By Nobel P Loser
Last week, another pro-SME institution hit the media limelight. As happened the week before last. As always, not for any good reason. The main events and all collateral issues raised pointed to a near breakdown of trust and revealed institutional failure.
In defence of the truth, let it be said that SMEs – whom Finance ministers, governments and presidents around the world praise for their capacity to contribute to national economies in job and wealth creation and poverty alleviation – are inflicted with the worst treatment in Mauritius. The few that happen to keep their head above water owe their situation to themselves or to their connections.
All others can be lined up as targets for a case of serial murder. Until and unless, and amongst others, politics and policies change, projects and ideas and schemes clearly identified and efficiently implemented, parasites sidelined, there is no way to reverse course.
First, let’s go for a walk to Coromandel, the place that houses the headquarters of a pro-SME institution. The MD was sacked. Big news, you would say. Ask your neighbour why exactly, and the answer would be “I don’t know exactly why.” Honest answer. The media have nothing on record either.
We spent some time searching for the truth or part thereof. Sources close to the institution and the parent ministry, and among board members, revealed the story behind the story after their anonymity was guaranteed.
Now, let it be known that, to put it mildly, there was an exchange of “unparliamentary” words in a heated exchange of opinions on a matter related to staffing issues at a board meeting. And we think there is no harm rehearsing the words used. “Perroquet, batchiara” are words uttered. Until a board member-cum-entrepreneur, just as happens in Parliament, stood up, walked towards his opposite and threatened to call a spade a spade. Others intervened, and the matter was closed. “Unparliamentary” words used were simply withdrawn. It looks as if those involved in this war of words are habitual visitors in the public gallery of Parliament.
Furthermore, the position taken or opinion expressed by the members regarding the contentious issue showed a complete ignorance of administrative practice and administrative law, and more importantly as regards the cardinal principle of “la permanence de l’Etat”. If we were to go as per his legitimate reasoning, there is need to sack everybody everywhere; or if he trusted his own opinion, he was the one who had to voluntarily resign since long. He is not at fault either. The cumbersome administrative practices and procedures and precedents are not easily understood unless grown within the system.
Regarding the charge sheet in favour of dismissal, there is no case in the related case; unless there are things the common man’s eyes can’t see and the common man’s ears can’t hear. But our information indicates a blatant case of institutional premeditation.
Generally and as far as board members/chairpersons/CEOs are concerned, it is a pity that almost all pro-SME institutions are infected – thanks to the institution for the appropriate vocabulary — with “parrots and batchiaras”, if not “mandarins”, “parasites” and “potentats”. And many cadres within these institutions can effortlessly earn any one of these titles as well.
Again, and generally, the bad thing is that many ministers in all governments tend to play to the tune of bureaucratic gossips and their own political nominees-cronies. They rarely take care to listen, to read, to understand, to do the considerable amount of homework that may be required and find the truth out, to seek divergent views, before embarking on the decision making process and policy shift. Thanks God, they have a very good press in Mauritius.
These days and during the recent past, under successive governments, many ministers prefer to suffer silently and in a cowardly manner the prejudices of bureaucratic humiliation from some notorious civil servants or notorious political nominees within the four walls of their Ivory Tower.
However, people should not think that private blood brings more value added to the workings of public boards. The record proves that even with representatives of private sector NGOs or individuals on public boards, SMEs have never been favoured in terms of innovative ideas, projects and policies. The presence of a few from the private sector on public boards, at best, may have allowed them access to information or confidential information that can be used to dress up private business initiatives. Or seek public funds to finance company or their organisation’s private projects.
One particular institution has dished out millions of rupees of public money during the recent years to promote private interests. Again, the record confirms that this institution and those representing it have been able to sideline and to silence critics just because they enjoyed the singular privilege of having had a good press where “parrots” do the job.
If governments, ministers, bureaucrats, political nominees and representatives of the private sector had shown tremendous imagination capacity and had performed outstandingly well over the years, SMEs would have contributed a lot better in terms of economic output and wealth and job creation, not excluding their ambition to be part of the Premier League in business across the region. Not all, but many would have made it. Not in all lines of business but selective ones. Not in all countries but in very many.
Institutional failures, complete breakdown of institutional enthusiasm and leadership at the head of public organisations, gossips, and fear to tread on unknown grounds and to confront realities have all contributed to slash down the progress of SMEs.
What people know about and what people has seen till now relates to a general policy of fire fighting.
Ill or well organised but, tant bien que mal, SME entrepreneurs had tried to voice out their concerns as loud as they could and they can. To no avail yet.
Sometimes, we wake up early morning and ask ourselves whether there is anybody presiding over the destiny of the SME sector in Mauritius? If we have one, he/she should be Mr or Mrs Invisible! Mr or Mrs Dumb!
We will conclude on a positive note. It relates to the power of a minister of SMEs. Here goes the story during the early 90s. A civil servant attached to his ministry even before he was sworn in was suddenly removed and punitively transferred on the ground that he was an LP partisan. One day the gentleman took a day off and came to see the minister to whom he narrated his transfer. After having ascertained the facts, the minister raised his red phone and called the most powerful bureaucrat. The latter argued that the transfer decision was right. The minister patiently listened as the bureaucrat pleaded his case but only to be intimated to instantly reverse the transfer decision.
End of the story. The minister left his imprint on the SME sector.
* Published in print edition on 4 February 2011
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