Loose Cannons and Trampled Hopes

The ethos of discipline, productivity and merit-based equal opportunities is ardently being preached to us. We are flummoxed, as the ground reality is not at all that, the more so with too many loose cannons creating mayhem

The drama surrounding the legal mano a mano last week around the case of the DPP and the perceived threats to fundamental bulwarks and pillars of our democracy is the last straw in an accumulation of events which are testing the people’s patience and progressively eroding their trust. People are standing up for principles and the sacrosanct separation of powers in our parliamentary democracy.

Voices have been raised which set the men from the boys, the measured legal view from the vacuous.

The hopes of a nation for a better order and governance are thawing away so quickly. The promises made in respect of meritocracy, transparency and good governance have been exposed by the plethora of jobs and posts which continue to be attributed to the coterie. In its Country Diagnostic report, the World Bank has strongly criticised the weight of ‘political patronage’ in the nominations at the head of State owned companies (SOEs) and highlighted the costly risks and inefficient use of scarce resources inherent to such a dubious policy. Without the right team of top decision makers with the required professional expertise, Mauritius would face the risk of the projections of growth being blunted.

This diagnosis is not rocket science. Too often in the past, this flawed policy has led to costly blunders in risky hedging strategies, inept choice of contractors and operators, leonine contracts, the allocation of state contracts, the management of the portfolio of State owned assets or the dilapidation of State assets and lands. The list is long and damning. Lack of accountability and an inbuilt audit protocol have systemically impaired the public interest.

Thus, we cannot on the one hand take the laudable initiative of recuperating scarce state lands but do the opposite in respect of squatters illegally occupying state lands. This can only breed similar licence from others. There cannot be two categories of citizens in the country. Now that a registry of all the State lands has been established, isn’t it also necessary to henceforth render public any new state land allocation made with all details, in a transparent manner?

It is becoming more and more evident that, in spite of decrying past malpractices, every government seems to be adopting the same questionable template of bad governance pilloried by the World Bank. The political culture of distributing fat cat jobs at public expense to the party faithful irrespective of whether they are duds seems to be so deeply entrenched among the political parties of Mauritius that they are incapable or unwilling to put an end to it forthwith, for the good of the country.

The list of the chosen appointees is concocted through carefully dosed ethno-caste alchemy. The unending cycle of one set of political appointees to key posts blithely jumping into the shoes of the cohort of appointees of the previous government and so on and on ad nauseam in an endless merry-go-round is untenable as it stunts growth and the prospects of a quantum socio economic improvement of the country and the well being of the people. Far from diminishing, the scope of posts considered as spoils of victory to be distributed to the coterie, is extending and becoming more and more pervasive.

Icons and sinecures

This is a vexing climb down from the high standards of probity, governance, ideals, selfless sense of service and values which animated the altruistic leaders who started our struggle for freedom as from the late 30s. The country and its young aspiring for a better socio-economic and political order already have in those iconic leaders the role models to inspire them to seek and demand a paradigm shift in governance, as this is a necessary condition to leapfrog the country to much higher levels of success.

The list of Ambassadors and High Commissioners appointed to our foreign outposts announced last week is another case in point. Mauritius is not a banana republic. Yet, the recent appointment of the party faithful as Ambassadors at the expense of the Public Exchequer is the hallmark of a banana republic. In a highly competitive world where economic diplomacy is a key vector of export opportunities, trade partnerships and growth, it makes no sense to do so. As is the case in most progressive States, why should career diplomats not be appointed as Ambassadors?

It is vital that our Embassies and in particular the most important ones are headed by Ambassadors from the ranks of our best career diplomats honed in the art of economic diplomacy. It is galling for the talented top brass of our foreign service that this is not so as it unjustly interferes with their legitimate career prospects. For those of us in the private sector who have teamed up with for example our Ambassadors in Brussels and Geneva, the presence of a vocal, technically able and articulate Ambassador in the negotiating ambassadorial fora has helped achieve so much more to further our national interests.

It is therefore to put it mildly daft not to appoint seasoned career diplomats to head our diplomatic outposts in for example India, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Australia or in Africa with whom we wish to take our partnerships to a much higher level.

For example, in the case of India, we need the highest diplomatic acumen and expertise to assist the country in intelligently managing the delicate issue of the Double Taxation Avoidance Treaty and build a wider range of collaborative partnerships with economic actors in, for example, the Information and Communications Technology (ICT), the Port, the Tertiary Education hub, the Ocean economy, etc.

Similarly, in the case of the United States, apart from apparel, the tremendous export opportunities under AGOA, which was renewed last month for 10 years, should be tapped whereas we need our finest diplomatic brains and strategy to address the issue of Diego Garcia with the US and the United Kingdom and be party to the discussions scheduled in anticipation of the 2016 optional 20-year extension of the initial UK-US agreement to use the Chagos Archipelago for defence purposes.

On the domestic front, Mauritius faces many challenges to boost growth in particular in the ICT, the Financial Services, the Seafood Hub, the Port and Free Port or the Tertiary Education sectors. Selecting the best qualified top cadres and personnel to run and man these key sectors and the public institutions in these sectors would synergize the thrust of our actions to attain our most ambitious goals as a nation. To do otherwise would be tantamount to basically shooting ourselves in the foot.

The recent collapse of the BAI-Bramer set up and its warren of companies has apart from causing deep-seated anguish, ire and angst, spawned a series of newly formed State companies to tide over the crisis. However, it is important, once the crisis has been conjured, that Government exits from these companies once they have been nurtured into profitable assets before they become havens for a new crop of political appointees!

Similarly, the setting up of a proper University Hospital in order to assure the right teaching and training conditions necessary to properly groom our medical students into competent medical practitioners is long overdue. However, is Apollo-Bramwell, which was equipped with costly high-tech equipment to operate a top end private clinic in our medical hub sector, suited for this purpose? Would it not be more judicious and viable to let it continue to operate as before in partnership with the Apollo group who are specialists in the field while discussing with say the CHU of Bordeaux or Imperial College of Medicine the possibility of setting up such a centre here?

The ethos of discipline, productivity and merit-based equal opportunities is ardently being preached to us. We are flummoxed, as the ground reality is not at all that, the more so with too many loose cannons creating mayhem and the trampling of the hopes and aspirations of the nation. Is it not time to take urgent steps to turn the tide before it is too late?


  • Published in print edition on 24 July 2015

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