Now that elections are behind us, it is time for politics to take a back seat and for government to grapple with the many daunting challenges facing the real economy, the common man and society. As an elder statesman, Anerood Jugnauth has the authority and stature to shepherd this sea change in political ethics
In many ways 2014 was for the most an anno horribilis. A horrible year marked by catastrophes and accidents causing the loss of life of our countrymen. On the international front it was a year marked by the tragic loss of passenger planes, kidnappings of school girls in Nigeria, deaths of thousands of innocent victims of war in the Gaza Strip, Syria or Iraq, the rising death toll from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and terrorist attacks on children in Pakistan.
A year when the Mauritian economy stalled and the National Assembly was held hostage by the protracted negotiations between the leaders of the ruling Labour Party and the MMM leader of the Opposition to broker an ill-fated power sharing alliance. A year when the intoxication with power for power’s sake relegated everything else to the status of trivia despite the daunting economic and social challenges facing the country. In the process, nearly a whole year was wasted through government inaction on more important priorities in a context of stunted growth, continued recession in our main markets, social distress, deepening inequality, a rundown of public services and the law and order situation.
To crown it all, the leaders of Labour-MMM (LM) alliance overbearingly smug about a landslide victory and the purported combined might of the alliance blithely thought they could gazump the people. Thanks to vox populi, this sorry state of affairs was redeemed at the 10 December 2014 polls by the emphatic and cathartic victory of the people. Yet again, as has been the case several times before, a determined majority of voters within the electorate has shown that they are the real guardians of the fundamental rights and values anchoring our democracy and are its real king makers. The single-mindedness of their vote is a blistering warning and lesson to all those who still think that they can conjure repeated defeats into victory by bending the rules of elections through disputed reforms or other underhand stratagems.
The exuberance of the national rejoicing at the national level says it all. The odds were formidable at the outset. However, the determination of a swelling majority among the electorate to battle the odds to safeguard our democracy won the day. And what a splendid victory it is for our democracy and the nation. It is a new dawn. The people want change from the seedy order that has been allowed to prevail for too long. The people’s victory at the 10 December polls demands that there is a drastic change in political culture and ethics among politicians in the country.
This means irrevocably cutting loose from the culture of endless and futile politicking and bickering which has been the hallmark of local politics for years. It means that it is high time to clean up the Aegean stables local politics has been turned into with its unending shenanigans, disconcerting musical chair of political alliances with the sole object of keeping or wresting power or such decried gambits as crossing of the floor to obtain favour.
In particular, the sordid depths electioneering have sunk to during the campaign can no longer be allowed to continue to prevail. All that is required for this sea change in political ethics is for the elected to reboot with and rigorously emulate the high benchmarks of altruistic service to the nation already set by the stalwarts who fought for our Independence.
It is clear from the people’s unequivocal sanction that not only the leaders of the Labour-MMM alliance but also their parties, their front bench and most of the party candidates fielded have been found to be all guilty of breach of trust and disavowed by the people. None of the elected Labour or MMM Members of the National Assembly raised their voices in protest when their leaders forced the National Assembly into recess for most of the year or planned to impose their decried proposals of electoral and constitutional reforms without first seeking the views or assent of the people.
In the face of such an unambiguous indictment and crushing defeat at the polls shouldn’t the logical and credible step be for the leaders and all those sanctioned after decades in politics to step down and allow their parties to rejuvenate and reinvent themselves around a new leadership and political ethos? The current selective rumblings within the MMM should be an eye opener as to the systemic bottlenecks for such a salubrious exercise to pan out.
Getting our priorities right
Mauritius is therefore at a path breaking crossroads. Now that elections are behind us, it is time for politics to take a back seat and for government to grapple with the many daunting challenges facing the real economy, the common man and society. As an elder statesman, Anerood Jugnauth has the authority and stature to shepherd this sea change in political ethics by inter alia ensuring through his rigorous stewardship that the new government adheres strictly to the 12 commandments and principles detailed in L’Alliance Lepep manifesto which will anchor its governance. Exemplary good governance will consolidate the sacrosanct contract of trust between the elected and the people. Good governance and a marked uplift of political ethics are legitimate expectations of the people after the galling breaches of trust and seedy transgressions of the past.
The present indiscriminate culling of political appointees or persons perceived to be political appointees calls for a more thoughtful and sustainable approach for the future. As a first step, the appointment of the party faithful, the rejected candidates at the polls to fat cat jobs financed by public funds must end. On the morrow of the elections, some sections of the media outstripped the government by coming ahead with their own hit list of those whose heads should roll. We should be wary of insidious agendas to get rid of those whose track record shows that they have been bulwarks against lobbies and policies detrimental to the public interest.
What is of vital importance is to ensure that the government machinery in particular the top brass who help define government policies through pointed and well-honed expertise assures irrespective of which government is in place the efficient continuity of state administration. It is axiomatic that as stated by the new government all recruitments and nominations are henceforth effected strictly on the basis of meritocracy and transparent rules. The sacrosanct and paramount rule is that the civil service and its top cadres serve the government in place in accordance with the highest levels of professional probity and strict norms of good governance.
It is also in order for governments to appoint in fields where we lack competence, professionals with specific and proven expertise from outside such as the private sector or academia as advisors or to key posts to help improve the framing of government policies or managerial acumen. Such recruitments could also include Mauritians working abroad who wish to serve the country with expertise in pointed fields likely to help charter more innovative national strategies for a better order. They should be accountable.
However, what is absolutely essential is to ensure that the government administrative machinery is at no time weakened but is instead continuously strengthened by the induction of the talent and expertise available and required to enable the country to perpetually improve its think tank acumen and the thrust of its national strategies. It is equally in the country’s long term interests to ensure that key posts such as the Financial Secretary or the Governor of the Bank of Mauritius are not manned by political appointees but chosen from seasoned and competent cadres promoted from the top brass of the Central bank or the Ministry of Finance or government Establishment.
The new government is faced with multiple challenges of stimulating growth, ironing out inequalities, of ensuring that wealth generated through collective effort in the various sectors of the economy are fairly distributed and addressing social distress. To this end, it is first and foremost essential to audit the business model and performance of the different sectors and pillars of the economy as well as map out the state of inequalities and social distress to help define appropriate policies. In particular, the viability of traditional sectors devoid of protective trade agreements which are now operating in a competitive market environment need to be ascertained. An assessment of the current type of value addition of newer sectors such as the ICT (Information and Communications Technology), financial services or the free port is necessary to devise cogent strategies and policies to leap frog the sectors up the value chain.
The world has materially changed with China and India emerging as dominant players. The IMF has recently forecast that the eurozone has a high risk of sliding into a third recession since the financial crisis and the 2008 slump. Our traditionally euro centric strategies need to be tempered by a more robust strategy towards China and India as well as other emerging countries. In this context, it is important to continue to assure that the value of the Rupee protects the public interest against the lobbies upholding sectoral interests when it is the withering fundamentals in the euro zone which are weakening the Euro.
The Tertiary education sector also requires a thorough audit to ascertain the international standing of the diplomas and degrees of the institutions operating in the sector and the employability of those graduating from them. All the deadwood must be cut. The training of the affected students must be recast to assure employability. The government must put new solid guidelines to be strictly adhered to on the types and international standing of institutions, the fields of study, the interface with the market place to ensure employability, the scheme of scholarships offered, etc. An IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) is to be set up in Mauritius although there are questions raised in the Indian press regarding its status. As owing to its prestigious international standing, it is expected to attract apart from local students a bevy of international students from the region and from abroad, shouldn’t it be situated in a more central location to enable easy commuting and lodging than being as presently ‘planted’ in a suburb of Montagne Blanche? This is not the textile industry which had to be located in industrial estates across the country to tap workers from catchment areas but an internationally recognised Institute.
Our Africa strategy is still inchoate as Africa is not a homogeneous entity but a disparate mixed bag of countries having diverse political, economic and institutional regimes. It needs to be fine-tuned and be more targeted after the required market research bearing in mind the numerous bilaterally agreed safety nets protecting exporters and investors. In a context of growing investments by Mauritian companies in projects on the continent, it is important to assess what’s in it for Mauritius and define a related framework accordingly. Similarly, the ocean economy which comprises so many interesting facets and poles of development require meticulous planning according to a well thought-out road map to ensure an environment friendly development of the vast and diverse ocean resources.
Together for a better order
It is a new dawn. In the light of the solid mandate given by the people, the new government has the singular opportunity and responsibility to harness the best talent available and required to transform the country in terms of benchmarks of good governance, political ethics, inclusive growth and a quantum jump in national prosperity and the well-being of the people and in particular the more vulnerable anchored on a fair sharing of the rewards of growth, through innovative and imaginative strategies devised accordingly. Such a transformative and game changing venture has to be done with the people and more importantly for the people and the nation at large. Let us together realise our most ambitious objectives as a nation for a better order for all.
* Published in print edition on 30 December 2014