The Ministers and The Public

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By Jay Narain Roy

It is really gratifying to think that Dr Millien’s bold gesture to inaugurate the work of his Ministry by contacting responsible employers and employees was given wide publicity. All the newspapers, without exception, have taken the right approach to the Ministry as a whole. I was pleased to read that a paper which is generally not too friendly to Dr Millien has put in a nice word.

That is indeed the spirit in which the public approaches the work of the Ministers. Expectations are pretty high. If something happens, the whole country will applaud. I believe the whole country is eager to have occasional publicity about ministerial work and even to see pictures of multifarious activities. But nobody would like unreasonable and futile publicity. If this part is overdone, there might even be protest and this will be none too flattering.

Government House in the 1970s. Photo – vintagemauritius.org

It must be realised that apart from the Parti Mauricien, all important sections are represented. There is generally a cooperation of the Tories, the Labourites and the Independents. If the Times of London is to be believed, the Parti Mauricien is not included not because it has been elbowed out but because of some internal dissension in the Parti. Although the details of the quota and personality were thrashed out between representatives of thpParties and the Governor, the country has unanimously accepted the ministerial position with good grace. It also happens that one of the Ministers who was elected by the Tory backing is a Muslim.

There is no reason to oppose the formation of the Ministry. Why then this cheap hypocrisy about boycott and all that? The stunts of some people are highly inscrutable and cannot be explained. They turn their crimes into martyrdom and thus try and introduce into public life a standard of morality that cannot be conducive to our welfare. Mountebanks and ribaldry have often found their way into politics but it should be the task of all honest people to raise the standard of public conduct. We cannot build anything worthwhile on mere lies and hypocrisy nor can we serve the people by exciting their emotion all the time only to serve our inglorious end.

In view of some quackery in our midst, we look up to the Ministers to set up a high standard of public decorum through facts, civility and poise. They are capable of doing it because their educational background is sound. The only way to deal with people who believe in stunts, lies and abuses is with facts, courtesy and moderation. Things are happening in the public life here which should be a blot on any civilised nation. Through histrionics and display of foul words the moral standard goes putrefying into the gutter. Of the many welfares we are seeking, we cannot place too low our desire to raise public life to that standard which is a delight of the democracies. All horseplay has a limit, and we cannot always blink things by condemning them as pathological cases. They are capable of doing real harm in what we are anxious to build.

One of the worst things in parliamentary practice is that some people, when they speak in Council, are not anxious to give any effective contribution to the subject under discussion but they are eager to show off some histrionics to their electorate. All speeches are conceived in the spirit of personal propaganda. Probably Mauritius is among the few countries in the world where parliamentary speeches are published in the dailies in extenso. If only brilliant and sober speeches were reported as in other countries, I have no doubt that there would be less speeches and more factuous speeches.

The newspapers should help to build a sound parliamentary system and the Ministers should set the pace. At any rate no Minister can decently think in terms of his own electors. He is bound by his oath and position to think in terms of the entire country. He is bound by his high responsibilities to marshal facts and show grasp and vision. If a Minister butts in on every occasion for the purposes of self-aggrandisement or if he makes statements that can be challenged on facts or if he shows immoderation in language or emotion, he is severely throttling democracy. If nothing else, this experience in itself is a great parliamentary landmark.

It should not be presumed that a Minister can live on his previous-acquired prestige. Political memory is proverbially short. The least error can blot out the work of a lifetime. Such is the lesson of history. As people have applauded the courageous stand of the Minister of Labour, the public will react quite seriously if any Ministry shows lethargy, incompetence or levity. It will take some time before the idea of collective responsibility is engendered. In the meantime, Ministers will continue to be judged by their personal ability and hard work as by the result of their work.

It is the first time that some of our senior politicians have been entrusted with executive responsibilities. Whatever may have been the platform prestige of the Minister, there is bound to be a complete new reassessment of their capability as Minister. They should be considered to be starting on a clean slate. If a Gandhi can be assassinated, a Churchill asked to retire, an Eden soon forgotten or a Stalin given a post-mortem re-evaluation, the path of politics is naturally too hazardous for ordinary mortals. A public man fortunately is not judged by the abuse he can pour or the jackanapery he can publicly demonstrate but by his practical idealism and the actual results of his work.

The formation of public opinion in Mauritius has been somewhat rapid. In 1948, public pent-up feeling was released. In 1953, parties and principles had a blind obedience. With the establishment of the ministerial system, the public is bound to be more critical and less willing to toe the line in blind obedience. More. The public will even wish to scrutinise which of the measures accomplished by the Ministry is of permanent benefit to the country and which are purely vote-catching, pre-election stunts. They can also see if what has been obtained has come through courage and fight or has been given as largesse to lubricate electioneering.

The Ministry has come as a pre-constitutional appendage and, as such, it is indissolubly bound up with the Boundary Commission which in turn is a baby of the London Conference. The Labour delegates had assured Mr Profumo that single-member constituencies under the three conditions can easily be formed. They will now have to prove it by facts and figures. The public will feel somewhat pinched if the Labour Party is not able to prove the first alternative and if the three-member constituency system with the Party List is thrust on our shoulders. Personally I feel that it will be a black day for the colony if after all this protracted show we are left with the Party List system. Then it will appear that it is the only result of the London Conference. I am not sure what the reaction of the public will be, but it will be a real calamity if the reactionaries and their hired stooges are able to create confusion in the country.

Every institution of a political nature is a kind of university for the political education of the people. The Ministry is one of these. Nothing makes the public more bitter than to see their hopes frustrated. No one is a more bitter enemy than a disgruntled friend. Moreover the position of people at the helm is more assailable than of those whose sole pastime is to shout and blaspheme.

These are naturally some of the approaches and reproaches we should be prepared to forestall by our patient work and the courageous handling of public affairs. It is felt that the spirit in which the Tories have been prepared to accept six of the nine Ministries to the Labour Party is to give them a long rope to hang themselves. All these show great responsibilities on our men. We simply cannot afford to fail. And should failure come through the lack of stature of any Minister, he simply must be benighted. The public will enthusiastically follow those who show courage and ability. They will follow those who have character and poise. If Ministers lead the way, cracks and quacks have had their day.

4th Year – No 156 — Friday 2 August 1957


* Published in print edition on 26 January 2021

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