The Mauritius We Want

As a nation, we have to take ownership of the type of future and society we want for our country

In thriving democracies, the people and the independent media are quick to take the measure of their political leaders. A mere six months after her Tory party nomination as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May’s hesitancy in clearly spelling out as announced in her inaugural speech her policies in respect of Brexit, of correcting injustices or taming capitalism has already earned her the uncharitable nickname ‘Theresa Maybe’. In a lead article, the Economist this week argues that the ‘speed of her ascent to power… without a general election or a full-blown Tory leadership contest, meant that Mayism was never spelt out in any manifesto or endorsed by the electorate’. Legitimacy as Prime Minister in the cradle of parliamentary democracy necessarily means the test of endorsement of the people at the polls.

Similarly, President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial policy pronouncements, his questioning of the intelligence services on the Russian hacking allegation before he is formally inaugurated as the 45th US President on 20 January 2017 and is fully au fait with the rationale of American policy and the institutional framework have come under flak. His nominees to key posts of the US Administration have this week started the gruelling process of scrutiny by the Senate. In the US, more than 1,000 political nominees to key posts require Senate confirmation.

As a nation, haven’t we been able to take the measure of the political leaders and parties who have monopolized the local political scene after decades of thwarted promises, trampled hopes, poor governance, political high-handedness, flawed policies, widening inequalities and the continuous erosion of the standard of living of the multitude? Is it not high time to loudly say that ‘Enough is enough’? Are we not fed up with the same political leaders rehashing the same model of economic liberalism which has failed to meet the aspirations and dreams of happiness of the people?

This is about our country, Mauritius and how we want our homeland to be. First and foremost, we want it to be at long last severed from an entrenched power driven culture of continuously changing political alliances and makeshift arrangements among leaders and parties unworthy of again being entrusted with the future of the country after so many let downs and repeated breaches of public trust. As a nation, we have to take ownership of the type of future and society we want for our country.

The people need to define the inclusive and fairer Mauritius we want in terms of equal opportunities, level playing field, the urgent bridging of widening inequalities plaguing the country and a merit based recruitment policy in the public and private sectors. We cannot count on anybody else but ourselves to redesign our country around a new ethos based on the ideals, values and sense of nationhood, the people fought and won the independence of the country on.

No to partisan agendas

The self proclaimed independent media pursue their own partisan agenda, some overtly and some think subtly so. The political leaders who have monopolized the political scene have repeatedly demonstrated that they are driven by the heady pursuit of power and its trappings rather than a sense of selfless service to the people. Good governance and the State administrative machinery have been systematically undermined by the political high-handedness, nepotism and cronyism of successive governments.

The acumen of the civil service to provide sound policy counsel to unswervingly safeguard and uphold the public interest has been blunted by the blithe appointment of handpicked duds in key posts. Our economic diplomacy has been maimed by the appointment of inept political appointees in some of our most important outposts abroad at the expense of career diplomats at a time when a new liberal trading order requires deft economic diplomacy and our best trade negotiating brains to cobble attractive market access arrangements, in particular with emerging giants China, India and Africa.

In short, instead of constantly improving our act through talent and brains representative of the tremendous potential of the young men and women of the country, we are basically shooting ourselves in the foot by doing the exact opposite. No wonder the political class and the crippling system put in place have been unable to brain storm a cogent policy framework to conjure the adverse fall outs of the 2008 international financial crisis. Such a situation has systemically plumbed the country’s growth rates au ras des paquerettes.

Taking ownership of the model of society we want to live in therefore means that we must only depend on ourselves to set the agenda, the ethos and values we want to uphold as a nation for the inclusive benefit and prosperity of all. The onus is also on us to choose a new class of young talented politicians driven by an altruistic sense of service to the people instead of perpetuating their own self interests. Their choice will be determined by their ability to innovatively deliver on the projet de societe endorsed by the multitude.

Defining the society we want to live in also means comprehensively reviewing every aspect of what shapes our society and redesigning them to ensure that they continuously improve the quality of life and standard of living of the people. This redesigning must be based on absolute benchmarks which should act as beacons for the way forward. This should encompass the welfare state, the educational sector, merit based employment, the services sectors, housing, a fairer sharing of the fruits of prosperity, the poor, the senior citizens, the urgent bridging of widening inequalities, the protection of the environment, eco-friendly habitats, management and recycling of waste, emphasis on greener energy sources, modern infrastructure, sports and recreation and above all a model of inclusive socio-economic development for the country. Barack Obama rightly said in his farewell address in Chicago earlier this week that ‘denying the adverse fall-outs of climate change betrays future generations’. In contrast, Donald Trump plans to open up the use of toxic coal to produce energy.

Our model of society must safeguard the welfare state,. However, we must also put in place a system of rigorous oversight to ensure that the enormous wastage of resources in health such as stale medicine stocks or costly high tech equipment lying idle, in social security, education or free transport schemes are contained. The quality of service to the general public is largely unsatisfactory. Public service must be imbued with a higher efficiency and sense of service to the people.

If the nine year schooling scheme is such a magic panacea for all our ills in education, why has there recently been such a daily tom-tomming of its purported merits on prime time TV? As we are aware there has been in the past insidious attempts to undermine the pursuit of excellence by the bright students. An inclusive educational system manned by better trained teachers and grounded on a broader curriculum and outdoor activities aimed at tapping the full potential of the pupil as well as the acquisition of fundamental skills and competences help substantively improve the quality of our human resources necessary to charter a more robust socio-economic development.

The educational system must however be constantly upgraded to meet the highest pedagogical benchmarks and practices prevailing in the world. It is equally important that the pursuit of excellence by the bright boys and girls from all walks of life of the country, who constitute one of the valued assets of the country, is systematically encouraged and harnessed for the good of the country. The pursuit of excellence is also a potent vector of social mobility. The necessary steps must also be taken to ensure a level playing in terms of facilities and teaching standards in all schools across the country so that the better qualified young contribute more meaningfully to the socio economic transformation of the country and the consolidation of nationhood. More importantly, the method and quality of teaching and learning at the school must be such as to nullify the need for private tuition.

Surrealistic logic

The elimination of extreme poverty is important. However, it cannot become the overriding cornerstone of the government’s social policies against a backdrop of deteriorating standards of living of the low income earners and the middle class. The lop-sided social policies of the government were recently highlighted at a surrealistic ceremony to allocate houses to squatters presided by the inimitable minister of Housing and Lands. Apart from the Freudian slip of immodestly claiming that ‘I gave you houses’, a squatter interviewed on TV complained about the inordinate delay and the long wait in obtaining a house from Government! Whilst it is in order to assist people in situations of distress, it would be unacceptable if such policies provide licence for illegal squatting on state lands in specific localities. Government policy must also help hard working mainstream citizens who also find difficulties in owning a house in a context of constantly rising real estate values, now fuelled by the authorisation given to non residents to buy property in the country.

At the beginning of the year, a local daily printed a chart containing subjective scores attributed to each MP of the opposition based on their likelihood of crossing the floor to join government ranks. Apart from the condemnable posit that MPs are considered as merchandise with a price tag in some outlandish souk, it highlights the questionable logic of such a stance when the collective and general view is that the practice of crossing of the floor should be condemned and deterred. Such patent syllogism clears the deck for the people to put an end to the rule of family clans and coteries and call the shots for a new socio-economic order which fully mirrors the ethos, aspirations, cardinal principles and values of the multitude.

Mrinal Roy

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