Beyond the Cabinet Drop-Out

In Mauritius governments do not suffer from any crisis of legitimacy which is often the result of economic and social dislocation. Governments have always remained solidly stable even when they show signs of fatigue

The imbroglio in which the Attorney General has found himself recently has undoubtedly embarrassed the government, and as to be expected he has had to submit his resignation. He could have done this much earlier and more elegantly, on a principle of accountability to the electorate rather than to the government. There were blunders galore. This was unexpected from a young, promising and articulate politician, though rather charmless but who was capable of mastering any brief with authority. Why this has happened requires an in-depth analysis at both the personal and party as well as at the government levels.

As to the wider question of where this unexpected Cabinet change leaves the government, an honest answer must be: a little more damaged. Yet not sufficiently damaged to be deemed a crisis or even capable of undermining government or government action. However we should not conclude that things should be allowed to drift. The drastic changes promised by the head of government are now overdue and this sad episode provides an opportunity to draw the line and start on a fresh leaf.

In Mauritius governments do not suffer from any crisis of legitimacy which is often the result of economic and social dislocation. Governments have always remained solidly stable even when they show signs of fatigue. The world recession, despite the repercussions on our open economy, has not made it less resilient, though unemployment among the young remains a serious challenge that the government will have to tackle.

In the past, even when the government was plunged in the worst political crisis that the country has ever faced, government had the resilience to survive and survive successfully. When the Amsterdam affair broke out on 31 December 1986, with the arrest and imprisonment of five members of the Legislative Assembly on the charge of drug trafficking, Le Mauricien came out with the Opposition headline ‘The government must resign’. Several ministers deserted the government, which they mistakenly considered a sinking ship. But the government remained calm in its isolation, mustered all its courage, reorganised itself at the grassroots and took some bold measures to address the problem, setting up a Commission of Inquiry. After some more measures it went to the elections in 1987, and came back to power with a good majority. The Leader of the Opposition was even defeated.

This might provide some comfort that a determined government always has the resilience to survive any onslaught. In fact the success of the incumbent government returning to power must be attributed more to the fact that the majority in the Mauritian electorate is prospectively rather than retrospectively oriented. Its propensity to punish governments rests on several factors, namely its ability to identify those responsible for major problems facing the country, the capacity of governments to mitigate the consequences that problems of the day may have on income and unemployment, and the most fundamental factor remains: who will lead the next government?

Government has taken a number of measures on the economic front and more are expected. Nothing should deflect the government from its policies to protect the population from economic adversities while addressing several other problems. We do not need any more research on many of the social issues regarding the young people, and the law and order situation is not different to what it was at any time in the past though it is given much more and wider publicity as a result of the expansion of the media.

What we need simply and urgently is a curriculum addressing all these issues at all levels of our educational system. Project implementation remains the Cinderella of all government initiatives while the CAB, the employment office as well as the CSR need to be completely revamped. Any electoral reform should not be promulgated unless it had been approved unanimously or at least by 90% of the parliamentarians.

However there are two major threats to the government and they are not related to the Cabinet drop-out. The first one is its own short attention span. It tends to act when it cannot decently do otherwise, leaving matters to lapse after the original furore had subsided. Secondly, the great risk that the opposition relaxes its criticisms of government and lures the government into a state of complacency.

The opposition has been doing its job well as there is a new leader in the saddle. Soon it will get tired and lapse into routine and this will be a great danger as its complacency will become contagious allowing the problems to fester. This is why, whether there is a vigorous opposition or not, government should remain proactive and, with renewed vigour, address the major issues of the day though we all know too well that when elections comes, political life in a 50-50 nation will regress to a tenacious battle of primitive loyalties.

* Published in print edition on 21 June 2013

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