Whither Mauritius

When the fundamental foundations of a country’s democracy are threatened, the onus to uphold its principles, values and the national ethos of the country is squarely on the people, the forces vives of civil society, the media and the public at large

Democratic Alliance, the main South African opposition party, led by Mmusi Maimane, won three of the six largest municipalities of South Africa in last week’s municipal elections against the scandal plagued African National Congress. Is the victory of Democratic Alliance a game changer in South African politics?

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) suffered its worst electoral setback since it took power in South Africa after the end of apartheid in 1994, under the enlightened leadership of Nelson Mandela. Corruption, bad governance, scandals surrounding Jacob Zuma’s presidency, a high and rising unemployment rate of 26.7%, endemic poverty, gross inequality as well as poor government service have been the main causative factors of the electoral backlash. The results are an indictment of President Jacob Zuma’s governance and the ANC’s inability to put its house in order.

Is this a harbinger of a turning point in the people’s unswerving support for the ANC after two decades of dominance over South African politics? Repeated accusations of wrongdoing and misconduct coupled with a series of court cases for various alleged misdeeds since he took office in 2009 have tainted Jacob Zuma’s presidency and eroded ANC’s public support which fell below 60% for the first time since 1994. A discredited leader rooted to his post can sink an iconic party.

In the history of nations, the political parties and the leaders who fought for and obtained independence from colonialism benefit from a special aura of goodwill and an enduring popular support among the people. Political parties such as the Indian National Congress, the African National Congress or the Mauritian Labour Party therefore hold a special place among the people.

It is however incumbent on the successive leaders of such parties to live up to the inspiring ethos, high ideals and legacy of the iconic parties which ushered freedom for the country. Transgressions of these cardinal principles and values have been severely sanctioned by the electorate as evidenced by the various political setbacks suffered by the Indian National Congress and the local Labour Party over past decades.

Similarly, the people’s verdict in the South African municipal elections is unequivocal: no allegedly corrupt political leader can with impunity hold on to power on the coattails of such historic political parties. Let that lesson be loud and clear.

There is a similar backlash from the people in the United States across the political divide against the highly controversial stances and views of Donald Trump ahead of the 8 November 2016 presidential elections, as these are considered alien to the American ethos and the values enshrined in the American constitution. The idea of Donald Trump becoming President of the United States is so anathema to large sections of Americans that he and his extreme and very often outrageous views are not only roundly condemned within the Republican Party itself but also by various movers and shakers of the American scene such as US billionaires or security experts. Prominent Republicans who have traditionally been donating funds to the Republican Party have refused to support the Trump presidential campaign.

When the fundamental foundations of a country’s democracy are threatened, the onus to uphold its principles, values and the national ethos of the country is squarely on the people, the forces vives of civil society, the media and the public at large. The core elements of a true democracy such as the sacrosanct rules of good governance, transparency, equality, inclusiveness and selfless sense of service to the nation cannot be compromised for the benefit of narrow partisan politics or tainted or contested political leaders.

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Bumpy ride

On the local front, the country has had a bumpy ride during the past twenty months of office of the government marked by the absence of a firm leadership to thwart ugly internecine feuds, restrict loose cannons from wreaking mayhem and shepherd neophytes. There is a disquieting feeling that the country is in a trial and error mode of management. After the initial humming and hawing, the government decision to finally go ahead with the Light Rapid Transit system, now baptized the Metro Express project, and invest Rs 7.2 billion of the generous Indian grant of US $ 353 million equal to some Rs 12.7 billion in it, is welcome. The grant is to be received as from the current budget year over four years.

The shelving of the costly and non-priority Rs 28 billion Heritage City project after it was allocated Rs 2.7 billion from the Indian grant in last week’s Budget Speech is also a welcome development, the more so in the light of the astronomical fees claimed by the project consultants. These funds can now be more judiciously utilized in productive investments likely to boost growth, create quality employment for in particular the young and improve the quality of life of people.

As argued before, a greener mode of mass commuting would be a national game changer. It would reduce atmospheric pollution, road congestion, save hundreds of thousands of man hours lost annually on congested roads, reduce fossil fuel bills, commuting time, road accidents and the medical costs related to stress or the costs of the wear and tear of vehicles, etc. It would thus save billions of Rupees in economic and social costs for the country. In India, Delhi considered the billions of US$ saved in such invisible and indirect costs to bankroll the construction of the Delhi Metro which is the world’s twelfth largest metro system with a length of 213 kilometres serving 160 stations. Any further delay in the swift implementation of this project will be costly.

The running of the affairs of the State is a continuous process as an independent civil service provides continuity in state administration and the implementation of government projects. It is therefore important that the considerable work already done on the project including a soft credit line of US$600 million pledged at the time by the Indian government be, after the necessary validation and updating, taken on board in the implementation of the Metro Express project. Adequate, no strings attached and timely financing of the project is vital. The project will create commercial and business hubs around some 13 train stations envisaged in the overground Metro network. The project must also induct smart technologies, have a green footprint and carbon credit earning capacity.

It is also clear that without India’s substantial financial support, the 2016-17 budgetary policy options and capital expenditure on projects would have been strapped. It is however imperative to invest the grant funds in productive investments and use the financial leeway provided by the Indian grant to rigorously control public expenditure and urgently bring tighter oversight and discipline over the national budget expenses. Substantial foreign grants from friendly countries cannot indefinitely prop wanton licence in the management of the national budget. In short, the national budget must be sustainable on its own.

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Outrageous largesse

This week’s crop of Parliamentary Questions (PQs) and answers is vintage stuff. It epitomizes the abysmal state of governance in the country and outrageous largesse with public funds. The country was jolted to learn that no less than Rs 22.3 million was paid as fees by the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (ICTA) to its legal advisor for services provided over a period of some 14 months causing the Prime Minister in his reply to the PQ to exclaim that he was himself shocked to learn of the amount paid. Similarly, interdicted police officers remain on full pay for years as their cases remain pending, with some even working elsewhere!

We also heard the Minister of Agriculture blithely state that the epidemic of the foot and mouth disease (FMD), which necessitated the culling of some 880 animals in Rodrigues and Mauritius, may have been caused by contaminated meat entering the island on yachts and that the disease spread to Mauritius because consignments of animals were allowed to be exported from Rodrigues to Mauritius weeks after the discovery of the disease in Rodrigues on 7 July 2016.

This begs the following questions.

– As was the case at the time of the outbreak of the mad cow disease some years ago in Europe, is there not a rigorous and permanent health control system in place at the border which checks both yachts and flights and passengers as well as the movement of animals between Rodrigues and Mauritius with necessary quarantine procedures to prevent the entry and spread of diseases such as FMD in the country?

– In case of any outbreak of disease, is there not a strict protocol of immediate actions to be taken to quarantine the animals and area contaminated and stop the movement or export of animals to contain the spread of the disease?

The present deplorable situation has adversely affected a key sector of the Rodriguan economy and the livelihoods of the animal breeders concerned who now have to re-start their animal breeding activities from scratch with government help and compensation.

The answers to the PQs in respect of drugs use and the first report of the National Drug Observatory tabled in the Legislative Assembly has confirmed that drugs such as cannabis and synthetic drugs have infiltrated our schools. Even one case in our schools is one too many. Drugs peddling and use in the country have been serious concerns for years. It wreaks havoc and misery in the country including among the young. This is not the time to bury our heads in the sand but to honestly recognize that the statistics of drug related arrests are but the tip of the iceberg which masks the tentacular reach of drug peddlers in the country.

It is high time for concerted, cogent and robust actions with all stakeholders on board to eradicate with the harshest punishments, this scourge from our society and the country.

The people’s role

The country is trapped in a cycle of poor governance. Despite the rhetoric to promote good governance, new cases of bad governance are being exposed all the time as there does not seem to be any real will to end it. This is an untenable and unsustainable situation.

It is the collective duty of the people and the diverse actors of the civil society as custodians of the values and ethos of our democracy to bring good governance back on track, upbraid and replace bumbling politicians by a new breed made of talented professionals ready to selflessly serve the country and able to administer the affairs of the state efficiently, help shape an inclusive, transparent and just society, safeguard equal rights, honour its contract of trust with the people, deliver on promises made and diligently realize our highest ambitions as a nation with everyone on board.

Mrinal Roy

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