Rebooting our democracy

It is yet time for the elected and the leaders at the helm of Government and political parties to redress things by rebooting with the lofty democratic values bequeathed to us by the founding fathers of Mauritius and overhauling the present sorry state of our democracy

There are presently many issues which are fundamentally amiss or not quite right in our democracy. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition who occupy two of the top constitutional posts of our democracy find it normal to mix the affairs of the State with the shenanigans of political deal making for an alliance. This is doubly infra dig.

Matters of the State such as the outcome of the important United States-Africa summit should have been reported to and discussed in the National Assembly and shared with the public and stakeholders such as the economic actors exporting under AGOA or targeting opportunities in Africa or the displaced Chagossians. It cannot be powwowed selectively within the secrecy of Clarisse House or rendered public through confusing press communiqués.

Similarly, the PM and the Leader of the Opposition seem to totally disregard and to subordinate their respective constitutional posts as head of government and opposition watch dog of government actions to the exigencies of their separate roles as the leaders of political parties bent on thrashing out an alliance to maintain power. Elementary ethics would require that the leader of the Opposition who is one of the bulwarks of our parliamentary democratic system step down if he is not able in the present circumstances of alliance negotiations to fully assume his constitutional role.

It is equally disquieting that one of the stated key elements of the alliance negotiations between the two protagonists is to broker ‘the right power sharing balance’ between the President and the Prime Minister, posts they are themselves designed to occupy in the context of the proposed second Republic and the avowed landslide victory.

Instead of an independent Constituent Assembly deciding on changes to the Constitution by consensus of all stakeholders and the people, it is the first intended beneficiaries of these two key constitutional posts who are horse trading the elements of power sharing between the two posts.

How can being judge and party to the tailoring of constitutional changes to rebalance the power sharing between the President and the Prime Minister, posts they themselves intend to occupy post elections, meet the test of democratic process, probity towards the nation, serve the interests of the people and strengthen democracy?

Press reports indicate that one of the issues in contention in the context of the alliance negotiations is the composition of the front bench. In spite of paying lip service to the elimination of communalism, the front bench of political parties and government has been rigorously chosen through a carefully dosed communal alchemy and hierarchy. Is it not time to supplant scientific communalism by choosing the best talent available to occupy the front bench of government?

Similarly, in an age when the socialist Party in France (soon to be followed suit by the French UMP – Union pour un movement populaire-) carried out in 2011, as is the case in the United States, a primary to elect its Presidential candidate in the 2012 French Presidential elections, shouldn’t the replacement of the PM as the leader of the Labour Party in the scenario that he opts to become President, be carried out by a process of free elections within the Party, as in the UK? The democratisation of all political parties in Mauritius is a key building block to meaningfully strengthening our democracy.

Furthermore, the protracted and ongoing powwowing between the PM and Leader of the Opposition and the related razzmatazz imposed on the country has resulted in the PM suspending/proroguing the National Assembly for the best part of the year, with the complicit silence and accord of the elected Members of Labour and MMM, who constitute the majority of the Members of the National Assembly. As a consequence, the National Assembly has, barring some 8 sittings, been so far on holiday for most of 2014.

In the meantime there is no forum to report and debate the affairs of the State as well as assure through the scrutiny of government actions the necessary transparency and checks and balances vital to the functioning of a Parliamentary democracy.

It should be remembered that the 2014 budget allocated to the National Assembly comprising the handsome salaries and perks of the PM, Government Cabinet Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition and Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) totalling 70 MNAs together with the cost of some 50 civil servants serving the Assembly amounts to more than Rs 300 million.

MNAs are elected to represent their constituents, serve the nation and uphold the democratic rights of the people. Throughout the process of debate on the disputed constitutional reform proposals and the repeated volte-face in the negotiations, they have docilely kowtowed to the party line and the decisions of their omnipotent leaders. How can they justify such a feckless and costly idleness at the expense of the Exchequer?

The proposed electoral reform will further inflate the National Assembly budget at a time when the annual salary of the lower rung employees in the country is less than the monthly salary cum perks of an MNA and much lower than that of a Minister. Is that a satisfactory index of inclusiveness, democratisation and the bridging of the yawning revenue gap between the haves and the poor in the country? This serious global issue was highlighted in the Oxfam report issued at the World Economic forum in Davos in January this year showing that 85 of the richest people in the world have as much wealth as 3.5 billion of the poorest half of the world population as a result of the growing inequality which has been driven by ‘power grab’. Are there signs of this ill in our country?

How on earth are the present leadership in the country who, in spite of their boasts to the contrary, are clearly out of steam across the political divide, going to make Mauritius become a model of performance and achievement?

The confusion surrounding the proposals made regarding Chagos during the bilateral meeting with the US National Security Advisor Susan Rice is unfortunate on such a crucial issue. Any idea of cogestion regarding a part of our territory with the United States, the purported ‘leasee’ which has since 1966 a agreement with the UK to use the Diego Garcia Islands, cannot but be flawed, ill thought out and plainly daft.

Thank goodness the slip up in the first communiqué was corrected by Government in a subsequent press release. It is assumed that the record has also been set right with the US in the hope that this cock-up does not impair our special standing with the United States, but more importantly preserves the thrust and integrity of our sovereignty rights.

Similarly, the recent decision to set up an independent commission of enquiry on horse racing in Mauritius seems to be missing the core issue and public expectations. The crying question is: Isn’t it high time for this vestige or Bastille of an archaic and bygone era to be overhauled to create a new more democratic, transparently and professionally run horse racing entity which, unlike the present iniquitous system, has a membership which is open to all and where everyone benefits from common modern facilities in terms of access, comfort and privileges akin to the best horse racecourses in the world?

Our democracy is being undermined from within by the very people who were voted in and elected to safeguard, consolidate and strengthen it. Unless there is a fundamental sea change in attitude to honour their pact of trust with the people and the people’s mandate, there will be a growing clamour for censure and change through the ballot box.

It is yet time for the elected and the leaders at the helm of Government and political parties to redress things by rebooting with the lofty democratic values bequeathed to us by the founding fathers of Mauritius and overhauling the present sorry state of our democracy. It is equally important that at all levels including the political machinery, there is a policy of rejuvenation and the harnessing of talented professionals to reengineer our democracy, chalk out innovative strategies and man the transition of the country towards a high income economy and beyond whilst assuring more inclusive socio economic and sustainable development.

The teeming and toiling multitude of Mauritius would not accept anything less.

* Published in print edition on 23 August 2014

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