When a Week is a Long Time

The past week has been so eventful that it would not be possible to fully do justice to all the items of interest for our readers. We have therefore chosen to raise a few of what seem to us to be the most salient ones and summarily comment on them while awaiting a fuller examination in the near future.

ICAC wins its case against Pravind Jugnauth

As at yesterday morning, not a single Mauritian citizen would have bet a kopek on the outcome of the case of ICAC v/s Pravind Jugnauth. “Autant pour nous” would say the French.

As a nation we should therefore be simultaneously ashamed and proud. Ashamed for having assumed that ALL our institutions have been attained by the epidemic of corruption and malpractices in the highest quarters, and mightily proud that there are individuals out there who have resisted and remain determined and committed to maintain the integrity of their profession. This at a time when former Ministers who have sat on a sub-committee of the Cabinet meekly claim in their defence, when under attack for their decision, that all they did was to rubber stamp a decision which had already been taken thus confessing that they were mere “puppets on a string.” Albeit expensive puppets for the taxpayers of this country.

Faced with the judgement of the Magistrates of the Intermediate Court, the Minister of Information and Communications Technology has resigned as Minister. Some would certainly say that he had no choice other than to take that decision. Although this is certainly true, one cannot but point out that in the prevailing political environment, where the benchmark for self-respect and moral behaviour has reached its lowest ebb ever, this remains a turning point. If only Pravind Jugnauth had wished to imitate some other “leaders”, he could have acted equally dishonourably and try to wriggle out of this embarrassing situation. Hats off to him for this much.

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IMF Report: A deafening silence

The recent IMF report on the state of the Mauritian economy and its recommendations regarding the National Basic Retirement Pension have revived the spectre of the gradual but assured dismantling of our Welfare State.

In the light of events happening in Greece, these days, it is good to remember that one of the exigencies of the IMF leading to the present tragedy was that the quantum of retirement pensions should be reduced considerably. While there is truly nothing new about such propositions being recommended by the Washington institution, what is different and most frightening is the new socio-political context in which they are now being propagated.

The timid reactions registered from some trade-unionists is a far cry from what one would have expected from all those who still proclaim to be on the left of the political spectrum. The Labour Party and the MMM, for example, have both remained strangely silent in the face of this insidious onslaught on one of the fundamental institutions of our democratic society.

What is really worrying is the fact that this absence of reaction provides yet another illustration of how a sort of intellectual bankruptcy seems to characterize what used to be the mainstream “left parties” on the Mauritian political landscape.

What is most dramatic is that this cannot simply be attributed to the fact that these two parties are presently embroiled in a serious leadership and existential crisis. The abandonment of principled stands, on a number of issues by both parties in their futile quest for what they describe as the “modernization” of the country, has actually led them to absorb the norms of the prevailing dominant political neo-conservatism in spite of intermittent rhetorical references to their “socialist” credentials.

In the absence of an alternative mode of thinking and more radical solutions, the logic and “rationality” of the policies of institutions like the IMF look empirically unassailable. Any attack directed against these policies by the “smaller” parties and trade unionists are then conveniently described as “populism” and discarded from the political discourse.

N.B. As we are writing the above we have come across the headline news of l’Express Economie (Wednesday 1 July 15) to the effect that 10 of the Top 100 companies in Mauritius have realized profits of more than one billion rupees each. A simple arithmetic calculation indicates that a corporate tax of 25% (which is far from excessive when one is reminded that in post-Reagan US and post-Thatcher UK the rates are around 40%) instead of the Flat Tax of 15% would add a billion rupees to the Treasury for servicing the pension scheme.

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Greece: An accident that was waiting to happen

The situation which is developing in Greece since the nation has failed to repay an IMF loan, which was due on the 30th of June, is an unprecedented event among European countries. The dramatization of the events leading to a situation where all banks in the country have had to close down and capital control re-introduced should not lead us to forget that the real issue is more fundamental and structural.

In fact, for many economists and academics, the real miracle is that such a situation has not occurred earlier. For these commentators, the introduction of a single European currency among a cluster of countries which have no common fiscal authority, an ersatz of a Central Bank, and are unable to even define some common ground on foreign policy has always been a near aberration. It is in this context that the Greek Drama has been unfolding for the past five years.

When Prime Minister Tsipras and his government came to power on a clear mandate from the people to resist the economic austerity programme, which was being thrust on the country by the “Troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF), the conditions for a “closure” were definitely put in place. The nature of the conflict also changed.

In the words of Economics Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, writing in The Guardian: “… European leaders are finally beginning to reveal the true nature of the on-going debt dispute, and the answer is not pleasant: it is about power and democracy much more than money and economics… The concern for popular legitimacy is incompatible with the politics of the Eurozone, which was never a very democratic project.”

This latter part of his comment explains why the “Troika” is baffled by the decision of the Greek government to call for a referendum in these troubled days…

 

*  Published in print edition in 3 July 2015

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