – and a sizeable one no doubt.
But to reiterate, the murkiness of the Medpoint scandal covers an even dirtier fight to death between two protagonists whose antagonism to each other is only too visible through their public declarations: Pravind Jugnauth and Navin Ramgoolam. Only they know the devil in the details of why, how, when and where Medpoint became a sore point in their relationship that spilled from the political to the personal. The barbs they keep throwing at each other – that are widely, almost gleefully reported in the media — that do not spare their private lives may sound clever but are entirely dishonourable both for themselves and for the country too.
Under the circumstances, what kind of leadership can we expect? This is the 21st century, and the new breed of electorate are very sensitive to the criteria of individual credibility, track record and oh yes, personal morality as well. None of them has ever articulated in as many words his vision of the country and spelt out a projet de société for a sustainable Mauritius.
That is what they ought to have been showing their interest in and concern about, the crucial issues and challenges that the country is facing and that await urgent resolution. What is needed is evidence of in-depth, serious analyses of such issues and far-reaching, far-sighted policy directions and decisions that will take the country forward and meet not only the survival but the long-term requirements of the people. None of this has been forthcoming. As a simple example, in the last year of its mandate and four years down the line, the pledge of water 2/7 is still not met and the future of our power supply is hanging on the fate of turbines that are yet to be decided upon. For goodness sake, when!?
As pointed out by our contributor Sada Reddi last week, ‘…the nation is worried about so many issues, namely low fertility rate, the risk of the disappearance of the Mauritian, food security, poverty, unemployment, drugs and climate change. On many of these issues, there is the nagging feeling that too little is being done and there is not enough sensitization about their implications for the present and the future. It is fair to say that the population is well aware of climate change and its consequences such as reef degradation, shrinking beaches, loss of livelihoods for coastal communities, and threats to our fisheries, tourism and agriculture sectors. However, most of the time these issues are being reduced to some clichés and this is dangerous as they prevent some deep thinking and the search for long-lasting, sustainable solutions.’
Elsewhere in this issue, L.E. Pep draws attention to the catastrophe awaiting us following the massive reduction in FDI flows to India from Mauritius which has lost to Singapore as a result of the amateurish handling of the DTAA with India, which Singapore has managed more deftly. There has been no official declaration about how the long term impact of this mishandling on the future of the global business sector will be dealt. On the other hand, in the same article the author explains how the negative income tax and the minimum wage as apparently path-breaking measures have not really benefited those who were targeted, and in fact official figures reveal a continuing shrinking of the middle class. Add to this the growing inequality gap which is producing a coterie of haves to the detriment of the have-nots and we can see that despite the reassurances that are sought to be given by the authorities, the future certainly loom uncertainly ahead, with educational so-called reforms that are likely to produce the kind of skilled workforce required for the future.
The truth is that, as the Gilets Jaunes eruption in France has shown, there is a widening gap between the political class and the people. There is a sentiment of growing mistrust in leaders who fail to deliver on the promises made when they come searching for votes and promise the sky to the electors. As words are not followed by concrete deeds with tangible benefits to those most in need, there is distrust not only of the political class but even of politics as an avenue to solve national problems. Disenchanted people, especially that forward, go-getter segment of the younger generation who are fending for themselves and not depending on government, fuel that distrust further, influencing others too to follow the trend.
It is therefore critically important to have representatives who are socially aware and have a sufficient breadth of vision to appreciate where problems and blockages lie that are preventing people from making progress. Whether it is in the fields of education, socially affordable housing, availability of land, energy at reasonable price, it is only clear-headed policies which will make the difference to the lot of the common man, which increasingly also means the middle class. And unless those who take decisions on their behalf are knowledgeable about the challenges and transformations that are taking place in the sectors mentioned and others, they will continue to be at a losing end and lag behind. So putting the right people in the right place at political and institutional level so that the right policy decisions are taken will continue to be the effective lever of change.
So the fundamental issue for the country is not what happens or not at the Privy Council in the Medpoint Affair. It is about who is fit to lead the country, to be the ‘effective lever of change’.
* Published in print edition on 18 January 2019