All in all, what is being projected on the national scene is a picture of a country bereft of a firm hand at the top, and becoming more and more directionless
Two events during the past week call for comments: first, the public admonition of the Prime Minister by the president of the Hindu House during the celebrations held in the context of Divali, and the second has to do with what appears to be a concerted action taken last Thursday by a number of pilots sufficient to ground the national airline, causing significant loss to Air Mauritius and hardship to thousands of outbound passengers.
Whatever may be the credentials of the president of the Hindu House and the influence that the latter socio-cultural organisation may wield on the electoral preferences and decision of a large section of the Mauritian population, Mr Veerendra Ramdhun has for once echoed the feelings of probably most Mauritians as regards the dismal performance of the present government and the blatant instances of improprieties and misconduct by some members of the government alliance which have gone unpunished to date. Maintaining the Hindu House’s continuing support to the government, he seemed to be saying, would be conditional upon the Prime Minister taking action against the wayward members of his government, and he went on to add that the PM would find inspiration from Sir Anerood Jugnauth’s track record in the matter. The Hindu House president had clearly in mind the case of the Vice Prime Minister who threatened to gun down the leader of the opposition, the case of misconduct involving sexto messages exchanged within the precincts of the National Assembly, and the display of vulgarity on a political platform by other MPs of the same alliance as well as probably the association of the former Attorney General with a self-confessed swindler.
If the response of the Prime Minister to the Hindu House’s admonition could be viewed as being pathetic, to say the least, coming from a politician who has been saying lately that he is a man of conviction and is guided by principles and that he knows where he is heading for, it is also revealing of his inability and his apparent disinclination to crack the whip against the serial gaffers and other recalcitrants within the ranks of the MSM-ML alliance, as is expected by the Mauritian public. The Director of Public Prosecutions has instituted criminal proceedings against Hon Showkutally Soodhun before the Intermediate Court for outrage against a member of the National Assembly in breach of section 156 (1) of the Criminal Code, and the Vice Prime Minister is still in office; so are the Deputy Chief Whip and the sexto PPS. That’s because the Prime Minister, “exasperated” as he might be at times, so he said, cannot – on his own admission — exercise any control over the personal conduct of MPs under his command. We thought the Constitution of Mauritius provided the enabling provisions for Prime Ministers to ensure that breaches of ethical behaviour meet with the appropriate sanction.
Despite the powers and privileges that the Constitution entrusts to a Prime Minister, and in the present case despite a comfortable majority in the national Assembly, the government headed by Pravind Jugnauth is clearly losing its bite in being unable to discipline defaulters within its own ranks who are discrediting not only their party and the government but damaging the image of the country as well.
The latest matter that has hogged the headlines in the past few days is the apparent ‘concerted action’ (through sick certificates submitted) by some pilots of Air Mauritius, tantamount to a strike, which caught the company napping. Several flights had to be cancelled and/or rescheduled, with consequential loss estimated at between Rs 120 – 242 M to date.
What is inexplicable here is how come the pilots have been invited to negotiate after sanctions were taken against them, when according to the official version they clearly did not follow the procedures laid down to ventilate their grievances? Either they faulted or they didn’t. Which is which? If they did, this begs the question of whether the sanctions should have been maintained?
However, the larger picture here is what is of relevance, which is that there has been no consistency in the running of the affairs of Air Mauritius over the years. From the hedging episode to the political interferences with questionable appointments, to the forced exit of the former CEO Megh Pillay so as to allow the re-induction of an ex-cadre who had earlier been ousted because of sanctions against him – all these problems point to a cavalier approach in the housekeeping and management of the national carrier. And the pilots’ behaviour seems to fall into the same pattern, along too with the vacillating response on the part of the company.
All in all, what is being projected on the national scene is a picture of a country bereft of a firm hand at the top, and becoming more and more directionless. It is definitely time to tighten the seat belts, sit upright and get a firm hold on affairs if this slide is not to continue. Maybe the by-election will show a way out – and the sooner this happens, the better it will be for the country and its people.
* Published in print edition on 13 October 2017