Governments may come and governments may go but…

Voters have a short memory when it comes to politicians and politics – otherwise how can one explain that those who had been calumnied earlier and sent to the karo canne make a comeback at the next election?

Ignominiously booted out in 1995, Sir Anerood Jugnauth has not only returned as prime minister and president but is now riding the crest of a wave in his latest mandate as prime minister. Navin Ramgoolam, vilified publicly many a time since Lepep was voted to power and dragged literally in court seems nevertheless to be pulling fawning crowds at meetings which have been organised by his party and where he is present. Although the next general election is nearly three and a half years away, there is even some nostalgia about his return to power!!

So governments may come and governments may go, but this is one of the things that seems to go on, the yearning of voters for the old guard to take over again.

In France, for example, people are seriously considering Sarkozy to replace Hollande next time round. For this paradoxical phenomenon, the new incumbents have to bear the responsibility or the blame as the case may be – because they too begin to indulge in the same irregularities that their predecessors were ejected for.

If it is not the leaders themselves, it’s those associated with them in the party, as Members of Parliament or even as ministers, to the extent of having to step down and having to face charges, shaming not only themselves but also their government and party, and tarnishing the country’s image in the process. And that too within months of being at the helm.

Corruption, using position to confer unfair advantage to themselves and to their own kith and kin, cronies and other protégés, dubious land and property deals, quick accumulation of wealth – these are but a few of the things that repeat in successive governments. And similar arguments are used to rationalise the unacceptable practices and defend the indefensible.

What is the solution to this? There have been repeated calls for a change of guards, for new leaders to emerge. We have not gone down to the level of what happens in Africa where, as a leader in a recent copy of The Economist noted, ‘incumbent leaders are changing or sidestepping constitutional term limits to extend their time in office, often provoking unrest’. The problem is that since we are presented with the same old faces as the main contenders, we have no real choice – it’s between Charybdis and Scylla.

We therefore have to find an alternative, and as we have advocated several times before, so does The Economist: ‘Where democracies are fragile, the two-term rule for heads of government is invaluable, as it forces change’.

It is for the next generation to take up this challenge and push with force for a two-term rule locally. Otherwise we are going to continue to face, as Donald Trump is doing in America, with ‘a political party that offered steak for the rich in the form of tax cuts but cheap labour and a bit of patriotic sizzle for the masses’. Locally, it’s tax cuts and generous exemptions, or contracts with clauses en béton that benefit those who already have more than they can chew at the expense of those who have to foot the higher bills. The IPPs come to mind.

We cannot say we have not been warned.

* * *

Port Louis here we come

In his article in last week’s issue of this paper, Sada Reddi writing on ‘Port Louis and its past’ makes a plea as follows:

‘Today the city is faced with great challenges and is paying the price of decades of neglect at the level of town planning… It is not the fanciful smart city which will give a new life to the capital. Artificial cities of this sort are rarely successful and are not suitable for a city like Port Louis. They simply enrich property developers. The solution may be simple, yet costly… In fact the city is losing its residential population. The streets are deserted after four o’clock. Old residential houses are giving place to car parks and there are security problems in the capital especially after working hours.

‘…The solution lies in that simple formula. There is security when there are people on the streets. There are people on the streets when they inhabit the place. So the solution is perhaps in encouraging more residents into the town and in every street through the compulsory provision of residential apartments on all new buildings and the putting up of residential blocs in strategic places. This requires planning, money but also boldness…’

He first gives a nostalgic account of the city that he grew up in and that he still frequents, and one cannot but agree with him that there is something special about the city – but during the day only for as he notes in the italicised lines from the extract above, after four there is no life in the city. And the solution he proposes is eminently rational and plausible. Should any future government take this forward seriously, then it must learn from Singapore how the government there has insisted that there must be a proper mix of all ethnic groups so that localities don’t turn into exclusive ghettoes. Otherwise there will be further loss of the magic that Reddi ruminates about.

Where we disagree, however, is regarding the traffic and overcrowding that suffocate the city during what we call office hours. Port Louis becomes the impossible city then, and with the vehicular fleet of the country showing no signs of ever stopping to increase, one cannot begin to imagine what further havoc awaits Port Louis during the day. The Heritage City project having been scrapped, there is yet a way to go about decongesting Port Louis and making it livable for the future residents Sada Reddi prays will make it their preferred choice. We made suggestions in an earlier article titled ‘Port Louis: Capital punishment’, and for recall submit the following extract which is self-explanatory:

‘The idea and principle of doing something about this worsening situation in Port Louis has been around for many years, grounded not in political demagogy but in a felt reality by all Mauritian citizens who care for their country and its capital city, even if they are not its residents. Short of building afresh another capital – which a number of countries have, after all, done, such as Malaysia, Myanmar – there is a sound rationale for delocalising several activities from the city to other regions in the country, starting with government ones so as to give the good example. This paper has indeed made such a suggestion in the past, as also the setting up of an island-wide bus corridor based on the Curitiba city model in Brazil, a more sustainable one than light railway.

Indeed most of the ministries could justifiably be moved elsewhere, and with the video-conferencing facilities and other communication platforms available today, their physical presence in Port Louis is no longer necessary. We do not advocate going to the extreme being currently peddled, namely to shift the Parliament and the Prime Minister’s Office too. The Parliament is a historic building; so too is the Treasury which has been converted at enormous cost to the Prime Minster’s Office, and they are both more than adequate and fully functional.

Some key ministries that should remain are, for example, Finance and Economic Development, Foreign Affairs, Civil and Administrative Reforms, Information and Communication Technology because of the more direct links they have with the PMO. Certain other key government institutions too could stay put.’

We think that Sada Reddi’s idea is quite compatible with what we have suggested.

TP Saran

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