Morality and other matters…

Rarely have I read with more interest two columns in the same Tribune section of this Wednesday’s l’express, both dealing with the moral dimensions of our political landscape and protagonists and, as such, providing ample food for furthering our reflection. Both surf the current highly mediatised agitation and questions that have risen in the wake of recent political developments but address what they feel are some fundamental underlying failures of our political system.

The first, “Spotlight on local politics”, is a good summary of many pertinent points that are sometimes voiced out on various channels by what we could term, without any pejorative sense attached, the armchair moralising proponents. They usually contend that ministers are not appointed purely on presupposed “ability and good management” but on “weird reasons” such as ethnic balancing grounds. They decry that even “turncoats” can get ministerial posts and, predictably, harp the reasonable dream “when only the finest will be appointed because they are the most able and MAURITIAN by birth immaterial of their ethnic origin”. Recent happenings and declarations also fuel their contention that we have “reached an abysmal level” in ministerial mediocrity and incompetence.

Far from me the incongruous idea to defend any minister in particular or the current crop in Cabinet, even if the judgment on mediocrity at some ministerial posts has been aired by no less than a PPS. However, the moralising critique remains rather sterile and rehashed if it remains at the comfort of the armchair level and is not prolonged into either an analysis of root causes or a credible approach for change. To say, just sack the incompetents!, smacks of the simplistic “YAKA” philosophy and I am sure even armchair observers have the ability to bring more credence to what need not remain as absolute fatwas, but a reasoned basis for exploring constructive avenues for change.

Perhaps the most significant opportunity for making constructive change proposals will come rather soon with the promised White Paper on reform of our electoral system to better respond to the exigencies of greater equity and fairer representation while retaining the outcome of government stability. No doubt this should provide a necessary and welcome opportunity for observers, analysts, activists and society at large to engage in such consultations, rather than tailor-made agreements that suit primarily the political class and parties.

The fact for instance that we have a National Assembly composed of at most 70 Honorable Members is in itself an issue, even if we may have qualms about increasing further the overall costs of our political administration. It is indeed far easier to juggle with the complexities of constituting a competent Cabinet that requires about 25 ministers and a dozen or so PPS, from an Assembly of 600 as in France or UK. Except for landslide situations, which is another thorny issue to resolve, a majority-minority split of, say, 45-25 in our Assembly, would leave any PM with little margin for ministerial choices. We all recall the outbursts from some aspiring minister-MPs when, even in the numerical safety of the MSM-MMM Medpoint alliance, SAJ or, three years later, Mr Berenger tried to constitute their Cabinets by balancing egos and other “weird” considerations such as ethnic and gender factors, irrespective of what armchair moralists might have thought at that time.

At the end of the day, unless we wish to evolve to the French-type situation, ministers are chosen from MPs, who themselves have to be selected by their party and get elected. Not as simple as it sounds superficially, otherwise many of our nation’s “brightest and finest” would be haunting the corridors of the National Assembly. How many among our “finest” upcoming professionals wish to commit to the rigors of public life and in-party politics, with its risks, pressures and demands, often sacrificing family and a more gainful professional life to be at the service of the people? How many have excellent “ability and good management” skills to run the countryside, enthuse their electorates, enjoy the soap-boxes and have all the qualities to get elected by their constituency, yet may turn out as only moderately competent when it comes to handling ministerial responsibilities, juggling with the administrative machinery, preparing legislation or facing the Assembly question times? If we do away with Constituency MPs, how do we ensure that party list MPs are not accountable only to their party boss?

And if some party MPs happen to have a major divergence of views with their party line, which they may legitimately feel is flawed or unacceptable, should they simply stuff their conscience and their obligation to their “mandants” to abide by the party line, which itself may change after a year or two? There is no simple “YAKA” answer to the occasional conflict an MP may encounter between loyalty to party or to the electoral mandate. And even the term “turncoat” or “transfuge” has been ridiculed by the events of last year when the leaders of the MSM and the MMM alliance were busy announcing “jamalacs” MPs who would cross floors to join the Opposition bandwagon and be labeled, of course, as “patriots” by the myth making machinery. Yet the question of turncoats has somehow to be addressed in the upcoming electoral reform.

As for the contention that competencies or Mauritians irrespective of ethnic origins or gender should be able to aspire to political responsibilities, it is a safe bet that way back in 1982 more than two-thirds of the Mauritian electorate, “lepep admirab”, had precisely this in mind when they voted in the first landslide 60-0 National Assembly. Many of us recall, even more acutely with Jayen Cuttaree’s parting of the purple curtain, how the “dream” turned into a nightmare as naked ambitions and violent attempts to force out the newly elected PM, Anerood Jugnauth, tore the MMM apart and left the nation in shock. The latter’s post and position was saved through the elder statesmen of the day, most notably SSR and SGD but the scars of that aborted putsch remain deep in the country.

The second piece titled “Kleptocratie endemique” by Jean-Mee Desvaux comes from a source which cannot be disputed as a “cheville ouvriere” of the Medpoint MSM-MMM government, the dream-team of 2000-2005. The author recalls how the MSM hierarchs and in particular Hon Pravind Jugnauth assisted by Hon Alan Ganoo, applied intense pressure on CEB from 2004-2005 to facilitate a promoter’s teleferique project as part of a deal to seduce the Seetaram family. It says volumes, as the author states, about “tartuffes”, cynicism and immorality in politics. We may not share the view that the degeneracy is across the board, but we remain warned about the media and political posturing that tries to drown our common sense.

* Published in print edition on 21 June 2013

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