Will the political class never learn?

Time to learn and deliver

‘…First We Take Manhattan, Then We Take Berlin…’

— Leonard Cohen

The recent disconcerting local political events provide yet again glaring evidence that politicians high on delusions of their own self-importance persist in not learning from the clear and loud lessons to be drawn from the outcome of the 10 December general elections.

After being so emphatically disavowed by the electorate at the last polls, basic political ethics should have prompted the leaders of both the MMM and the Labour Party to have the grace to step down, thus enabling the induction of young blood and new talent to emerge to lead and inspire their parties towards a better future. This is in the natural order of things in democracies. Instead, their hold on their respective parties is such that they have been able through the process of internal elections or behind the scene dealings, to maintain their solid grip over their party aided and abetted by their cohort of apparatchiks, even at the cost of causing the exit of their own elected members and alienating their long standing party faithful.

It is clear that the leaders of both parties and their coterie who helped cement the ill-fated alliance and supported its decried constitutional reforms are discredited to the point of being toxic for their own parties. The new front bench scientifically chosen by the leader of the MMM exposes yet again the hypocrisy of a mindset obsessed by communal considerations and arbitrage whilst speaking of unity of the nation in the same breath. Do the rumblings and exit from the party mask more seedy aspects than meet the eye?

The Labour Party is no better as, in spite of the damning events of the past weeks, it has conjured a feckless solution when it should have likewise opened its membership to attract the best talents among the young to enable the democratic emergence of a new leadership in the mould of and inspired by the altruistic ideals of the stalwarts who founded the Party. Too many from the old guard and the party ranks docilely kowtow the leader’s line instead of standing up to stop the rot.

The approach contrived in both cases to basically maintain the status quo is untenable and certainly not a credible option for a viable future of the parties. Let it be clearly spelt out: It is high time for both leaders and their brigade of apparatchiks to go as a sine qua non condition to usher a salubrious new dawn for both parties.

The ethics of good governance

The colossal cache of funds uncovered recently, the scams associated with the allocation of scarce State lands, the disputed leonine contracts entered by the State, the questionable size of cost overruns on major infrastructural projects or the allegations of secret overseas accounts in tax havens all highlight the urgency of grounding good governance in all government decision making processes and in the code of ethics governing the conduct of politicians, government officials, the economic actors and the public at large. However, in spite of the avowed intent of upholding the principles of good governance, meritocracy, transparency, accountability and equal opportunities, the plethora of questionable appointments without a transparent process of selection to high posts of responsibility in State institutions and companies are dismaying.

It is true that in a coalition of three parties with each having its own culture (and hunger, as old bad habits die hard) in respect of fat cat jobs for the coterie, it is presumably not an easy task for the Prime Minister to keep at bay such abject transgressions to these core principles of good governance. The government must remember that it was carried to power by the people’s vote on a clear and specific mandate rooted on inter alia good governance, transparency, meritocracy and accountability. It is therefore important to sound a word of caution so that good governance gets quickly back on track.

It is early days and it is therefore not too late to progressively set things right by appointing after the due process of selection on the basis of merit the best talents of the country to man the key government posts and State corporations in replacement of the decried make-shift appointments. Not to do so will erode the people’s trust in the government’s ability to enshrine exemplary good governance and a selfless sense of service to the nation as the drivers of its actions and policies as stated in its programme. It could sap the people’s goodwill. As expected, the press and in particular the partisan press are already having a field day at such transgressions and are presumably already counting their chicken!

Promises to keep

The people who voted the government to power want it to succeed as the programme which they endorsed mirrors their own aspirations and hopes of benefiting from a new economic miracle to assure a better livelihood with fairer opportunities for one and all. There are high hopes in the country especially among the common man and a huge responsibility on the Prime Minister to shepherd the government mandate to assure a prompt and diligent delivery on the promises made.

The people are rightly impatient because there is so much more to do to transform the country to attain higher levels of growth and prosperity for the benefit of all. Not to do so would jeopardise their future. This is anathema as for too long the economy has stalled. It is therefore imperative that the process of re-igniting the economy through cogent initiatives is urgently kick started to reboot it to growth, the creation of wealth and employment especially for the qualified young, thus leading to a general improvement in the livelihoods of the people in line with their legitimate aspirations.

Building synergy

The keys to bringing about this sea change in the prospects of the country are good governance and the harnessing of the best brains of the country to charter the innovative strategies required in a skill based market environment to achieve the common national purpose of realising our most ambitious objectives as a nation for the good of all. One of the crippling blunders of the post Independence period has been the systematic appointment of nincompoops in key government posts and at the head of parastatal or State companies.

Synergy means 2+2=5.

In simple terms it means that the choice of a Chairman with proven professional skills working in collaboration with a judiciously constituted Board and a CEO and top cadres selected on the basis of merit and a track record of achievements will, working as a team, most probably bring about a synergic efficiency, performance and improved results of the State enterprises and institutions as well as private sector enterprises they head.

The world is too technical and pointed skills-based for anyone to think that second-raters will do the job. In the face of the daunting social and economic challenges facing the country, it is more than ever imperative to enshrine once and for all meritocracy as the cardinal rule underpinning all recruitments in both the public and private sectors so as to harness all the diverse expertise and innovative thinking of qualified Mauritians to define the strategies necessary to leap frog Mauritius to a high income economy.

The transformational changes required to construct a more advanced and fairer society where the fruits of prosperity generated through collective work is more equitably shared cannot happen through some esoteric mojo. It needs the mobilisation of the best human resources, technical expertise and think tank acumen of the country for this common purpose.

Furthermore, all the new pillars of the economy especially the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) or the financial services sectors require potent, specific and well honed technical skills as well as strategic partnerships and expert advice from abroad to grow exponentially. It would be foolhardy to imagine that the political class can even with the best of intentions charter the critical path forward to sustained and higher level of growth on their own without the technical support and innovative strategies of the best analytical brains and entrepreneurial minds of the country. It follows that government should, whenever required, seek and ground all major policy decisions on the best and sound expert advice available.

We therefore need to create the working conditions conducive to attract the best brains to serve the country. There is for example a major mismatch between the income levels of young university graduate cadres and their disposable income with the much more substantial sums necessary to invest in basic existential needs such as a house or a car to commute to work or going on holidays. It is quasi-impossible for the young professional of today to, for example, buy land and build a house from his meagre savings. This is a major step back as the previous generation could certainly do all this as well as bequeath assets including land to their progeny. Such inequalities as well as other crying ones must be urgently addressed through appropriate corrective policies including a substantive land reform policy.

Judicious shareholding

As this is a topical issue, a word of caution must also be sounded in respect of the government stated plans to provide 35% of the shareholding in sugar refineries and distilleries to the sugar cane planters and workers of the sugar industry.

The strategy of transforming the sugar industry into the cane sugar industry cluster comprising other more remunerative activities using various feedstocks and inputs from the cane plant was couched about a decade ago in the light of the obvious threats posed to the sugar industry by the WTO-led market liberalisation process which resulted in basically eliminating the market rent of preferential trade accords.

The idea was to assure the viability of the sugar industry operators comprising millers, planters and employees by moving their core source of revenue from sugar which would be facing tougher competition and market conditions undermining its viability to the other significantly more remunerative streams of revenue from the other activities of the sugar cane cluster such as energy production, distilleries, ethanol production and eventually other derivatives from the cane biomass.

It would therefore be more judicious and imperative to provide the 35% shareholding to planters and workers in the more upbeat and remunerative activities of electricity producing power plants, rum distilleries, ethanol production plants and other viable streams of the cane sugar cluster using the by-products of the cane as feedstock rather than in the sugar industry which is beleaguered by un-remunerative prices, a falling Euro and difficult and unpredictable market conditions.

We should remember that the past miscue of the 20% SIT shareholding in the sugar mills some two decades ago has earned nothing more than a pittance to sugar planters and employees since then. Just as is the case presently for the corporate sector, the 35% investment must therefore provide, after the generations of diligent commitment to the sugar industry, a remunerative legacy for the future to the planters and employees, the other historical stakeholders of the sugar industry, from more viable and future looking activities of the sugar cane industry cluster. The 35% shareholding should therefore be held in the sugar industry cluster industries of the future instead of the dwindling ones of the past.

The finality and paramount object of any society is the well being, welfare and happiness of its people. In view of the colossal task ahead and the high expectations of the people, this is not the time for digression or be distracted by the avid Inquisitions into past misdemeanours or lack of focus from this cardinal objective but to get efficiently organised to deliver.

 

* Published in print edition on 6  March  2015

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