2014: It’s All About Seizing The Initiative

Politics & The Economy

Politics is about conflict. Conflict of ideas and for the creation of space for implementing those ideas. In any situation of conflict it is the side that commands the strategic initiative which carries the day. And commanding the initiative is all about acquiring the right to set the timetable, pick the battlegrounds and frame the agenda.

In the local political context, reaching such a position of authority is related to one’s skills in managing adversarial sectarian politics. Every leader is permanently preoccupied with one issue: how to widen his base of electoral support while placating the existing and committed adherents? Unfortunate as it may seem, striking this delicate balance is what’s likely to define politics in Mauritius for the foreseeable future.

Among all known contenders for political power, Navin Ramgoolam is perceived by the electorate to be the politician who presents the best credentials in this regard. This is why among his friends as well as his foes there is a view that he is the one who holds the ace in the unfolding political game. This constitutes his greatest strength which he leverages every time he is challenged.

Among the other leading politicians, the Jugnauths, in marketing terminology, appear to be too much of a me-too product chasing the same clientele as the Labour Party. It is increasingly difficult for them to differentiate themselves.

As for Paul Berenger he is probably genuinely concerned about the issues and dangers of adversarial sectarian politics. His credentials, however, have been badly damaged in a vital section of the electorate ever since he was misguided by some adventurous demagogues in his nation building agenda in the 1980s.

As for Xavier Luc Duval (XLD) one is at a loss to understand his latest moves. May be this is deliberate. The fact remains that political development since after Independence has made of the PMSD a “natural ally” of the Labour Party. Differences are oftentimes personality related. We may be about to witness yet another modern version of Greek tragedy where hubris meets its nemesis. Rational behaviour, as far as the PMSD is concerned would otherwise dictate that XLD resolves his political differences with his “natural ally”.

In view of all the above, chances are that Navin Ramgoolam will resolve the mini-crisis that his government is facing as we enter 2014. By so doing he will keep mastery of two essential elements of strategy: timing and the right to frame the agenda… and who knows may be that of influencing the configuration of the next political confrontation.

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The Economy – Look beyond the short term and Diversify

The positive turn of events at the global economic level augurs well for the economic performance of the nation in 2014. There will be essentially two sets of factors which will favour Mauritius. The pull factors are related to the improvement in the economy of our main markets for goods and services, principally Europe, and the push factors would be related to the expected stabilization if not reduction, in the prices of oil over the coming year.

The onus will be on local political decision makers and other stakeholders to make the most of the prevailing circumstances in order to maximize our gains. Indeed given these conditions it is not farfetched to expect that even if we were to adopt a “muddling through” approach, which is in the absence of radical policy initiatives or major sectorial restructuration, it is most likely that we shall still achieve a satisfactory performance at the end of the year. The assumption here is that we do not let local conditions get worse — a distinct possibility given the strong prevalence of forces that are bent to magnify any negative occurrence and negate all positive achievements.

Maximizing our gains on the other hand implies that we seize the opportunity and take appropriate strategic initiatives. It was the Italian philosopher, Machiavelli who said that one should never let the opportunities created by a crisis go to waste. The lessons we have learned from the recent crisis about the need to diversify our markets, for example, (in tourism or export of goods) must be followed by well-designed policies which are relentlessly pursued avoiding the trap of falling back into the business-as-usual mode.

As matters improve there will be a growing sense of comfort with the existing model. The onus rests on policy makers to create the necessary conditions and favourable environment to entice economic operators to look beyond the short term gains of their existing operations and venture into more sustainable and forward looking investments. Here of course the Ocean Economy concept or the opportunities associated with the green economy come to mind.

Public investments in infrastructure have already begun in earnest over the past years and the population is already enjoying the benefits of such massive efforts. The improved road network will be a critical factor for productivity improvement. It is now time to seriously re-think the Public-Private Partnership framework to ensure participation of private investments (foreign and local) into such projects thus releasing funds for other sectors.

The last budget has made mention of some incentives for private sector operators to invest in Africa. It is high time to have some serious thinking on an “Africa Initiatives Programme” to provide a cohesive response to all aspects of our commercial relations with the continent. In this regard it may be useful to mention the huge reservoir of intellectual asset sitting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and at the MCCI which could be leveraged for boosting our economic diplomacy on the continent.

These are only some of such initiatives which need to be taken if we wish to overhaul the economy to face up to the new challenges of a changing global economy. They are strategic because they require well thought out and coherent policy intervention if they are to succeed and when they succeed they are transformational.

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