Matters of The Moment
The priorities of the country are socio-economic, not political. There is therefore a growing clamour for radical change
Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump surfed on a wave of profound discontent of the people with the prevailing political system and the political class to come to power in their respective countries. The latent hope was that they would bring a higher standard of values and honesty in politics, good governance, transparency and accountability and policies which put people and their aspirations at the centre of government policy. Have they lived up to these expectations after more than a year and 18 months respectively in office?
Emmanuel Macron won a landslide victory in the French presidential elections held in May 2017. At the legislative elections in June 2017, his party La Republique En Marche founded about a year earlier in April 2016, in alliance with the Mouvement démocrate obtained a comfortable majority of 350 seats out of 577 in the National Assembly with his party securing an absolute majority of 308 seats. Yet a little more than a year later, President Macron is embroiled in the seedy ‘Benalla affair’ with the Elysée being blamed by the French Minister of Interior and the Head of the Paris Police while testifying before a parliamentary commission of inquiry for bungling the manner the scandal was handled.
Film footage which has gone viral on the net shows Alexandre Benalla, a senior security officer and deputy chief of staff to President Macron wearing a police armband and helmet, manhandling a woman and badly beating up an unarmed protestor during the 2018 May Day street demonstrations in Paris in the presence of regular policemen at the scene. The images have shocked the country and caused a furore among the whole political class and the media. It now transpires that aware of the incident, the Élysée had temporarily suspended Benalla for 15 days from 4 to 19 May before reassigning him to the security of events at the Élysée Palace.
More importantly, this assault was not reported to the prosecutor’s office, as required by law. It is now also revealed that the 26 year old Benalla benefitted from handsome privileges which included an office at the Élysée, an official car and rent-free accommodation nearby in government owned property. The botched manner the whole issue has been handled has drawn widespread criticisms from all quarters.
In what seems so reminiscent of a Costa Gavras political movie, the inquiry has also revealed that there was collusion with the police as the official video footage of the whole beating up scene was illegally remitted to Benalla by three policemen. Benalla was dismissed last week and placed under formal investigation together with other police officers involved in the case. A police inquiry into the role and apparent collusion of policemen in the affair has also been opened.
Amidst all this turmoil, President Macron walled himself in a questionable silence. Instead, his chief of staff built a fire wall around the whole issue. This has seriously dented his image and put in question his ability to swiftly and honestly deal with a crisis which undermines his own office. All that was required to defuse the crisis was to own up to his mistake and apologize publicly to the people. Was he afraid of the adverse fallouts of the inept manner the whole sordid matter was managed by the Elysée? Sound judgment is an important quality for Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers, MPs and anyone holding a high position of responsibility. Emmanuel Macron finally broke his silence this week on 24 July to say ‘I am to blame’ for trusting Benalla and denounced the latter’s behaviour as a betrayal.
In the same vein in Mauritius, the recent reply of the Prime Minister to a parliamentary question from the bench of the Opposition on the Advisers and Senior Advisers attached to the Prime Minister’s Office that ‘there was no need to require Advisers to produce a Certificate of Character prior to their appointment’ has obviously caused consternation in the country. Advisers to the PM and Ministers occupy a post of high responsibility and a position of trust and are handsomely paid from public funds. It should logically be anathema to appoint anyone facing charges of wrongdoing in the courts of Justice to such an important and sensitive post in the government administration at public expense. To do otherwise flouts elementary rules of good governance and accountability in respect of the use of public funds.
For his part President Donald Trump has baffled all expectations. Since taking office he has backed out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement, scrapped domestic environment regulations in the teeth of the blatant adverse fallouts of climate change, undermined the US healthcare Act covering uninsured Americans, ruffled traditional allies in Europe and Nato and initiated a trade war in pursuit of his leitmotiv and policy of America first. He rashly defines foreign policy in tweets.
President Donald Trump’s decision in June to impose a 25% tariff on imports of steel, and a 10% tariff on aluminum imports including from the European Union, Canada and Mexico and higher tariffs on a host of imports from China and India has triggered a trade war. The European Union, Canada and other trading partners of the US have in response imposed higher tariffs on certain American exports. In June and July, India and China raised tariffs on a range of goods imported from America in retaliation to the US imposing higher duties on a list of their exports. All these countries have lodged complaints at the WTO against each other. The US has also threatened countries that devalue their currency to compete unfairly with US products and companies with tariffs and taxes. Donald Trump has this week offered a $12 billion bailout to help US farmers hit by the trade war.
These trade wars are costly for all parties and threaten to upset the international trading order. At the G20 meeting of Finance Ministers in Buenos Aires over the weekend, the IMF warned that escalating trade tensions and sabre-rattling over trade tariffs threatened to have a “serious and adverse impact on global growth’ and the world economy.
Trade has been the cornerstone of the socio-economic development of Mauritius. From the outset, the success of the economy has been trade driven. The adverse impact of trade wars on the world economy will affect our exports, already threatened by Brexit, un-competitiveness of certain sectors in a liberalized world market environment and fiercer competition in the market place. It must be flagged that all new trade deals negotiated with China and India which are trading giants exporting a very broad range of goods and services will be on Free Trade Agreement terms. These developments necessarily mean that we urgently need to re-engineer the economy towards the higher value added segments of the various pillars of the services sector and high tech manufacturing through the transfer of technology and expertise, innovativeness and substantial productive foreign direct investment in the country.
Clamour for change
There is growing evidence that politics, endless politicking and the ineptitude of the political class to deliver on promises made and to put the concerns of the people at the centre of government action are the root causes of the pervasive alienation against politicians and the mess afflicting many countries. The backlash has caused political upsets in the US, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the rise of populist parties in Italy, Czech Republic, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Holland, Scandinavia and Germany, etc. The lofty ideals, altruism, ethos, selfless sense of service to the people and high standards of political ethics which drove the founding fathers of the main democracies seem to have been short changed by a new breed of politicians bent on wresting and holding on to power by all means.
In the case of Mauritius, the political landscape is made up of the same disavowed leaders and political parties that have either been rejected by the electorate or have been weakened by fracture and the throes of internal dissent or whose legitimacy to govern is contested in the absence of a formal mandate obtained through a plebiscite at the polls. Against such a backdrop, how can they still consider that it is business as usual? How can they still have the gall to indecently think that they can arrogate themselves the right to envisage tinkering with the Constitution or changing the electoral system to enable candidates rejected by the electorate to enter the National Assembly through the back door of proportional representation when the multitude has repeatedly rejected such decried proposals through their emphatic vote of sanction at general elections.
The priorities of the country are socio-economic, not political. There is therefore a growing clamour for radical change. The mode of governance and inept management of the affairs of the country have been detrimental to the country and the people for too long. What is therefore imperatively needed is a new team of talented young Mauritians driven by altruism, a high sense of service to the people, honesty of purpose, high standard of conduct and competence who would take the challenge of transforming the country through reforms and innovative initiatives into a haven of inclusive prosperity and improved quality of life and standards of living for all. A country where people and their aspirations will be the prime focus of the government policy framework and actions.
It is therefore high time to reboot the country with the seminal values, ideals, ethos and sense of kinship of battles fought and won together which mobilized the people to fight for and win the country’s independence.
* Published in print edition on 27 July 2018