Beware A Brewing Perfect Storm

While the country certainly does not need to wait for yet another “messiah”, the urgency to have a real leader who has the requisite skills and contextual intelligence to build the necessary consensus and broad coalitions into his team and the country is strongly felt. Those who practise politics in the past tense are clearly disqualified

When the Chinese wanted to curse someone, they would tell him: “May you live in interesting times”. These days the people of Mauritius must surely feel that they have been the subject of a most horrible curse given the times they are living in. After the results of the last elections, the sentiment of relief followed by self-congratulations when some of the worst shenanigans of the last regime were made public has very quickly given way to a sense of bewilderment followed by disgust in the country.

The succession of appalling scandals related to financial misdemeanours, unjustifiable appointments or the untimely and preposterous statements made by some ministers have taken a heavy toll on the goodwill initially enjoyed by the government. Add to this the almost perpetual feuds among perceptible cliques within the ruling alliance and we have all the elements of a perfect storm which makes governing and focusing on the most urgent issues of national interest an impossible task.

All this is happening at a time when the economic environment for Mauritius is fast deteriorating. We are yet to adjust to the new order created by the abolition of the Sugar Protocol and the end of the preferential access to European markets. The IMF and World Bank have been constantly downgrading their forecasts for global economic growth, and Brexit has created a high level of uncertainty for some critical sectors of the national economy (mainly exports of garments and tourism). The loss of benefits related to the abandonment of the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with India within a period of two years will further compound our woes.

Although the above-mentioned events do represent formidable headwinds for the economic progress of the country, it must be said that it is not the first time that we are faced by such a threatening situation. We have been there before, and have shown resilience and more in the face of similar challenges in the past. As we look back on past experience, the obvious lesson that can be drawn is that the most important ingredient for success under similar circumstances is strong leadership.

Ironically, the famous economic miracle of the 1980s, which witnessed transformational changes of the economic landscape, was achieved under the uncontested leadership of Sir Anerood Jugnauth with the active support of his then Minister of Finance Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo. That the same duo has dismally failed in this mandate to develop the same kind of synergies which then prevailed, speaks a lot about the failure to kick-start the economy – the Prime Minister being on record for stating that the objectives set out in the first budget presented by his Finance minister Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo were practically not achievable.

We have since had the Vision 2030 document presented by the Prime Minister himself. While that document just as the recent budget presented by the new Minister of Finance and Economic Development incontestably contains some “interesting” aspects, they are both failing to get any traction due to the dispersal of focus and attention, provoked principally by mishaps and divisions within the government itself. Remember the official opposition has been, shall we say, quite supportive when it came to the debates on the Budget Speech. The government though its own doings seems fatally attracted to permanently live in… “interesting times.”

People who love this country (beyond party allegiance) and even those who do not have any particular reason to, but have or may have an interest in its future (foreign direct investors) are craving for the emergence of a coherent and articulate team which can create the level of confidence and trust without which any social and economic progress will remain a vain wish. As John Kay from the Financial Times wrote some time back, “effective governance requires the multiplicity of talents found only in teams. Teams should not be confused with committees — groups make better decisions when the members are dissimilar rather than when they have a common background.” Real words of wisdom which unfortunately contrasts with the practice in Mauritius.

Too many of our leaders have demonstrated a propensity to surround themselves with what we could politely describe as “like-minded people”, too many of whom being rather more “minded to like.” The result of this process has been that, with all due respect, we now sadly have to admit that the collective IQ of our Cabinets/parliaments over time has evolved in inverse proportion to the complexity of the issues with which modern governments are faced. To wit, compare the Parliament which was elected in 1967 with those which have followed. And mind you, I have too much respect for people like late Kher Jagatsingh and Beekrumsing Ramlallah to ever equate IQ with academic qualifications.

Of course this comment applies to a general trend and there have been over time some brilliant exceptions in terms of individuals or even as a team (1983). Here a self-confession from the author of these lines may be appropriate for having been ardently active in an indiscriminating anti-elitist bravado during the 1970s: .This is perhaps one of the most serious misgivings of the left movements which has unwittingly contributed to a general weakening of the polity, including the Civil Service, over the years.

Going forward, it is incumbent on those who govern us today to either fall to a weakness (which they refuse to acknowledge) or to undertake (for their own sake if not for that of the country) a genuine introspection and start tackling some of the most glaring deficiencies. Actually this should not apply only to those presently in power but also to all those who aspire to have a role in defining the destiny of this country.

The era in which we lived in our cocoon of preferential access and protected markets when we could afford to tolerate a level of inefficiency not to say mediocrity is gone. While the country certainly does not need to wait for yet another “messiah”, the urgency to have a real leader who has the requisite skills and contextual intelligence to build the necessary consensus and broad coalitions into his team and the country is strongly felt. Those who practise politics in the past tense are clearly disqualified.

Rajiv Servansingh

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