By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
The commitment of the middle-class is of paramount importance in furthering causes of public interest and maintaining constant vigilance over the proper functioning of the institutions of the country. To what extent do educated people spearhead civilian responsibility, develop a critical mind and demand transparency in the conduct of public affairs is yet to be assessed.
Conversely, the tacit complicity of the elite with those who hold power and high positions is an open question. In the current state of affairs, amid allegations of corruption and revelations of brazen looting of public funds, indifference and apathy would be detrimental to the morale of all those who are deeply concerned over the issue of embezzlement, cronyism, corruption and self-enrichment of politicians and civil servants who have been entrusted the duty to steer the country on the road of progress and the safeguard of institutions.
An umpteenth damning audit report revealing massive wastage and/or fraud perpetrated by officials and bureaucrats in different ministries is testing the impatience of the entire country. How politics has become the ladder to quick self-enrichment needs no elaboration. Examples of an ordinary teacher who joined politics and acquired a 40 to 50 m rupee seaside bungalow in a few years’ time, top-ranking personalities allegedly owning hotels run by cronies who finance political campaigns are blatant cases of how corruption takes place within the political-corporate nexus.
Democracy functions better in educated and politically mature societies, which engender quality political leadership with a sense of ethics, respect for the institutions and the law. Most post-colonial governments turned out to be corrupt right from the start – in Asia, Africa, South America and the Arab world. The newly elected leaders were too eager to step into the shoes of their former colonial masters and fill their own pockets first before attending to the needs of the public. Nearly half a century after obtaining political independence, the propensity for corruption has got worse as ultra-liberal economic policies produce soaring amounts of wealth. Transparency is non-existent and the written press is harassed and threatened with reprisals for demanding that the political class be accountable to the people.
Enough is enough, millions of citizens told their leaders across the Arab world last year. Singapore cannot boast of having western style democracy but has been blessed right from its creation with a deep sense of patriotism, a culture of hard work and perfection probably inspired by Confucianism.
In the African tradition, it is inappropriate for someone who has held the highest political rank to go back and live like an ordinary citizen. If anything, Nelson Mandela had the decency and wisdom to resign at the right moment. Mandela is of royal descent though. Megalomania is a disease that affects those who enjoy power and believe that they are entitled to stay in power and even gain more power through electoral reform.
The whole body of a country cannot function properly if those who are at the helm of orientating it in the right direction are unfit for the job, this is what you hear in all conversations these days. There is virtually no Opposition.
How do we define the educated middle-class in Mauritius? In India, the middle-class is seen as being conservative, casteist and fascinated by the razzle-dazzle of the rich. A totally different picture from middle-classes who are committed to progressive ideas in developed countries. The Hazare anti-corruption movement is said to have jolted the middle-class into bigger participation and commitment in causes of public interest.
Quite a number of countries in the Middle-East and Africa expect India to play a key role in the new world order. That is why all patriots and activists who are concerned about the future of the country and its role at an international level are determined to clean it of plunderers and looters. Similarly, Mauritius has already made a name for itself in the world. It is the duty of civil society, influential figures in trade unions, and alternative political parties to assume responsibility for cleansing the rot that is undermining the proper functioning of the country.
As already mentioned in a previous paper, the best means of denouncing corruption is to give names to the public. Have no mercy. BOI and the Port Authority cases are just two cosmetic operations aimed at giving the impression that the issue is being addressed in the right place. Let other culprits mainly among the elected representatives of the people be dragged to court. Let them fry. How much is ICAC costing the country every year?
The participation of the middle-class is indispensable for sensitizing the public at large on issues that directly empty public coffers and indirectly affect their daily life. It is not that corruption does not exist in advanced countries. The point is that educated societies do not allow politicians to sink so low. Refusal to fight for the general progress of the country amounts to a spiritual defeat that may have long-term damaging effects. If we are determined to refuse the status of a powerless people, the onus is on civilian responsibility to take up the challenge.
* Published in print edition on 27 July 2012