Instability and Embarrassment: A Painfully Eventful Interregnum

There can be no solution to a problem until it is acknowledged and clearly circumscribed as to its nature, cause and effects. Properly identifying the problem, it is popularly admitted, is half way through solving it. That this government has been destabilized by a series of events since virtually day one of its accession to power would seem an incontestable statement. Furthermore, as the Prime Minister himself has remarked, the Lepep Alliance was far from expecting a victory at the last general elections let alone such a crushing one. Indeed one suspects that the extent of the victory may have added something of a Pyrrhic turn to the whole drama, with some of the power holders clearly overwhelmed by it.

Until the last two weeks the handling of the BAI affair and the judgement of the court in the case of the Leader of the MSM (the single largest party of the Alliance) and Prime Minister in waiting, in the MedPoint Clinic transaction, popped out as the most striking causes of the predicaments of the government. The first one has singularly contributed to impair the credibility of the government’s ability to follow up the discourse on “nettoyage” with a plan for constructive actions to take the country forward, especially with regard to the high expectations created during the electoral campaign concerning the creation of employment and the introduction of greater transparency and openness in governance.

As regards the court judgement against the Leader of the MSM, it obviously could not have come at a worst juncture. The fact that the leader of the single largest party in Parliament is not the Prime Minister already constitutes a serious breach of our Westminster system of government (the last time we tried this was after the 60-0 victory of 1982 when the leader of the party sought to challenge the authority of the PM, with the results that we know) which creates an inevitable institutional tension (kinship notwithstanding).

The resignation of Pravind Jugnauth from government and his absence from Cabinet meetings must surely have exacerbated this propensity for tension especially since the Prime Minister has clearly indicated that he has no interest in the running of the Party. Add to this the “wait and see” mode which inexorably creeps into the governance process under such circumstances and we have a toxic mix of lack of willingness to take collective long-term commitments, and the mushrooming of what is perceived as single-minded individual initiatives. However well intentioned the motives behind such initiatives, they are bound to cause serious damage to the very notion of collective responsibility which underpins our system of government.

Such is the background against which a new twist has been introduced in the drama since about two weeks now. Following a mini-Cabinet reshuffle, the former Minister of Finance and Economic Development (MOFED) has been shifted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister has taken over the portfolio of Finance and Economic Development. However much Roshi Bhadain may protest, the general perception is that this is the outcome of a longstanding tussle between him and the former Minister of Finance and indeed many observers were expecting him to take over the MOFED following the events of last week.

The fact that the PM chose to take charge of the Ministry is now seen as a possible temporary arrangement pending the outcome of the appeal now lying before the Supreme Court in the case of Pravind Jugnauth. Meanwhile it would seem that a serious rift has been avoided through the efforts of the latter, and Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo’s future in government may unwittingly be hanging with that of his recent ally.

To come back to our initial point about the need to grasp the nature of the problem, if an effective solution is to be proposed it is essential to distinguish between cause and effect.

The various “affairs and scandals” by which the government is being assailed are the symptoms of a deep organizational flaw which has been aggravated by the occurrence of events of which some, admittedly, were not of its own making. What seems to characterize this government is first and foremost a lack of leadership, which again goes back to the notion of the interregnum (with a Prime Minister in waiting) which has itself been impaired by the uncertainties related to the outcome of the appeal case.

This is reflected in the fact that every single issue of national importance (construction of Smart Cities of which we hear less and less now, the Heritage City project, the strategic partnership for the port, streamlining and revamping of the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation) has changed hands several times over or fail to have a proper locus standi that can be properly identified by all stakeholders.

Utter confusion is a probably a euphemism to describe the situation prevailing in the government during the past weeks. The prolonged absence of a Senior Minister from his office is understandable as long as the excuse for doing so is credible. In the present case the former Minister of Finance and Economic Development seems to be heartily contributing to the perception that his state of health is serving as a “diplomatic” pretext to gain time.

In the interim, the imperative of government cohesion (which is the principal consideration dictating the decisions of the Prime Minister) and safeguarding the cohesion of the MSM party (which is the principal preoccupation of its leader) may lead to increasingly divergent postures of the two protagonists. From the perspective of the government and even more so of the MSM salvation can come from only one source: an eventual favourable outcome in his appeal.

As far as the country is concerned, this outcome would represent a window of opportunity. If Pravind Jugnauth comes back to Cabinet, this opportunity can either be seized as he hastens to reaffirm his leadership position and take some immediate steps to reverse the most detrimental trends which are ailing the work of government. Otherwise failure to undertake such action would leave the country to face a continually incoherent and messy situation until we reach that infamous inflexion point where the people decide to get rid of those at the helm of affairs, without the least concern about who will come back to replace them.

*  Published in print edition on 25 March 2016

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