Wrong signals from weak governments

The strongest signal that governments must send is that this is a country governed by the rule of law

Last week’s editorial in this paper demonstrated how giving in to sectional lobbies has created a succession of ever weaker governments, a come-down from the last strong government that resulted after the 1983 general elections.

Such ‘political tribalism’ could never be conducive to the country’s national interest, and in yielding to lobbies which impose their own interest without any consideration of fairness, governments which indulge in such games are sending the wrong signal about themselves – that they are weak – to the population, and why, even the world at large. This is a vicious downward spiral: sectional groups pressurize governments into a position of weakness, weak governments give in to sectional groups.

The wrong signal is even more glaring when politicians belonging to the governments openly associate themselves with such sectional groups, as with the street hawkers who were given as an example. This was especially disturbing given the ruling of the Supreme Court in the matter, projecting the image of a government that either does not respect or chooses not to enforce the rule of law because of vote-bank politics. Is this the way we want to go in this country? How far and how long will this be allowed to go on?

Since it is a common tendency in this country for both politicians and political commentators to make reference to positions taken by either the Supreme Court or prominent personalities in India, we may quote from a recent lecture by the Vice-President of India, M. Hamid Ansari, delivered at Oxford: ‘I wish today to share some thoughts on the twin concepts of identity and citizenship and the manner of their impact on the building blocks of modern States. It is a truism that the human being is a social creature and societies consist of individuals who come together for a set of common purposes for whose achievement they agree to abide by a set of rules and, to that extent and for those purposes, give their tacit or explicit consent to the abridgment of individual free will or action.’ (italics and bold added)

Perhaps it as well a truism that the strongest foundation of a state is the ‘agree to abide by a set of rules’ principle, derived from the fundamental concept of every citizen being equal in the eyes of the law. We have seen what has happened in countries where there is a permanent challenge to the rule of law, street uprisings that result in chronic instability and political and social violence that sets back the country’s achievements in the matter of social, legal and political rights gained after long and hard years of struggle by its earlier statesmen.

If it is a free for all that is, on top of that, given visibility and validity by the newer breed of politicians, this is a dangerous road that we are embarking on. Is it in their own interest to try to weaken the government of which they are a part? And what is the role of the leaders in all this? Should they not join in to condemn most strongly such actions which go against the larger national interest?

Is there a ‘problem’ of street hawkers or is it an artificially created problem that is kept alive for some hidden agenda? It is true that everybody must be given an equal chance to earn an honest living, but like in aspects of social living in a democratic country that has a Constitution and has decided to be governed by the rule of law, every citizen must play by the rules if we want social peace and stability.

In an interview that he has given to l’express du samedi last week, M. Raj Appadu, president of the Front Commun des Commercants de l’Ile Maurice states that ‘Ce n’est pas un drame humain, comme les politiciens veulent le faire croire. Ceux qui ont vraiment besoin de ce travail auraient accepté d’occuper les espaces qui leur ont ete allouées.’

This is based on his experience both as a native of Port Louis who runs a business there and as a trade unionist. His comment begs the question of whether all hawkers are genuine, whether in fact there are those who do not have ‘vraiment besoin de ce travail’. In which case the law must provide for a register to be kept by the Municipality, and the hawker business regulated properly by getting the identification details of all hawkers including proof of address and also a declaration that this is their sole occupation, and they must be given a badge of identification or must carry a separate ‘hawker identity card.’

Since, again, it is common practice in the country to resort to foreign expertise, then let us have similar recourse (Singapore?) to experts who are knowledgeable about street hawking practice in different countries and let them propose a proper regulatory framework for this activity. And once this is done and the recommendations accepted and implemented, enforcement must be rigorous, so as to neutralize the phenomenon alluded to by M. Raj Appadu, namely ‘Banne politiciens pe protégé directement banne gros bonnet et zotte meme tourne ca en communal.’

What we have experienced and also seen repeatedly is that those who shout the most about principles, especially in public, are the ones who most readily flaunt them when it comes to their interests. A real shame!

Down, therefore, with political tribalism, and also with opportunism on the part of the Opposition which also feeds this monster. The strongest signal that governments must send, and the message they must constantly drum into the ears of citizens is that this is a country governed by the rule of law, and they commit themselves to enforce the rule of law at all times and under any circumstances.

* * *

Irish migrating down under…

As this column noted two weeks ago, given the unemployment in Europe – 19 million unemployed – especially among the youth at 23.7% in the 15-24 age group, many Europeans are seeking opportunities elsewhere. A BBC report a few days ago featured Irish migrants to Australia, which already bears the significant footprint of their forbears. This historical fact notwithstanding, some of them did not feel too welcome, as locals (especially those who had lesser qualifications) feared that the newcomers – ‘family’ though they may be – would be stealing jobs. Same old reflex…

 


* Published in print edition on 22 November 2013

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