By TP Saran
The Nomination Day for the by-election in Constituency No. 7 is due shortly, on August 17th. Although it seems that due process will be followed, most political analysts are convinced that the incumbent party is unlikely to take the risk of a defeat in a by-election when a general election is soon due. In fact, according to them, this may even happen sooner than later, probably in December, and not a by-election.
They base their conclusion on a few happenings that are putatively in favour of the current Prime Minister and leader of the MSM party, Pravind Jugnauth: the verdict of the Privy Council in the MedPoint affair which exonerated him of the charge of conflict of interest; the successful outcome in the Chagos case which was taken to the UN’s International Court of Justice in The Hague; the high-profile coverage and performance of the country in the recently concluded Jeux des Iles de l’océan Indien which prominently featured the Prime Minister at a number of events; the anticipated completion of the Metro Express segment and its inauguration and operationalisation (even partial) in the presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi; and the visit of the Pope along with the declaration of public holiday on the occasion, which will again no doubt feature the Prime Minister’s involvement.
There’s also the seeming feel-good factor that has been generated by the generous handouts announced in the budget, and the cultivated anticipation of more, such as a further rise in old age pension that is targeting a sizeable constituency and the pre-PRB top-up to civil servants.
Nevertheless, as against all these, serious observers of the political scene and the country’s economic situation paint a different picture of what has been happening on several fronts. For a start they point to the parlous state of our finances, which have been sought to be covered up by dubious practices such as ‘creative accounting’, leading to fiscal and monetary imbalances – apparently glossed over rather complacently in the report card from the IMF -, not to speak of the unprecedented step of drawing from the reserves of the Central Bank to make good the budget deficit, dealing a blow to its credibility as an independent institution.
As if this were not enough, there are the difficulties facing our global business sector as a result of the rescinding of the DTA agreement with India, and those being faced by the sugar industry, the tourism sector, and the textile industry with loss of hundreds of jobs in the past few months. To add insult to injury have come the massive expenditures on questionable big ticket projects such the Côte d’Or Multisport Complex, the smart cities, the island-wide CCTV surveillance system whose usefulness in guaranteeing security is not… guaranteed if we are to go by experience elsewhere, such as in California for example.
Put together, this is believed to be leading to a growing feeling of disconnect between the authorities and the citizenry, who perceive in the leadership a lack of identification with the struggles of ordinary people.
Expectations were raised to a pitch in the December 2014 elections by the current governing alliance, and hopes subsequently ran very high for delivery on the promises made. After the initial and prompt upward readjustment of the pension, things began to stall as fissures appeared in the Alliance and several honourable Members of Parliament including ministers had to resign as a result of scams and scandals they were involved in.
On the other hand, instead of adopting a fresh approach, as promised, in running the affairs of the state, the new dispensation soon joined hands with wealth owners to pursue with them the traditional agenda of shareholder capitalism, wherein the core objective of companies is to increase stock prices and enrich investors by making profits. The concentration of wealth continues unabated as new players are prevented from entry into sectors such as energy. This confirmed what our one of our guest interviewees (historian Jocelyn Low) said recently, that politics is a million-dollar business – owing to the heavy dependence of most of the mainstream parties on private sector coffers for their political/electoral financing.
There was therefore no great shift in corporate behaviour, the CSR dole-outs being only symbolic, and the companies still showing that they valued profits more than communities, the environment and workers. With power on their side as ally, it wasn’t a far cry to infer that there was some complicity leading to the exacerbation of many economic, social and environmental problems, such as income inequality and even resources appropriation. Witness the projects that are indifferent to civil society concerns about encroachment on our wetlands and that are bent upon depriving the masses of the one major commons resource that they look forward to for their leisure in this stressed society: the public beaches. Should it be a surprise therefore that protest movements are becoming louder?
The politics-business nexus has appropriated the state and the country’s assets as its own property, to be extracted from and exploited for the sole benefit of a limited coterie. But people elect a government to improve their lot, to protect them from hardships and to help them meet some basic human aspirations. Increasingly, they don’t see this happening, let alone are able to envisage the future with confidence.
At this juncture, what this country needs is a type of leadership that considers that the state and the country’s resources belong not only to the rich and the powerful, including those holding political power. The latter are there because of the people who voted them in. Instead of acting as feudal lords in cahoots with like-minded barons, they ought to rise to a higher level of leadership, one which is assumed on the understanding that it has been entrusted with the custody of what belongs to the people – and must therefore be returned to them.
Custody has the connotations of care, guardianship, safekeeping, wardship, responsibility, protection, guidance, tutelage and trusteeship. This is a much higher and nobler calling than the genuflecting to mammon at the expense of the masses, who bear the brunt of all the consequences thereof. It is the people who should now decide whether they will go for ‘bonnet blanc blanc bonnet’ – or an alternative which does not ride on their backs but answers to the higher calling that custody implies.
* Published in print edition on 2 August 2019