2017 – A Short Year Ahead

A nation alienated from its government is a recipe for national disaster with the result that public policies, however well-intentioned, will become both dysfunctional and perverse

 After two disappointing years, people are still hoping against hope that sanity will come back to inform public policy. The coming year is indeed going to be a very short one. By the time the celebration of the National Day is over, in a further three months, the government will have reached midway into its mandate.

The political cauldron will have started to boil if it has not already reached boiling point and soothsayers will be making their dire predictions for the next elections. The challenges facing the present government will be arduous. Like the student who spends half the year doing little work, government will find it extremely difficult to catch up and complete the revision before the final countdown.

People still hope that the government will realize its mistakes and take the country back on the road of political stability and economic development. They base their argument on the fact that the government has sufficient ears to the ground to take cognizance of the rumblings of the masses and will act accordingly, the more so given that the withdrawal of the PMSD from the government has clouded the economic and political outlook of the country. With some sectors like tourism and the financial services doing reasonably well, other sectors will receive a big boost given the fact that the last budget has increased public investment for infrastructure.

Others feel differently and think that the government will take the path of the doom loop. According to this scenario, people who are all powerful and arrogant will never admit that many of their decisions during past years were initially wrong. They will pursue a path that will compound these mistakes rather than eliminate them and this ultimately leads to tragedy. Such people often confuse experience with learning. In fact, because of their overconfidence, they fail to learn from their own experience. In 2012, the withdrawal of the MSM from government heralded a period of instability, which disappointingly has persisted to the present day.

Talk to the people on the streets, in the markets, the businessmen and the people at large. The air of pessimism is unmistakable and contagious. When it’s pointed out to them that economic prospects for the future look optimistic, we are asked to look at the real economy and the ground reality. We are reminded that economic forecasters worldwide tend to be on the high side during dismal years and on the low side during years of prosperity. Too often they behave like lecturers in an examination board. When asked to upgrade a failed student who has only 28 marks when the pass mark is 30, the lecturer will feel so outrageous and fed up with the whole affair that he will overreact and give 35 marks as a form of protest. So the pass mark on paper is a very poor indication of performance.

Even businessmen will make an effort to appear optimistic. This is understandable. Businessmen cannot give their honest views in public for fear that their comments become self-fulfilling prophecies. They would not like to take the blame for exacerbating pessimism in the country, which never does any good to business. Economics is as much about psychology as it is about economics. Given the contradictory views coming from government and the Establishment on the one hand and from the masses on the other hand, it is legitimate to ask whether both government and the Establishment have not become cut off from reality. Is it not this kind of abyss between the government and the people which led to not only Brexit and the election of Donald Trump but also the rout of the Labour Party-MMM combine, both two major parties, at the 2014 elections?

When all is said and done, the task ahead is very tough. There is no shortage of problems facing the current government and for that matter any government. Unemployment, disguised employment, minimal wage, poverty, growing inequality, road accidents, traffic issues, water shortage, drug proliferation and abuse, blackouts, skills shortage or mismatch, small planters’ grievances are all important issues which cry out for immediate attention and solutions. There are many more issues that can be added to that list. After all, budget outlays do not necessarily translate into anticipated outcomes.

In the educational sector things are not any better. The tertiary sector will enter a period of turbulence. As for admission in secondary schools in 2018, the test of the pudding will be in the eating. The present educational system with a little tweaking here and there will only bring cosmetic changes except for admission on a regional basis, which will stir up a hornet’s nest.

Even if an audit of the last two years will show a negative balance, with a number of lost opportunities, Mauritians are generally optimistic about their country’s future and are convinced they have the resourcefulness to overcome all hurdles on their way. Properly conceived public policies can bring results if there is proper implementation and monitoring. To promote productive investments and encourage innovation is more easily said than done. But the odds are clearly stacked against the government. A reshuffling of ministerial portfolios will send new ministers, public servants and advisers on a new learning curve and delays in implementation will be inevitable.

Let us hope that the government will muster all its efforts and tackle national priorities instead of focusing on its parochial interests. Let’s hope too that it learns to read the will of the people, that the latter will not accept that freedoms enshrined in the Constitution are rolled back or that the people will gladly accept anything on offer. A nation alienated from its government is a recipe for national disaster with the result that public policies, however well-intentioned, will become both dysfunctional and perverse.

Sada Reddi

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