Politics and the inevitable speculations which accompany it have now become the order of the day and we are not yet officially in pre-electoral campaign.
What is normally one of the favourite subject matters of conversation among all of us Mauritians, seems to have become the ONLY one over the past weeks if not months.
While one can give a very positive bent to all this noise as a celebration of a lively democratic spirit in the nation, it is to be feared that we are reaching the point where too much of even a good thing turns out to be bad for society. Newspaper headlines at the beginning of each of the past three weeks have been regularly announcing that the week would be “decisive” and yet nothing material has actually happened.
Even politicians seem to have been taken up in the frenzy and seize every opportunity to send some “signal” or twist their “body language” in such a manner as to fan the wildest speculations about their future intentions. Every such signal is then the subject of lengthy interpretations and feed long debates in the media — from talk shows to lengthy editorials — not to say anything about the animated conversations at all street corners and in offices including boardrooms.
The fact that the economic agenda has taken a back seat amongst the priorities of both government and the opposition is indisputable. So much so that the Minister of Finance has decided to attend the Grand Prix de Monaco instead of coming back to Mauritius after an official visit to Ghana. In these days of political turmoil, though, one has to understand that this is more of a not-so-subtle message being addressed to some political quarters rather than a case of dereliction of duty. These are not “normal” days, remember.
While this kind of situation is sometimes an inevitable condition in the life of a democratic nation, it clearly cannot last beyond a reasonable period without economic costs to the country.
In India under the previous regime it was common to hear comments to the effect that the economy actually worked at night when the government was asleep. But surely that applied to what had befallen a lame and divided government which had become highly dysfunctional in its latter days.
Even the worst critics of the government would not dare compare that to what normally prevails in Mauritius in spite of the sporadic bursts of anger against the occasional inaptness of the bureaucracy.
The question that arises therefore is whether the period of tolerance of such a situation is not now going beyond what is reasonable. To the great despair of many liberals, governments still drive a large part of the national economic agenda which remains embedded in government policy. The more so in a country that has developed a strong tradition of public-private sector partnership during the last century. (Never mind that this erstwhile partnership is now crying for a re-engineering so as to adapt to the new circumstances of a radically changed external environment).
Because old habits die hard, the private sector by and large still looks up to the government for at least some cues about the way forward. Most significant investments by the private sector in various sectors need some kind of regulatory or policy green light or the other and therefore require the full attention of these bodies.
The Civil Service, including its array of parastatal bodies, is the immediate channel through which such government policy is implemented. The need for regular consultations with the political leadership is an important part of the process for effective delivery. This is why any sense of a prevailing vacuum in political leadership can result in the wrong decisions being taken or, equally harmful, no decisions being taken.
The economic sphere has its own drivers and rationale creating a momentum which needs to be constantly supported, nurtured and framed. To be fair to economic operators, they are also constrained by the need to deliver on their business objectives and achieve targets corresponding to the expectations of their shareholders. In the absence of right interlocutors, decisions may have to be postponed and sometimes projects may even be abandoned.
It is well known that there is a time lag between investments made and their actual impact on economic variables such as growth and employment creation. In this sense, future economic prospects may be the first casualty of any hurdles or unfavourable situation obstructing investment decisions now. The point being that even if the present situation were to be extended beyond unreasonable limits the effects will not be felt any time soon although the damage to future prospects could still be considerable.
Given the above, one can only hope that matters are sorted out sooner rather than later and that a return to normalcy prevails. The challenge for the protagonists involved in this whole drama is perhaps that they are trying to achieve too many objectives at one go. Expecting to make one neat package of all the issues relating to electoral reforms, the Second Republic and the alliance between the Labour Party and MMM is an all but impossible task. Perhaps a more realistic approach would consist in splitting the package and agreeing on a prioritisation and sequencing of issues to be resolved.
As we write, the latest of what is again being hailed as yet another critical moment has been announced. The leader of the Labour Party has convened a meeting of his political bureau to presumably inform its members about the latest developments and prospects on all three of the above counts. One can only hope that any announcements following the meeting will, if not actually define a real road map for what lies ahead, at least give clear indications of things to come. The country really deserves that much from its leaders.
* Published in print edition on 6 June 2014