Putting the country first

The decisions of political leaders to unwaveringly give priority to the superior interests of the country and the people or the party over their personal interests will determine their legacy

A new year is a potent harbinger of hope. 2017 was terribly messy and exasperating on so many counts. The New Year is thus a cut-off point from the numerous scandals and the many deplorable events of the past year. These include an unmandated change of Prime Minister without a plebiscite at the polls, poor governance and the hegemony of government, party cronies and the coterie over key institutions and state companies. The conversion of MBC TV into a galling government propaganda machine or the risk of the State incurring billions of Rupees of liability in the botched management of the alleged BAI scam and the ongoing STC-Betamax litigation are other cases in point. This appalling situation cannot go on.

At the dawn of a new year there is a surge of optimism and heightened expectations among the people.  It is more and more evident to all that maintaining the status quo is no longer a viable option for the future.

2018 is a milestone in the history of independent Mauritius. As we plan to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our independence on 12 March, it would be timely for some objective stock taking of our young democracy. In truth, there are so many things which are amiss in the country which needs to be set right forthwith.

The remedy to fix things up and turn around the prospects and the future of the country are known to all. Will we as a nation have the single-mindedness to do what it takes to fundamentally change the future outlook of the country for the benefit of all?

Only the best

A country can only achieve its most ambitious objectives as a nation if the political class, the civil service top brass and those heading the key institutions of the country and the top companies of the private sector are representative in terms of leadership, qualifications, intellect and track record in their respective professions of the best talents available in our plural society. It must be recalled that the generation of politicians who spearheaded the freedom movement as from 1937 and who won the first general elections of the country in 1948 were certainly among the best and most qualified Mauritians at the time. It must be said that these high benchmarks in the choice of politicians as well as their lofty ideals, political ethics and altruistic commitment of service to the people have been systematically whittled away over time.

Trading off ability and competence of politicians for subservience obviously impairs the prospects of the country. Only a year after independence in 1968, the Labour Party and the PMSD cobbled a coalition government in 1969 to tackle dire socio-economic difficulties, to no avail.  Social unrest and strikes in the port led to a state of emergency in the country. General elections due in 1972 were postponed to December 1976. The lessons of that deplorable period for democratic rights in our political history have not been learnt.

The daunting challenges facing Mauritius today in a liberalized and more competitive world market environment as well as the pointed skills required to successfully tide over them debars the dilettante from holding office. Ministers are not expected to cut their teeth on the job. No wonder, the government ministers seem to be out of their depths to fathom and aptly conjure the problems faced by stakeholders in so many sectors such as sugar cane, manufacturing, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), bio-agriculture or the ocean economy.

Why should every torrential rainfall expose the failings of the drainage and water evacuation system, cause flooding and so much distress and hardships to the common man? Is it not time to realise that too much concrete and asphalt prevent the natural flow of rain water or that a rigorous Environment Impact Assessment is a must for every important construction, infrastructural or real estate development project?  Shouldn’t people in high risk areas be relocated to safer locations? Why should road accidents and a high death toll rise unabated despite all the diverse measures taken?

It is therefore high time to entrust the management of the affairs of the State as is the case in say France, the UK or Singapore where the key politicians and civil servants have been educated in the best universities of the world, only to the most qualified and able talents of the country. The political class must therefore be constantly upgraded with competent and well honed talent. In India, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers are recruited as a result of a gruelling and extremely competitive national examination involving some 450,000 well qualified candidates to hold key positions in the Government, the States and public sector undertakings. Only 180 IAS officers are recruited every year.

Freeing parties from the stranglehold of leaders

The stranglehold of omnipotent leaders over the main political parties and plummeting standards of political ethics are also major impediments to achieving the most ambitious goals for the country. For how long more will these repeatedly defeated leaders still yearning for more power remain rooted to their posts to the detriment of democracy and the party? The leaders of the Labour Party or the MMM have no real intent to reform these parties and render them truly democratic, driven by the highest code of political ethics, open to bright young talent and structured to take decisions in a collegial manner.

The onus is therefore on party members and the party supporters to lobby their party to urgently bring about these necessary changes. Without a change of leadership and the induction of bright young talent or fundamental reform, these parties disqualify themselves from obtaining the people’s trust at the polls.  Above all, the onus is also on all of us to encourage the emergence of a new party led by a pluri-disciplinary team of bright and well qualified young Mauritians driven by a commitment of service to the people and the highest ideals and code of political ethics.  A competent team of experienced professionals capable of rallying the people to establish a new socio-economic order for the benefit and inclusive prosperity of all.

The past year has also demonstrated that a nominated prime minister does not have legitimacy or the authority of a mandate which can only be conferred by the people at the polls. Despite the rhetoric of transforming the country into a high income economy, growth has been disappointing. The government is therefore desperate to show results and shore its falling popularity at any cost, including granting extremely generous business facilitation measures to boost growth. It seems to have staked its success on the lifeline of an elusive 4% growth rate.

The unequivocal verdict of history

In the 50th year of our independence, leaders from all parties who are already concocting game plans for electoral alliances so often rejected by the electorate or discredited leaders reluctant to step down must realise that no political leader or politician can escape the objective appraisal and unequivocal verdict of history. The actions and performance of all Prime Ministers and political leaders are assessed through the prism and impartial scrutiny of history. In the absence of a popular mandate from the people, shouldn’t the present government return in the interest of the country power back to the people to enable them to exercise their paramount prerogative of electing through the polls the Party and the Prime Minister of their choice to run the country? The interests of the country must prevail at all times over those of the party or political leaders.  All party leaders and politicians must pledge to put people and the country first. The decisions of political leaders to unwaveringly give priority to the superior interests of the country and the people or, as the case may be, the party over their personal interests will determine their legacy and their place in history. The verdict and judgement of history on their track record will define the legacy that will remain in the annals through time.

 

* Published in print edition on 12 Ocotober 2018

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