By TP Saran
“Yes, electoral reform may be needed at some stage, but it is not priority now. There cannot be only consultations between parties.
There have to be widespread discussions at civil society level over time, and the debate launched at national level, inviting participation and views from all segments of society. For the time being, we have a system that is working and that has broadly given satisfaction, so why rock the boat when there are storms ahead…”
With the help of his cronies in the ‘independent’ media, the leader of the Opposition Paul Berenger has managed to remain on centrestage, giving the impression that he is deciding the country’s agenda. It is no doubt true that by bringing the Medpoint affair into the limelight and labelling it the ‘scandal of the century’ – though many in the know reserve that title for the Illovo ‘mari deal’ – he has had the country’s attention polarized for months together on the enquiry by ICAC. Although that is not yet over, as news item it has now been displaced by the next big one on Berenger’s plate: electoral reform.
As this paper pointed out last week, it is a clever ploy by the astute Berenger to keep the leaders of the two other main parties, Labour and the MSM, vying for discussions with him on the matter. And for a while it did indeed seem that he was succeeding in his plan, especially after almost immediately after the split in government Pravind Jugnauth rushed to meet him to discuss the issue, followed by a similar meeting between Berenger and Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam.
Fortunately though, the latter has realized in time that the country cannot be in permanent crisis mode and that there are more important issues that need to be tackled. The most crucial of these is of course the economic and financial crisis looming ahead, with the eurozone crumbling and the American economy running into massive deficit – and no indication as to when there may be a turnaround. Under these circumstances, there can be nothing more ludicrous than Berenger’s call for the dissolution of the National Assembly and the conduct of general elections. Not to mention his even more ridiculous idea of expanding the numbers in the National Assembly to nearly 100 representatives! Why not 200, or 400?
We know how expensive general elections are, and how much of time and energy is lost in the process. But then, such considerations have never been a matter of concern for the political animal that did not hesitate to paralyse the country with wildcat strikes in 1971, preventing the loading of sugar on to ships. That is why the categorical affirmation by the Prime Minister that any further talks about electoral reform are out is most welcome, and we wish that he would put his foot down in like manner on a number of issues and thus send the right signal to all concerned that there is more serious business to look after than to pander to the frivolous agenda of Berenger.
Yes, electoral reform may be needed at some stage, but it is not priority now. There cannot be only consultations between parties. There have to be widespread discussions at civil society level over time, and the debate launched at national level, inviting participation and views from all segments of society. For the time being, we have a system that is working and that has broadly given satisfaction, so why rock the boat when there are storms ahead that threaten the very economic survival of the country?
Instead of electoral reform, what is needed is the strengthening of our institutions of state and our mechanisms of governance. To give credit where it is due, the uncovering of the mode of sale of the Medpoint Hospital gives the country the opportunity to critically review procedures in such a manner as to eliminate political interference in technical decision making, give the due weight to professional advice tendered in given matters, and inculcate the spirit of respect for rather than disdain for officers who have the responsibility to ensure that government’s affairs are conducted according to rules and regulations irrespective of ministerial whims to the contrary.
That is the kind of reform in governance that will make this country more stable and give confidence to its citizens. We hope, therefore, that the Prime Minister, having now spelt out the direction firmly forward, and having a comfortable enough majority to run the country for the rest of this government’s mandate, follows up on such genuinely needed reforms and encourages all who have ideas to come forth and contribute to make this a country that truly deserves kudos for its governance.
* Published in print edition on 26 August 2011
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