The clamours from the people for a radical change in political ethics and governance are growing louder. Will government and the political class never learn?
By Mrinal Roy
The writing has been deeply carved on the wall since long. People are fed up with the appalling state of governance in the country and the cohort of politicians and inept governments which have monopolized the political scene for donkeys’ years. More and more people are legitimately questioning the credentials, quality, track record, competence and professional expertise of the political class. They are appalled by the number of dilettante in politics.
They are riled by the ethos of politicians who prefer the trappings and perks of power to honouring, as elected representatives of the people, their commitment of altruistic service to the people and their continuous well-being. They are outraged by the partisan divide of party politics which compels MPs to defend contested government proposals detrimental to public interest and basic democratic principles. They deplore the decried manner the Speaker shoulders his responsibility as a fair arbiter of parliamentary debate. How can this appalling state of affairs make Mauritius a model of democracy?
People are also angry and fed up with dynastic politics, nepotism and the partisan nomination of the party faithful and defeated candidates as ambassadors, advisors or to fat cat jobs at public expense at the head of key government institutions and state companies without having the credentials and required qualifications, when swathes of Mauritians are struggling to meet their existential needs.
They are maddened by ageing political leaders who despite being repeatedly defeated at the polls do not have the grace to step down to allow a new leadership and a new breed of young talented and able Mauritians driven by an ethos of altruistic service to the people to propose innovative pathways for a better socio-economic order which rallies the multitude.
The people are also infuriated by the systemic failures of the decision making process and the long list of costly blunders by successive governments under the watch of their political appointees such as at Air Mauritius or the billions of Rupees which have had to be drawn from public funds to repair a leaking Midlands dam. They deplore the double costs of upgrading and renovating 17 sporting facilities used for the Indian Ocean Island Games held in July 2019 following delays due to piling and ground improvements works required for building the multisport complex at Côte-d’Or. Shareholders condemn the billions of Rupees of losses incurred by the State Bank of Mauritius owing allegedly to risky loans to foreign companies which necessitated substantial impairment provisions.
The people are aghast at the patent lack of a rigorous due diligence exercise before the allocation of operating permits to the likes of Alvaro Sobrinho and the culpable responsibility of government in the wanton allocation of prime and scarce state lands to cronies and politicians without the due process of an open tender.
The recent death by overdose of two young men and press reports regarding the alleged abundance of drugs available on the market in a context where our borders remain closed exposes yet again the ineptitude of government to quash this evil despite the official rhetoric.
Instead of lamenting that the European Commission (EC) has included Mauritius in its revised list of high-risk countries with strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing frameworks without due consultation, the Government must above all ensure that the laws enacted, the training provided and the people manning the institutions administering the sector, etc., actually plug through a rigorous management and oversight of the global business sector any risks of our international financial services sector acting as a conduit for illicit money laundering and terrorist financing.
It is only when the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog and the EC are fully satisfied that the Mauritian global business jurisdiction is being rigorously administered and supervised that we can hope for progress on this key issue.
Wave of revolt
The last straw for people across the country has been that decried political appointments have continued unabated with the appointment of the kin of ministers at the head of government institutions in the wake of the patent mismanagement of the Wakashio shipwreck and oil spill which has taken such a heavy death toll among dolphins in the affected coastal region and resulted in the death of seamen. Yet, another inquiry has been announced by government.
Will government and the political class never learn? The bumbling management of the Wakashio shipwreck has exposed the inept crisis management acumen of government. The growing anger in the wake of the disastrous oil spill has ignited a potent wave of revolt in the country. The clamours from the people for a radical change in political ethics and governance are growing louder.
Governments are elected to competently manage the affairs of the country in an accountable and transparent manner, be constantly attentive to the hardships and concerns of the people, steer the country towards higher levels of inclusive prosperity, bridge growing inequality and efficiently grapple with any unexpected challenges faced by the country. They are helped in this task by the seasoned experience and expertise of the top brass of the government Establishment. However, successive governments have shot themselves in the foot through repeated political interference in the process of merit based appointments and undermined the management acumen of the government.
Management acumen cannot be replaced by spin doctoring. Spin doctoring and handouts paid from public funds (basically from our own pockets) to all and sundry to assuage any aggrieved protests are key elements of the style of governance of government. Spin doctoring by the cohort of government advisors try, with the help of the national TV, to conjure narratives to mask blunders, botched decisions, setbacks and failures such as the Wakashio ecological catastrophe or disputed decisions such as the precipitated sinking of the forward section of the Wakashio wreck in high seas on 24 August 2020.
Thus, fishers, fishmongers and pleasure craft operators adversely affected by the oil spill will receive as from August 2020 a solidarity grant of Rs10,200 over and above the allowance under the Wage Assistance scheme or the Self-Employed Assistance Scheme, the bad weather allowance to fishers and the payment of daily rate of Rs 800 for the cleaning of beaches and lagoons.
According to government Rs 11 billion have already been disbursed under the Wage Assistance scheme and to the informal sector to some Rs 470,000 persons as well as Rs 6 billion have been paid to 1,300 enterprises to help them tide over the Covid-19 crisis.
It is evident from the statement made by the Prime Minister this week in the wake of the protest march by the citizens of the country on 29 August in Port Louis that he has not grasped the tenor of the people’s protest nor the mood of the nation. Spin doctors must justify their utility and assure their survival through thick and thin. His remark that above all the objective of a full inquiry is to ‘shed complete light on the Wakashio shipwreck’ when it all happened under his watch as PM says it all.
An elected government can no longer claim legitimacy if it is contested by the multitude. However, 75,000 protestors represent only about 8 % of the electorate. A citizens protest march is not an end itself. There is quite a long way to go. The battle for the freedom of the country was an arduous and difficult struggle. It was not won in a day. It required a breed of inspiring leaders driven by lofty ideals who challenged the established order and the reactionary forces to successfully fight for the fundamental rights of the downtrodden and freedom.
The objectives of the people are clear. They certainly do not want a comeback of the opposition party leaders who have repeatedly been rejected by the electorate. These have been reduced to patching up in desperation a nondescript common front as a lifeline to counter the ruling MSM-ML government. The people are fed up with the unending cycle of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire at each election and back ad nauseam.
In an article in September 2018, I wrote: ‘The shoddy benchmarks of those who have successively been in power are aeons distanced from the lofty objectives, ideals and ambition of the young talented Mauritians for the country. It is high time to sideline mediocrity and entrust the country to the bright men and women of the country to map out and realize a game changing and significantly better future for the benefit of all.’
So little has changed since. Standards of governance have continued to plummet. We still need a new breed of altruistic young Mauritians having the intellect, talent, professional expertise and synergic leadership which connects with the people, shies away from the parochial agendas of vested interests and proposes fundamental reforms and innovative strategies to realize our loftiest ambitions as a nation for the benefit of all.
The time is ripe for us to mobilize and harness our efforts to usher a new dawn in the country.
* Published in print edition on 4 September 2020