The Will to Bring about Real Change

Beyond the Inquisition into the wrongdoings of past regimes, the government must urgently demonstrate through cogent actions the will to bring about the transformational changes required to root good governance, probity and best practice in both public and private sector management as an intrinsic part of the national ethos

The disturbing evidence of past malpractices uncovered since the beginning of the year shows how the country has been allowed to be despoiled over the past years through lack of robust bulwarks against diverse transgressions and the abdication of responsibility of those entrusted to regulate, operate checks and balances and be the guardians of good governance.

Too many seem to have failed to stand up to stop wanton licence to shortchange the public interest. Too many seem to have been cowed down by the high-handedness and bullying of those in power. Too many who owe their appointments to political patronage instead of merit have through their subservience and complicit connivance with the powers that be, systemically weakened the control and regulatory mechanisms put in place to assure transparency, accountability and good governance in all decisions of the State and in regulated companies.

It is therefore flabbergasting that those who, as Ministers or top ranking cadres of the State or CEOs of State owned companies or parastatal bodies, failed to assume their responsibilities and stand up against transgressions of every kind should now use the lame alibi of being coerced by Ministers, the government Establishment or the administrative hierarchy to shepherd decisions against the public interest, to justify their culpable actions. Their standard line of defence to exonerate themselves is that they followed orders, were pressured by the powers that be and have therefore acted under duress. This cannot be an excuse.

The number of ex-Ministers and high officials being interrogated in the various cases being investigated by the police is in itself an indictment of the systemic flaws inherent in the administrative system in place where arrogance and tantrums of power have spawned fear and cowed too many into subservience. We cannot have a system of governance where instead of assuming their duty towards the nation, officials kowtow to the diktats of the powers that be to safeguard their careers rather than rigorously uphold public interest.

We cannot have a public administrative system where the brave and talented officials standing up for good governance and innovativeness are sidelined or sanctioned instead of being protected whilst cohorts of pliant sycophants hold sway. Is it not high time to overhaul the State administrative system and ground it solidly on merit and talent based recruitment, managerial rigour, sound counsel and innovative transformational initiatives to usher a better socio-economic order for the benefit of all?

Rooting best practice

Hindsight is an exact science. In hindsight we know perfectly well what went wrong and how governance is fundamentally flawed in the country. We therefore also know what needs to be urgently done to set things right and establish a merit based and robust administrative and regulatory framework to assure rigorous good governance in both the public and private sectors.

Have the lessons drawn from past bad governance been learnt?

Are these lessons serving to shape and put in place a new system which eliminates the risks of recurrence of the condemnable events and malpractices of the past, in the future?

Is meritocracy which above all is a cardinal vector of innovation, strategic thinking and growth in the country really being applied through transparent recruitment processes in both the public and private sectors or is it just, yet again, a case of glibly paying lip service to it?

Is it not time to induct the bright and talented young of the country to help kick-start a paradigm shift from the questionable policy of recruitment of the retired ‘has been’ back into service which blunts any hope of modernisation and the upgrading of the managerial acumen of public administration through more pointed skills?

The status quo is untenable. Beyond the Inquisition into the wrongdoings of past regimes, the government must therefore urgently demonstrate through cogent actions the will to bring about the transformational changes required to root good governance, probity and best practice in both public and private sector management as an intrinsic part of the national ethos. The government has the chance and mandate to bring about this necessary sea change to really entrench the highest norms of good governance as well as competence and efficient public administration in the country through meritocracy. The country and the people are therefore impatient to see this happen.

Recent reports on the ins and outs of the current financial crisis have also brought to light certain questionable accounting practices detrimental to the interests of investors and policyholders’ funds. The lessons drawn require that urgent steps are also taken to ensure through appropriate supervision and effective oversight that the private sector and its larger conglomerates operate according to best practices of transparency and accountability and safeguard the interests of minority shareholders and the public they serve.

Everything that happens in the country or whatever actions government takes and the manner these are taken have repercussions on the economy as well as the standing, repute and image of the country. The series of sordid malpractices uncovered since the beginning of the year have affected the image and standing of Mauritius. The handling of the diverse cases being investigated must be unobtrusive so as to minimize any collateral damage to the ranking and reputation of Mauritius as a safe, transparent and well-regulated hub for doing business.

Judicial oversight

Apart from the close monitoring of events in the country by world and regional economic, commercial and business partners and competitors, it must also be remembered that the government’s actions are also under the scrutiny of the people. It follows that all government actions must factor in these determinant elements and take on board the perceptions of the outside world and the people in their decisions.

Mauritius is a state of law. It is for example vital that there is, as enshrined in our Constitution, a clear separation of powers between the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary especially at a time when so many people associated with past malpractices who are being investigated are brought to book.

Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.

Why on earth should all persons accused in the various cases being investigated, necessarily be made to suffer the ignominy of spending a night or more in custody before being first judged and condemned or otherwise in a court of law, the more so as the accused is generally released on bail in court shortly after? Why are they not released on parole pending bail?

It all smacks so much like the sordid and archaic voyeurism associated with the pillorying of the accused in the Middle Ages or in Roman arenas or in a kangaroo court. Do our laws allow such practices which flout the fundamental and sacrosanct human rights principles of présomption d’innocence and innocent until proved guilty prevailing in the best legal systems in the world? If so, they must forthwith be amended accordingly. All citizens must, without exception, benefit from these basic human rights principles.

More than ever the Judiciary has a key role to play in assuring that the law is rigorously upheld through sound and legally well grounded rulings which stand the test of judicial review or appeal. In the special context of the plethora and diversity of the cases being presently lodged, the Judiciary remains the ultimate bulwark of due legal process and oversight in the country. It is therefore vital that the judicial Establishment run a tight ship to ensure that justice is seen to be done by one and all.

The string of events which dominate public attention has distracted focus from the real economy. The country faces numerous challenges with global growth prospects forecast by the IMF in mid April for 2015 remaining moderate at 3.5 % and 3.8 % in 2016. The forecasts indicate an uneven mixed bag of some green shoots in advanced economies such as the US and in the Euro zone helped by lower oil prices and a weaker Euro. With the important exception of India, lower growth is projected in emerging economies. The appreciation of the dollar and the related 12% slide of the rupee this year are affecting the price of imports, portfolios held by dollar funds and the stock exchange.

Whilst it is important to satisfactorily address and resolve the angst of investors and policyholders afflicted by the Bramer/BAI related financial crisis, it is vital that the diverse challenges facing the economy and society occupy centre stage in the preoccupations of government. It is therefore time for government to demonstrate the will to bring out real and substantive changes and systemic reforms to shepherd the country towards higher growth and inclusive prosperity in line with the aspirations and ambitions of the people and the mandate given to government.

It is time for government to urgently regain its sense of focus.

 

* Published in print edition on 24 April  2015

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