Our choices and vote on polling day can sanction political leaders and candidates who undermine our democracy as well as endorse others
By Mrinal Roy
As the build up to general elections gets into the final leg to the polls on 7 November, we need, as a nation, more than ever before to define the Mauritius we want. Our choices and votes have the power to fundamentally change the country’s political landscape. They can also send potent signals to the political class on governance, the choice of candidates fielded by the main political parties, on politicians who cross the floor as well as the Mauritius we want. Our choices and vote on polling day can therefore sanction political leaders and candidates who undermine our democracy as well as endorse others. The choices and vote of the people are sovereign.
True to form, the list of candidates fielded by the different parties has been determined by a well-oiled machinery of communal and caste arbitrage over merit, credentials and qualifications which is what the country above all needs at this juncture to pull it out of the doldrums of underperformance. As a country, we need people with solid credentials and professional competence to take up the responsibility of key Ministries such as Finance Minister or the Minister for International Trade or the Minister of Education. Similarly, the President of the country cannot be chosen on the basis of community but on the basis of intellect, erudition and stature which transcend parochial considerations to bond the people and promote the interests of the nation.
As voters, we need first and foremost to objectively assess the governance and performance of the outgoing government plagued by a series of scandals involving government ministers and MPs, beyond its rhetoric, spin doctoring and daily partisan propaganda on MBC-TV at public expense. We need in particular to take into consideration its track record in terms of its policies, its growth performance, economic fundamentals such as public debt or the balance of trade deficit, the faltering performance of the main sectors of the economy, the employment of the qualified young, growing inequality, the battle against drug trafficking, the rising toll of road accidents, the accountability and transparency of government decisions and projects such as the Safe City or the Cote d’Or Multi-SportS Complex, etc., since 2015. Economic growth has been stunted at 3.6%-3.8% during the 2015-19 period with the IMF recently cutting down the 2019 growth forecast to 3.7%.
It should also be recalled that in January 2017, the leader of the MSM was nominated Prime Minister without the legitimacy of a formal plebiscite by the people at the polls. It should be flagged that at the 2005 general elections, he was not elected as MP, despite being presented by the MSM-MMM Alliance to be the Prime Minister for half of the mandate. The right to chose and elect a prime minister is the sole and unalienable prerogative of the people. The people’s choice is absolute. It cannot be usurped by anyone. The choice and election of a Prime Minister by the people through the ballot box above all provides authority and legitimacy to the government in place for its policies and actions in the eyes of the multitude.
As responsible citizens and voters, we also need to ask ourselves some fundamental questions. In a context where the main political parties are outbidding each other on the range and tenor of costly electoral promises made to lure voters at the expense of the Public Exchequer, are our choices and votes going to be determined by the quantum of the handouts promised to all and sundry at public expense? Should the political leaders not first explain how they are going to finance the costly promises made at a time when public debt has already peaked to 67.5% of GDP in 2019?
Do we want, as a nation, an economy built on viable, wealth-generating and thriving economic pillars or a country living on continuously increasing public debt borne by all of us and our children? As a nation, do we want to enjoy the fruits and prosperity of our collective hard work or do we want to be on dole and financial props of every kind?
We must realize that all the costly electoral promises made to the voter ahead of the general elections by the various party leaders are not paid from their pockets but from ours as we and our children will have to bear the cost of such wanton largesse at the cost of the Public Exchequer. It is money taken from our own pockets which is going to pay for higher pensions, PRB salary increases disbursed a year earlier as from January 2020, performance bonuses to policemen, prison wardens and firemen, grants to taxi owners, Super Cash Gold reimbursements, a significant reduction in the price of a cylinder of LPG, automatic promotion in the police force and other electoral promises blithely made to various categories of voters. Even the controversial and endless BAI saga has been dug out to draw political mileage. Quite a few of the electoral carrots promised in the manifestos of the main political parties are found in common in the key measures proposed.
The increase of the state pension to Rs 9,000 is alone going to cost more than Rs 8 billion per year whereas a hike of the pension to Rs 10,000 is going to cost an additional Rs 11 billion in a context when recurrent government revenue is estimated at some Rs 107 billion in 2018-19. Why should the multitude be asked to foot the bill of costly electoral promises made to all and sundry in a bid to gain political power? Mauritius cannot live beyond its means. Such an irresponsible and questionable form of governance cannot be perpetuated.
There is therefore a real risk in view of the fiscal space available of raising revenue through taxes to bridge increasing revenue shortfalls especially in a context of continued stunted economic growth.
Desperate to win power
The range and cost of promises made to wean voters is unprecedented and provide stark evidence of the desperation of political leaders prepared to go to any lengths to coax voters to win political power. Do we want a democracy built on what are basically patent forms of electoral bribery?
In contrast, there is not much in the electoral manifestos of the various parties and alliances on how they intend to re-engineer the economy towards more robust growth, wealth creation and the employment of the qualified young in a context when the performance of the main sectors of the economy is faltering. There are no shortcuts to economic success and wealth creation. In a context where growth has been stunted during the 2015-19 period, this can only be boosted through innovative strategies and investments, hard work and efficiency.
The manifestos of the main political parties also make no reference to such key elements of a vibrant democracy such as the limitation of the terms of office of a Prime Minister, the absolute transparency of political financing or on reaffirming the lay principles of our democracy and the fundamental rights of the people or on game-changing initiatives such as land reform. There are also no ambitious and cogent proposals to address the many challenges posed by climate change bearing in mind our vulnerability as a SIDS or to eliminate the use of highly polluting coal as a feedstock to produce electricity in the country.
It is therefore more and more evident that we need to reinvent the pathways to robust growth as well as replace the current model of socio-economic development which has failed the country. To make matters worse, fuelled by extremely generous government incentives and handsome exemptions from the payment of land conversion tax, land transfer tax, morcellement tax and income tax for a period of eight years, VAT as well as registration duty and custom duties granted by government since 2015 representing billions of Rupees of forfeited state revenue, investment and development have been lopsided and inordinately skewed towards real estate activities and smart city projects allocated to promoters richly endowed with land assets in prime locations. These extremely lucrative projects for the promoters have very little beneficial fallouts and multiplier effect on the economy at large.
Imperative of a new approach
It is evident from income distribution tables and the widening inequality in the country that the fruits of prosperity and the economic success of the country between 1983 and 2009 have not been shared equitably under the watch of successive governments. The upshot is that in 2018, some 46% or some 165,000 employees of the private sector earned up to Rs 10,000. No society can be sustainable if workers do not at least earn wages which enable them to live with dignity and essential existential comfort in a context of constantly rising prices. There is an imperative need for a new approach which puts people at the centre of the government policy framework to assure inclusive prosperity and a constant improvement of the standard of living of mainstream Mauritius.
The Mauritius we want therefore has to be anchored on lofty ideals of equality, equal opportunities, solidarity, meritocracy, good governance, strict rules of transparency and accountability as well as on robust bulwarks against political high-handedness over the government Establishment. There should also be an end to nepotism, cronyism, political appointments for the coterie as well as political interference in the management of the government Establishment, state institutions and state companies.
It is evident that the present appalling standard of governance and the current economic model are no longer viable options for the future. It is through the synergy of a new breed of politicians having the qualifications, credentials, intellect and competence required with the experience and strategic thinking acumen of the top brass of the government Establishment that we can steadfastly uphold public interest and chart out an innovative policy framework to assure inclusive prosperity and a significant improvement in the standard of living and quality of life of the people.
We also need to attract foreign investors having the expertise, skills and required professional cadres capable of urgently moving the various new services sectors of the economy up the value chain so as to offer more remunerative higher value added products to the market to provide a much needed boost to the economy for the benefit of the people and the country.
As we approach the polling date, our guiding compass must be the values and ethos on which the independence of the country was fought and built on and the candidates who are most likely to uphold these values to usher the fundamental reforms and policy framework required to boost the economic prospects of the country for the benefit of the multitude.
* Published in print edition on 31 October 2019