Talk is Cheap: Execution is Tough

The time for spectacular declarations and intentions is long gone by and responsible leaders who can have real influence on the course of events by synchronizing their actions now need to walk the talk

Playing host to the G20 Summit of Heads of States last week, President Xi Jinping exhorted his guests on the occasion not to indulge in “empty talk.” The Chinese President was thus showing his annoyance towards what has been happening at so many such summits over the years.

It is a generally accepted fact that the usually consensual but vacuous statements which conclude such summitry are often not worth the paper they are written on. The informal nature of these meetings has often been criticized especially in view of the vast amount of time and human and financial resources which go into their organisation. Not to mention the fact that there are so many real and grave issues that can only effectively be resolved through well-designed coordinated efforts globally.

It is in this context that the remarks made by Xi Jinping are doubly revealing. They point out the worries of a Chinese Head of State who recognizes that his country is now fully integrated into the global economy, and is therefore dependent on the rest of the world in order to sustain the kind of growth which it needs so as to meet its economic and social objectives. But it also shows his determination and affirmation of the fact that China is a major actor in that global economy and intends to play an active leadership role given a chance.

Whether Xi Jinping’s words of warning would actually have some positive effects on the outcome of the recent G20 meeting is yet to be seen. At least it had the merit of having drawn attention to a serious issue at the global level.

Talk is cheap. The time for spectacular declarations and intentions is long gone by and responsible leaders who can have real influence on the course of events by synchronizing their actions now need to walk the talk.

Locally

Observers and economic analysts have for a long time decried the fact that Mauritians generally do not seem to really appreciate how far global events impact our own potential for socio-economic progress in the short- and long-term. One may argue that the people of Mauritius are already struggling to assimilate all the “happenings” in terms of local events and may thus be excused for this weakness… But, more seriously, this is now increasingly proving to be a penalizing deficiency in our ability to correctly assess the effects of developments in the global economic environment on our local situation.

In this particular case, the exhortations of Mr Xi Jinping have a direct resonance on the local situation. Interestingly enough, at a recent Budget Brief organized by the SBM, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development was prompt to point out that tough as it was to prepare the budget in these uncertain times, experience showed that too often in the past it was the failure of implementation or execution of the measures announced that had proven to be the stumbling block of effective government action.

It was certainly music to the ears of many in the audience that the Minister seemed to be fully aware of this fact. Indeed it has been announced that Pravind Jugnauth intended to hold a press conference during this week in which he will further elaborate on the how the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development intends to monitor the execution of measures announced in the recent budget.

This column has for a long time taken a view that one of the principal causes of our economic stagnation over the past years and indeed decade has been the lack of human and organisational capacities rather than paucity of financial resources. Hundreds of millions if not billions of rupees of potential investments both from the private and public sectors have failed to materialize into the projects they were meant for because of lack of a well-defined and clearly established process. Furthermore, the analyses of these projects which are often technically and financially complex require expertise which unfortunately seems to be lacking in the relevant ministries and institutions.

Some of the casualties of these systemic defects in our project implementation processes are now legion — Heritage City, Light Railway System, CT Power, the pending project of the Currimjee Group in the south, Jin Fei, Neo Town. The list can be extended to any number of other cases. This lack of organisational capacity coupled with credible expertise have been the root causes of all the above disasters. They have occasioned huge waste of resources both in government and the private sector.

This situation also creates a climate of uncertainty which is pregnant with speculations about corruption and underhand dealings often fatal to the realization of projects. Perhaps even more importantly, in the process the country is paying a heavy price in reputational risk which accountants and governments unfortunately fail to grasp.

That the Minister of Finance has identified weaknesses in implementation as a foremost cause of our serious economic problems and shows real determination to come to grips with the issues of execution is a welcome development. This will assuredly lead him to the associated problems of lack of capacity and hopefully to concrete actions in order to initially mitigate such shortcomings while searching for the more permanent and long-term solutions.

In this connection, it may be high time to start seriously thinking about bringing back a Ministry of Planning and Economic Development.

Rajiv Servansingh

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