By Mrinal Roy
General elections will return power back to the people. It will be a harbinger of hope and a new dawn. The time is ripe for a new party set up by talented young Mauritians
2019 has the makings of a game changing juncture in the history of the country. It brings an end to the tenure of the government and is a harbinger of general elections. This week marked the 51st anniversary of our independence. It is therefore an appropriate time for stock taking by the people and an honest reality check of the political class, the standard of good governance, the performance of the country and its future prospects in a significantly more competitive and changed international market environment.
It is also time for the people to gauge whether the seminal objectives, principles and lofty ideals which underpinned the battle for independence by our parents and grandparents such as upholding the unalienable rights of the people, equality, equal opportunities and inclusiveness have been strengthened or withered away by post independence governments.
This is therefore not the time for vacuous hype or tall claims but an objective appraisal of the choices made, of where we stand as a country and more importantly what needs to be fundamentally changed and urgently reformed to assure a far better and more inclusive future for all in a more competitive and difficult market environment.
The choice is crystal clear. Will we, as a nation, continue with the same politicians, clans and omnipotent leaders who have monopolized the political scene and failed the country over the past decades or will we finally opt through our collective vote at the polls for a paradigm shift in the quality and intellect of politicians and political leaders, in the standard of ethics, in good governance and the choice of the government entrusted to innovatively and competently run the affairs of the country?
The management of the affairs of the country is a very serious business. Too often over the past decades, the country has had to choose and elect MPs from a questionable list of candidates sometimes conjured at the eleventh hour. It is now time to cut loose from such makeshift choices which have been so detrimental to the advancement of the country and the interests of the people. This means that the responsibility of government must always be entrusted to those endowed with the abilities, intellect and recognized competence in fields required to assure through their initiatives and actions the sustained socio-economic development and prosperity of the country.
Politicians must also be imbued with a high sense of probity and rectitude and a commitment of service to the people. These should be sine qua non conditions to become politicians.
Let it be clearly spelled out: This is certainly not a job for every Tom, Dick and Harry or politicians and political leaders with no acknowledged track record of achievements in their respective profession, before joining politics. Any compromise in the choice of politicians is fraught with risks as evidenced by the number of scandals which have afflicted the current government and forced several ministers to step down.
It is evident as we survey the sorry state of local politics continuously sapped by poor governance, cronyism and nepotism at public expense, dynastic politics, scandals, overbearing control over key national institutions and the lack of transparency and accountability, that the country’s and the public interest are being systematically short changed. It is high time to quash this widely decried political culture in the country.
Despite the holier than thou rhetoric of the Prime Minister, poor governance and nepotism have been rife. How can government gargle about good governance whilst in the same breath appoint the coterie and cohorts of political nominees in fat cat jobs including in our diplomatic outposts at the expense of the Public Exchequer? Such questionable appointments in key public institutions and companies where the State is a major shareholder are already undermining the independence and performance of these institutions and companies. This is evidenced by the current difficulties faced by Air Mauritius and other companies where the government has a major stake.
Similarly, how can the Prime Minister and the government arrogate to themselves the right to convert the national TV financed from public funds into an abject and appalling government propaganda machine? What is the point of having costly live broadcasts almost daily and then to rehash the same self promoting political speeches in extenso on prime time MBC-TV news? It is more and more obvious that this decried misuse of the national TV by government will shamefully be heightened as we approach the general elections. This is unacceptable to the multitude in a democratic society, the more so as the Prime Minister has been nominated and not chosen by the people through a formal plebiscite and vote at the polls.
It is obvious that the object of this daily TV blitzkrieg, presumably concocted by the cohort of government advisers paid at public expense, is to feed the people with the narrative that the performance of government has been exceptional. People are not so naïve and gullible.
It must be remembered that despite the rhetoric there has been no new economic miracle in the country or high income economy and that growth has remained stunted below 4%, ranging between 3.6- 3.8 % during the 2015-2018 period. Peeved at those who forecast a growth below 4% last year, the government is now boasting of a growth rate of 3.9% in 2019! Government must realize that the economy is undergoing structural changes with traditional sectors such as sugar and textile facing difficulties in more competitive market conditions.
Furthermore, the uncertainties caused by the Brexit mess, trade wars triggered by Donald Trump with China and other countries as well as rising interest rates in the US have caused the International Monetary Fund to cut its estimate for global growth in 2019 to 3.5 percent, which is down from the 3.7 percent rate registered in 2018. A lower world growth rate will obviously affect the economy and some sectors in particular as well as our own growth rate in 2019. Against such a backdrop, it is vital that the various services sectors of the economy are urgently moved up the value chain with the induction of world class professionals so as to offer higher value added products to meet demand in the more remunerative segments of these sectors.
Inequality in the country has also widened. It is a jolting eye opener that in 2018, 249,400 employees of the private sector or some 54% of the total workforce of 462,860 earned less than Rs 14,000 per month in a context when the household basket of goods cost Rs 29,800. Urgent steps must therefore be taken to bridge inequality and assure a fairer sharing of the fruits of prosperity.
For decades now the political landscape has been trapped in a time warp. For too long, the main political parties have subserviently kowtowed to the diktats of omnipotent leaders who despite being repeatedly rejected by the people at the polls still call the shots. This situation cannot go on. No leader can be more important than the party.
The voice of the Labour Party has largely been silenced under the leadership of Navin Ramgoolam who has been lying low since his scathing defeat at the last general elections. This posture is decried by the multitude, the more so as the Labour Party has from the outset been a beehive of intellect and at the forefront of the battle for the rights of the downtrodden, for democracy, social justice and freedom.
It is also evident that so long as he remains at the head of the party, he will become as presently the prime target of digs of every kind by the government in the run-up to general elections. He will sap the prospects of the party as long as he remains leader.
In the frozen local political landscape, it is noteworthy that the only two groups who have brought a well needed whiff of democratic fresh air in the country have been the Mouvement Patriotique and the ‘Nouvelle Plateforme Militante.’ Breaking their shackles from the MMM has given them a new impetus. The Mouvement Patriotique has opened the party to a host of new elements. It is reported that the two groups are coming together which is a good thing for democracy in the country. This is an example for others to emulate if they want to break free from parties which remain under the grip of omnipotent leaders.
General elections will return power back to the people. It will be a harbinger of hope and a new dawn. People are raring for change. The time is ripe for a new party set up by talented young Mauritians abuzz with innovative initiatives to establish a new socio-economic order for a more prosperous and inclusive society. The onus will therefore squarely be on the people as their vote will determine whether the country remains bogged down in the present political quagmire or cuts loose from a crippling political system and culture which have been so detrimental to the advancement of the country and the well being of the people.
2019 should therefore herald this sea change and the determination of the people to make this happen.
* Published in print edition on 15 March 2019