Social Injustice and Institution-destruction

By TP Saran

From politicians to sundry tenderfoots making their first steps into the public space, everyone has something to say about social justice. One must take it as an axiom that those who shout loudest from official podiums about this issue are those who in practice… practise it the least. In our various fields of activity, we have all come across those who lecture on high principles but who are themselves masters at applying them only in the breach.

Many examples can be cited. One would think highly of a politician who usually kept a low profile and waxed eloquent about social justice when he was asked to address an audience. But what of that if he were known in private to be poking his nose into the affairs of several ministries, giving directions both in writing and verbally to place so and so, transfer x or y officer, putting pressure to award a given tender to so and so? And the list goes on. And mind you, this kind of thing can be done brazenly, sans pudeur as we say here.

It will be realized that the inappropriate use of one’s position to secure or grant favours to those close to one at the expense of others more deserving is not only tantamount to social injustice, but worse, if it is proved, it would be sheer corruption, and instead of reinforcing the institutions of the country, it would be gnawing at what has been painstakingly and steadily built up over the years by the founding fathers of this country. They were not perfect, they also had their favourites and their foibles, but the general thrust of their actions was to ensure that everyone got a fair deal. If some of them went beyond limits of decency or came in the way of efficiency, there were mechanisms to stem their straying into domains that they had no knowledge of but pretended otherwise.

These mechanisms were the established structures through which decisions and actions had to be channeled, and that this was done was meticulously watched over by officials who would brook neither fear nor favour. They would stand up and be heard, were known to admit of no hanky-panky and had solid reputations for fairplay and professionalism. And they had the ear and support of those higher up still, who not only made it a duty to keep abreast of what was happening but knew as well how to adroitly counter any move that went against the integrity of the polity.

But nowadays there are fewer and fewer people of such calibre. Many in positions of power are therefore freer to entertain their favourites. The focus is more on the latter as individuals than on their real worth in terms of contribution to the common good. And they are completely oblivious to the respect for structures and systems that exist and which alone can guarantee that institutions are being reinforced and/or built rather than being weakened and destroyed. In the long term, such interference with the normal working of institutions is going to be damaging for the country and the population at large, never mind what the Mo-Ibrahim index says. Just ask those in the know, and they will tell you that the devil is in the details. They wish they could say that God is also in the details – alas, God appears to be on leave in official Mauritius…

Is there a remedy? Indeed there is. It is called leadership, enlightened leadership – at all levels, including from the top. It is not for nothing that it is said that the example must come from the top, and if we have a deficit of appropriate scrutiny of what is going on at that level and consequently an indifference to the national interest in the true sense of the term, then we are doing a disservice to the country. We need leaders and people with character and a sense of mission, who are prepared to listen, who are convinced that robust institutions are a must, and who are bold enough to take stands in this respect.

Once a clear direction has come from the apex, the strongest signal will automatically be sent to everybody around to stop abusing and to tell them in no uncertain terms about what is expected of them. Vigilance is the order of the day so that we remain in institution-consolidation rather than in institution-destruction mode.

Remembering, too, that it is the man who builds the institution as much as it the institution that makes the man. Are we all ready to choose building over destroying through undue interference? It should not be difficult to decide.

* Published in print edition on 4 November 2010

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