The Right Man In The Right Place

By TP Saran

Both in the National Assembly – while intervening in the Budget debate – and when talking in the Maurice Ile Durable forum, the Prime Minister has evoked the concept of ‘the right man in the right place.’ This paper has no problem aligning itself with the stand of the Prime Minister, for this is a view that we have not only subscribed to but defended and promoted all along. We have done better still, for we have gone beyond simply supporting the idea: at various times diverse articles in the paper have articulated suggestions about the proper profile(s) of the persons who should be occupying posts of high responsibility.

At one level the issue of efficiency so as to increase productivity is a prime consideration, and we accept that the heavy apparatus of bureaucracy must not come in the way of recruiting the appropriate and adequate human resources, and that there is a need to fast-track the process so that delays are avoided by circumventing lengthy procedures. This is the justification given for the delegation of authority to ministries by the Public Service Commission. Indeed, this has been in practice already, for selected posts in some ministries. And it seems to have worked generally.

However, the fears expressed by the unions are legitimate and should be taken into consideration because, as they point out, there is a real possibility of political interference. The stress by the Prime Minister that the delegation of authority will be done strictly according to principles set out by the PSC is, coming form the leader of government, reassuring. However, having expressed himself so clearly, we feel that it is the Prime Minister’s duty to ensure that the PSC does in fact monitor and oversee the application of these principles in practice, and if it is not satisfied, it must draw the attention of both the ministry concerned and the Prime Minister so that he can do the necessary course correction in respect of whoever who might be tempted to default.

There is no question that qualifications, experience and seniority should be taken on board and can ensure meritocracy for posts at most levels. However, for a number of key positions at higher levels (where the larger national picture has to be kept in mind), there is no doubt that additional qualities that are desirable, especially where the image of the country is concerned. In addition to technical competence and experience, a degree of wide social awareness – and even geopolitical understanding — is important because decisions and advice tendered at these levels have impacts on society at large. And it is only exceptional people who have exceptional qualities who can deliver the goods at such levels.

We have had to regret the re-installation in certain positions of a few officers recently (as deplored by doctor’s unions, for example), for they have no particular track records that will stand up to national scrutiny, not to speak of international benchmarks: Singapore, for example, because that is the model which we aspire towards. If only base political considerations have swayed in their favour, next time round this element must be absolutely weeded out so that the reputation of the government and the country is not blemished when the chips come down.

Why does the Mauritian government send such poor specimens

This is remark that was flung at a Mauritian on a private visit to a friendly country where, purely by chance in a social gathering at high level, he got into conversation with a top professional (an Emeritus). ‘…such poor specimens to represent it? Don’t you realize what harm you do to the image of your country?’ After he had couple of such ‘specimens’ under his tutelage for some time, he happened to visit the country. He could not but observe that everything, including the people with whom he had to interact, were far below his expectations in terms of competence and quality in the sector where his expertise was solicited. That Mauritian could not but accept such disparagement in silence, for he was acquainted with the ‘specimens’ and sadly, the visitor was right.

And so to the image of the country: but not only the image qua image – behind the image there must be the quality, otherwise the image will only be illusory, a mirage. Surely that’s not what we want to project of our country?

Whoever is called upon to represent the country in whatever capacity, whether in an administrative, technical, professional or diplomatic role, must combine qualities that are a mix of the highest competence, have an engaging personality, possess a broad humanistic (not to say philosophical) dimension, and it goes without saying he/she must have a mastery over and felicity with both the international languages which we are privileged to have in Mauritius: English and French.

What we have a right to demand of our representatives is that they act not only in their limited role but that they should act as the emblems and ambassadors of a Mauritius that is poising itself and has ambitions to be a flagship in this part of the Indian Ocean.

Envoys to the manner born, no less.

The Prime Minister, obviously, cannot afford to micro-manage the country sector by sector, ministry by ministry. But we may humbly suggest that he could impress upon the heads of these sectors and ministries the vital importance of choosing the right people to represent their ministries and the country when the need arises. It must be seen that they possess the profile outlined, so that we may be spared of further remarks like ‘Why does the Mauritian Government send such poor specimens…’

* Published in print edition on 3 December 2010

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