People should not hold politicians to a debt of gratitude – they should share the responsibility
The 1980s showed up a Mauritius taking advantage of the liberalization of international trade (by the US and Britain at first and then the Indian reforms of 1991) to launch more resolutely our export manufacturing and international financial services sectors. We were hailed as a prime example of how clear-sightedness, discipline and hard work could be rewarding despite all sorts of constraints.
The idea then occurred that we might be caught napping if we did not graduate further our manufacturing and services sectors into a self-sustaining state once the advantages we leaned upon in the first stage to launch more incisively those sectors ceased to be in place. It was the correct intuition, except that follow-up action to drive further forward was too timid. We were content with the state of affairs. Why make further efforts when the going was good?
In economics, they call it gaining sufficient ‘competitive advantage’ to be able to drive on even if others catch up with us. It is done by introducing new skills in the workforce, adapting to and exploiting evolving technology, getting on with newer economic activities, keeping a constant eye on innovation taking place across the world and matching it, doing the basic research to enable us to hop on to higher productivity levels, to better and more diversified markets, briefly, cultivating all that’s needed to keep the Mauritius platform performing efficiently and increasing its scope without stopping. We are an isolated place. Not many would care for us unless we keep drawing their attention to our value-adding capacity, our sharper business ingenuity and our hassle-less bureaucracy.
We have graduated a bit, but not enough. We did not move fast enough to make our port and airport strategic to the international movement of goods and people across the planet – or even to our part of the world. We did not draw permanent positive attention to ourselves by inviting over here international events of global appeal – such as world tennis, international golf competitions, car racing, horse racing, high-class shopping, elite football, show business, etc. We chose rather to evolve within the narrow precincts of our past realizations on the economic front, complaining bitterly at times when partner countries changed their policies towards us or their economic affiliations.
Had we been proactive, we would have warded off such developments by “re-engineering” our baseline from time to time to keep up with global challenges. Instead, we spent a lot of our energies fighting pitched battles amongst ourselves in the quest of power for its own sake, to the neglect of getting on with external risks and rewards beckoning to us since long, not least since after the international economic crisis of 2008. People speak of Mauritius as a “small place” but not so of Singapore. Why? Because Singapore has learnt that the world treats you with respect, the more you become an important linchpin of it. Our people should help us do that. That’s our next stage.
Overall, we may consider ourselves fortunate that we’ve managed to survive, albeit at a more or less small and stable rate of positive annual economic growth. From time to time, our major sectors of activity have faced challenging downturns, mirroring the state of changing global economic conditions, and we may say – thank God – we’ve survived. That’s because Mauritius has operated with the edge it had developed in its major sectors of activity in the earlier phase.
It is the kind of edge we need to cultivate anew, against the backdrop of the massive global reconfiguration that has been taking place for a number of years now. We have to ready ourselves for the brave new world of technology unfolding in front of our eyes. Mindsets are fast changing across the world against this background. We need to adapt and catch a share of what this changing global outlook is producing. All our people should involve themselves to take up the challenge. Politicians alone cannot do that for us.
It is wrong to assume that the government will set right everything that has been under-performing, and, hence, that we should leave it for the government to mend it all and wash our hands of it. People don’t delegate it all to governments in power after voting. In a truly democratic process, they participate actively in the work of dynamic reconstruction undertaken.
For this, they have to feel emotionally connected with public initiatives being taken, the new projects being stood up, the strategies being endorsed, etc. It is true that certain politicians claiming to be omniscient and jacks-of-all-trades do convey the feeling that they are in charge and that the public should leave it to them to attend to all and everything that could go wrong. It would be far better if the people kept themselves fully aware of all that is going on, felt motivated by government initiatives, identified the sticking points and caused the decision-makers to do what ought to be done. The public has a duty to see to it that those it has sent to power do what is expected of them. That would be a far better course to follow than to seek to settle scores with politicians in power five years after the elections.
* Published in print edition on 23 January 2015