Unexpected year-end

The hovering question in many people’s minds might be whether 2016 will be more wine from the same bottle

It could legitimately be said that 2015 started with high expectations after last December’s political change of guards. The population had realised that it could resist party loyalty calls and express its considerable annoyance at the ballot box, making a clean sweep of electoral reform and constitutional amendments that looked far-fetched, unworkable and, anyway, too distant from its preoccupations.

The Lepep alternative held open the door to a much-heralded second economic miracle and a new era of accountancy, meritocracy and transparency in the running of public affairs. It remained for the incoming team to convert a decisive try into a heart and minds sweep. Against an Opposition left in disarray, there was little reason not to expect incumbents to transform 2015 into springtime for the country.

One year down the road, we are far from try conversion and, if anything, a series of surprising year-end events have been threatening to leave a decidedly sour taste in popular perception. Among the more visible elements indicative of a serious deterioration of the national mood were the intempestive arrest of Labour MP Shakeel Mohamed on grounds of serious fresh evidence by the CCID which were roundly dismissed in Court, the ghastly affair of a Tamoul Vice-President selection and nomination, the handling of the new-age MBC and the appointment of its putative DG, Jean-Claude de l’Estrac, the wake-up of civil society and the cascading amendments around the popularly termed Bhadain law, ending with the salary compensation drama.

Regular horrific road accident headlines, nasty trends in criminality, the increasing frequency of power cuts and the growing fears of electrical load-shedding come end-2016 can no longer be ignored or swept away. Ministers have been straying beyond their confines, the more boisterous having a field day hogging the limelight. On the economic development plane, other than inflation and tourism, indicators have been rather depressing and a distant cry from publicly expressed government expectations.

The IMF mission raised some alarm bells, the Minister of Finance sounded far too lonely in the press while the PM’s early December meeting with private sector high command did not provide much material for the population to dwell on or enthuse about. Curiously, annoyance about the “passivity” of the former has now been replaced by barely veiled threats, assumed to refer to Civil service and unspecified parastatals, where “mafiosos” are denounced, guilty of “met batons dans la roue Lepep”. The year-end was decidedly looking bleak.

More disturbingly for government, editorialists were increasingly referring to the possibility that there might be several uncoordinated and sometimes conflicting seats of power-brokerage and decision-making within the ranks of Cabinet and Sun Trust. Some were stretching the point that there could even be instances of inadequate, insufficient or incorrect briefing of the PM himself on matters of some importance. The populist measures about utility rates seemed to reflect a belated “prise de conscience” that all was not well out there in the constituencies despite a back-footed government’s claim that it had injected quite a few billions in consumer pockets upon taking office.

Last Friday’s communication exercise of SAJ, simultaneously broadcast on all private radios and the MBC-TV, was therefore a timely and necessary one for government. When relaxed, the PM can indeed exude bonhomie and coin common-sense formulae that have made his reputation and he was expected to soothe over ruffled feathers, cool egos and restore a sense of purpose to an alliance that was looking frayed at the edges.

If the objectives have been met, the hovering question in many people’s minds might be whether 2016 will be more wine from the same bottle. Disinvestment is real, investors have gone cautious, the property market has stalled and announced mega-projects may take time to start off, let alone pick up the rising unemployment. And, even if the political will is there, we all wonder what effect upcoming high-profile judiciary outcomes and procedures could have on country directions, set against a national mood that is far from exuding confidence in the future.

U.C.

 

* Published in print edition on 25 December 2015

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