Needed: Stable heads, good vision(s), strong institutions

By TP Saran

Actions always speak louder than words, and it is more of the former and less of the latter that the country is in dire need of

In order to lead the giant, 143-year old Indian conglomerate Tata which posts sales of 83 billion dollars, the selection process which took 15 months has finalized its choice of 43-year old Cyrus Mistry as its Chairman. Described as having a ‘stable head and good vision’ he will shadow until December 2012 the outgoing chairman Ratan Tata who turned around the company which faced an uncertain future when he took over in 1991. Several analysts continue to draw attention to the prevailing perception of a lack of moral leadership in the country, that the country is being run like a clan with an undisputed chief to whom all must vow obedience for fear of being sidelined and, amongst other things, that there are abusive practices being resorted to in the administration of the country. Ministers, it seems, are afraid to voice out their opinions and defend their stand – if at all they have the courage to have any opinion of their own because, aver the analysts, there is only one vision, that of the monarch who apparently is not, as the Constitution provides, primus inter pares, but the Only One.

On the other hand, MMM senior Allan Ganoo in an interview in Le Mauricien has commented that ‘nos institutions sont faibles et vulnérables. Elles ne sont pas dirigées par des personnes choisies sur la base de compétences et sont perméables aux influences politiques.’

Mr Ganoo, of course, is not discovering America. He is speaking from a privileged position, for having been a minister and part of government at various times in his political career, and therefore must surely be knowing something about the weakening of institutions. He no doubt also knows how institutions are made porous and vulnerable, and how heads of institutions are picked not selected as in the case of Tata’s! The comparison is of course somewhat unfair because after all Tata is Tata; still, he would surely have insider knowledge about practices that undermine the robustness of our institutions.

It is a healthy sign that such politicians are waking up to a reality they are familiar with and that it is their responsibility to address for the sake of the country’s future. Because, irrespective of governments, there has always been political interference in the running of our institutions: it is only a matter of degree, but it would seem that in the past couple of decades this unfortunate, unethical and unacceptable tendency has been on the rise.

The dissolution of the ECO is perhaps the most notorious case in recent times, and Mr Ganoo will definitely remember how advice given by the State Law Office in the case of the Illovo deal was discarded in favour of that tendered by a retired Judge specially inducted to deal with that particular file. These two instances validate the observation made by Mr Ganoo, especially as they occurred when he was part of the government under which they happened.

For all we know, Mr Ganoo and seniors like him may have even more information about other similar situations. If so, it would worth it that, singly or jointly, they take the courage to denounce such intrusions – both during their tenure and when they are out — that mar not only the image but strike at the very root of the good functioning of our country.

By the same token, attempts at correcting this tendency are not taken seriously by the public who feel that there is more rhetoric than substance in the declarations of intention, whether these are articulated during the mandate of the protagonist or afterwards when he is out of power.

For our part, we have been consistent in decrying the various instances of political interference, making a distinction with political intervention which is a legitimate form of political input as regards many issues, such as water rights for example. Another matter of serious concern in all governments is the recruitment of a plethora of advisers many of whom are totally useless, belonging to the local category of ABC (assise beze casse), and others who are parachuted from overseas, whether from Washington or London, and discover an Eldorado here, finding excuses to impose their presence locally for months together – and why not, when the red carpet is rolled out for them?

Their recommendations are taken for gospel truth and advice from local counterparts looked down upon. And the ministers concerned dare not convey the views of these counterparts about whether or not such experts are genuinely needed. No wonder the analysts are sour about abusive practices, which cost taxpayers’ money that could have been better utilized to relieve the distress of many of our citizens, especially in these times of financial crisis.

Hence also the remark that the leadership lacks in appreciation of the economic situation, and thus decisions are taken which follow the path of least resistance rather than revisit the fundamentals on which the budget is premised, something which would have allowed more strategic measures to ensure long-term sustainability of the country’s development.

Until such a radical change takes place, and our leaders become less entrapped in their passions and deliberately cultivate the desired maturity to have a good vision and to support strong institutions, we are afraid that we will be stuck with the status quo.

Actions always speak louder than words, and it is more of the former and less of the latter that the country is in dire need of. May Allan Ganoo continue his crusade – and remember that charity begins at home.

* Published in print edition on 2 December 2011

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