Imperative of Reinventing Ourselves

The country is at a crossroads. The present model of operation and standard of governance hobbles the performance of the country and is no longer a sustainable option for the future

After decades of successive governments sacrificing ideals on the altar of power driven game-plans, of makeshift decisions instead of rigour, the country is today in an appallingly sorry state on different fronts. In the political field, we seem to be trapped in the syllogism that political change or l’alternance necessarily means composing with the same septuagenarian leaders roundly disavowed at the December 2014 polls, holding on firmly à la Mugabe to the leadership of the MMM and Labour.Self professed political pundits and opinion leaders, sections of the press and even historians seem to be (insidiously) pandering to this eventuality so early in the present government’s term of office in the teeth of the crying evidence of history that the ultimate choice of who is trusted to run of the affairs of the State remains in all circumstances the preserve of the people.

Let it be clearly stated that such a pipe dream in respect of l’alternance is not likely to be endorsed by the people so long as there is no democratic change of leadership and the rebooting of these parties to values and principles which rally the multitude. All those holding on to the coat-tails of the disavowed leaders to assure their political future better urgently wake up to this ground reality and take the bull by the horns to urgently bring about this necessary and long overdue salubrious change at the helm of their parties and clear up the cohort of apparatchiks.

Will the leaders rooted to their posts have the grace to step down to assure a credible future for their parties? The Labour Party which was founded in Mauritius in 1936 on the values and ethos of the Labour Party brand across the world and which triggered the fight for freedom is surely much more important and a valued legacy for many in the country than its leader who has been disavowed by the people.

It is equally high time for the altruistic and talented young to step forward in the political field and get organized to shoulder the responsibility of ingeniously carrying the country forward.

The unruly scenes and tantrums witnessed this week in the Legislative Assembly reminiscent of seedy street brawls are unbecoming. Isn’t it high time for bloated egos, endless and tiresome gamesmanship and futile bickering to be supplanted by parliamentary debate focused instead on substance and ideas to improve policies and the quality of life of people? At a time when the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) are lobbying hard to have live broadcasts of the sessions of the Assembly and presumably become its stars, TV viewers are dreading this taxing eventuality! Thank goodness for the zapping mode! This epitomises the cut off between the MLAs and the manner they assume their parliamentary responsibilities and the people.

Similarly, the current government must remember that the emphatic vote in its favour at the last polls does not necessarily mean that they have secured the trust of the people. This trust must be earned through above all good governance, equal opportunities and a merit-based level playing field for all including job seekers and economic actors, transparency and timely delivery on the promises made. There are already crying signs that government action seems muddled and below par on these essential yardsticks which measure public trust and the people’s perception of government performance. The public perception that the recent recruitment exercise of doctors was botched hardly helps build trust among the people.

Revisiting our priorities and modus operandi

On the socio-economic front, there are serious questions as to whether the standard model of public-private sector mixed economy which has been the hallmark of socio-economic development and growth for decades after independence is today capable in a liberalised and much more difficult and more competitive marketplace of delivering on the ambition of making Mauritius become a high income economy. Does the private sector have the capability and expertise to come up with the innovative strategies required to take the new economic pillars of the economy such as the ICT/BPO, the financial services or the projected hub of multifaceted Port activities up the value chain to much higher levels of high value addition and income generation?

It is noteworthy that in the context of implementing the government’s people centred Vision 2030, a large proportion of the projects promoted by local private sector actors are essentially high end real estate developments, business parks or golf courses, etc., to maximize revenue from their land assets, all blithely tucked under the all-encompassing ‘smart city’ label. Are the jobs to be created in these projects limited to construction workers, gardeners and housekeepers or do they also include and match the range and quality of the significant number of unemployed including university graduates in diverse fields?

The development of the country over the past decades has brought about prosperity and higher standards of living but it has also widened inequalities, a growing concern across the world. About 80% of the employees of the private sector earn less than Rs 20, 000 per month. Oxfam had in January this year warned that unless the trend of inequality is checked, the combined wealth of the richest 1% will overtake that of the other 99% by 2016.

We cannot aspire to be a high-income economy whilst maintaining pockets of low paid employees within the workforce to sustain the different pillars of the economy. Such a model of development is not sustainable in modern Mauritius where people legitimately aspire for an improved standard of living and the safety net of a minimum wage policy to enable the vulnerable sections of the population to live with dignity and essential comfort in a context of their constantly eroding purchasing power.

To become a high-income economy will require moving up the value chain to create higher paid high skills jobs in diverse new economic sectors. It is evident that it is only through strategic partnerships and the induction of appropriate expertise that we will be able to make the ICT/BPO, Freeport, Financial services and manufacturing sectors leapfrog to higher level of value generation.

Foreign Direct Investments in these sectors and in the other new economic pillars of the economy as well in the transformation of the extended port area into a multifaceted regional maritime hub all have a potentially more substantive impact on absorbing a wider range of unemployed and create high skills jobs especially for the qualified young and of generating higher growth rates. Shouldn’t we therefore be reshuffling our priority projects?

We also need to ensure through a placement programme that the Tertiary Education sector and those who graduate from abroad remain a regular source of a diverse pool of graduates skilled in various appropriate fields which match the high skills required to carry Mauritius to a high income economy.

No place for lame ducks

The government ambition to put Mauritius in the league of high-income economies also faces daunting managerial challenges. Such a task requires intelligent planning, monitoring and management of the diverse projects by a capable and multi-disciplinary team of top brass government administrators and technicians able and apt to independently evaluate policy options and projects proposed. However, years of political interference and appointments which repeatedly flout the rule of meritocracy have systemically sapped the government administrative machinery.

Has the government been able to set up a team which has the technical competences, analytical skills, managerial acumen, independence and impartiality required to carry its brief of stewarding the transformation of the country into a high income economy as well as provide sound advice to government bearing in mind the public interest? Or is all to be left to the diktats of political expediency?

It is therefore essential that the joint public-private sector steering committee meeting every quarter under the chairmanship of the PM be recast to include all stakeholders and investors geared to create substantive employment in the country. It should also operate in a transparent mode re inter alia trade facilitation measures to enable if need be other stakeholders and the civil society to provide their inputs thereon. In the absence of appropriate expertise within the government Establishment to guide government policy on particular issues, government should reach out to tap such expertise as there are many Mauritians willing to altruistically serve and advance the cause of the country.

Against a backdrop of adverse growth figures, the government is obviously under pressure to deliver on its many promises especially in respect of employment. There is a lag effect. Government must realise that a standard policy directive of recruiting the best candidates in both the public and private sectors is a necessary condition to accelerate the process of ushering Mauritius into the league of high-income economies. To do otherwise is to stall this process.

Earlier this month the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has once again scaled down global growth prospects for 2015 to 3.1% from 3.3% in July and 3.5% in April owing mainly to weaker growth prospects in emerging markets including China, oil exporting countries and a decline in commodity prices. It has therefore warned that downside risks to the global economy appear more pronounced.

In such a bearish context, it is clear that our success and prosperity as an export oriented country will only be possible in the liberalized trading world if we are first and foremost competitive, innovative and capable of adapting to the more difficult market conditions and of seizing market opportunities with resilient strategies. We also need to urgently cut the dead wood as it makes no commercial sense to persist in producing, propping and selling products which are not competitive and which generate losses.

The country is therefore at a crossroads. For all the above reasons, the present model of operation and standard of governance hobbles the performance of the country and is no longer a sustainable option for the future. It is therefore imperative that we re-invent ourselves into a new Avatar grounded on getting our priorities right as well as harnessing and synergizing the best talents and brains of the country in all fields for the common purpose of successfully realising the full potential of our ambition as a nation. Mauritius deserves that this is urgently so.

 

  • Published in print edition on 16 October 2015

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