2016 Through The Crystal Ball

There are major uncertainties ahead, and we cannot assume political maturity has reached our shores, but we may still hope the country’s fate weighs more than those of the political class during 2016

It would take a great crystal ball to provide clues as to what 2016 might hold in store for the country, but some elements have emerged in the dying months of 2015 that may set the scene of trends to come.

One thing is certain, the population, having largely backed the rather hotch-potch three-cornered political alliance cobbled together under SAJ’s stewardship and having massively renewed that support in the subsequent municipal elections, is today in a muted, somber and even somewhat sanguine mood about the performance and the deliverables of government against high expectations nurtured during the electoral campaigns.

The erosion of confidence, after one dizzying year in office, is palpable, as massive and rapid as the expectations of better and different tomorrows were, in retrospect, perhaps naively high. To attribute such a trend to an “instant gratification syndrome” or to the ingratitude of electors is simply evading the issue of political incumbents and their advisors taking a dispassionate look at their own actions since taking office and their perception in the dismayed public eye.

To say that the “desamour” has reached a turning point or has become irreversibly ingrained or has found expression in a credible political alternative would be going too far. But it has undoubtedly provided unexpected fuel to the two main Opposition parties, the MMM and the LP, as they licked their bruising wounds in the aftermath of the resounding electoral rejection of an alliance cut for two leaders.

Despite being split and splintered in Parliament, the MMM still boasts of an Opposition leader in the House and a relatively untainted credibility, having been out of office since 2005. Neither the Ganoo split nor the Collendavelloo stint in office have stunted the MMM potential to rebound on condition of successful re-organisation around the elders. The LP has shown against the outpouring of affairs and provisional charges against its leaders that it cannot be written off yet, even if it has to infuse new meaning, relevance, youth and vigour in its leadership and constituency structures. Both parties have their work towards meaningful renewal cut out for 2016.

For the governing alliance, a lot clearly will hinge on the outcome of the Supreme Court appeal against the condemnation of the MSM leader, Hon Pravind Jugnauth, for “conflict of interest” in the Medpoint clinic purchase deal between family members and government. Backed by the priceless support of a top UK lawyer and his own newfound confidence, should Pravind Jugnauth win his appeal the grounds might be cleared for a semi-triumphant re-entry to Cabinet, whatever the decision regarding possible final review by the Law Lords.

Many observers believe such an outcome may engineer either a Cabinet reshuffle or pave the way for a dynastic transition at the helm of the country which could see the MSM leader take on the wider role which his menders and well-wishers have been praying for. 2016 may well therefore hold the key to momentous events on the political front, with as yet ununpredictable “collateral damages” should matters unfold in favour of Pravind Jugnauth’s team, his loyalists, old or new, and his inner circle.

While the personal plight of the MSM leader can garner sympathy, his absence from Cabinet and the resulting triangular decision-making situation between La Caverne, Government House and Sun Trust, compounding the ruling political triangle between MSM, Liberaters and the PMSD, and an unusual situation where the PM himself has little sway over the MSM and its allies, may have something to do with the perception of a disjointed government, operating somewhat haphazardly.

For instance, on such a major issue as national physical development planning, one minister, despite the soon to be re-opened Terre-Rouge-Verdun motorway, has announced more costly bridges and tunnel roads into Port-Louis, another promises to remove several ministries, government offices and even Parliament out to Highlands, further reducing commuter traffic into the capital, while the PMO, the Ministry of Finance and the BOI are busy fast-tracking vast land territories round the countryside into property schemes. Many may well feel the urgency of some coordination and planning at the national level regarding the efficiency and effectiveness of future massive infrastructure investments. 2016 could be used to step back and commission a professional stock-take.

The coming year should also be one where the Ministry of Education finally sets out the implementation details of its promised reform of primary and secondary sectors, which should see less competition, les examinations, less stressful private tuitions, more transparency and greater opportunities for all children for education in a more conducive environment. It has been said here that the Minister’s drive and interest had to be commended, but her haste was unwise and her cadres have not yet dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s on the proposals put forward for nine-year schooling. Neither worried parents, nor teaching personnel, nor Education partners, nor even the wider public can be said to be re-assured about the fuzzy contours of tomorrow’s proposed structures and their likely consequences.

Neither are we confident that the Technical/Vocational and Polytechnic streams are being organised for future efficiency and effectiveness, rather than simply “jobs for the boys”, nor that the awaited restructuring of the tertiary sector and its proliferation of public institutions, with the input of UE advisors, has taken shape at least on the drawing board. 2016 should see developments in those important areas.

On the political governance issues of critical import to the country, whether freedom of information, clean-up of political financing, declaration of assets and the question of the Best Loser system or proportional representation, the governing alliance has to set out its proposals, even if the ten-member Ministerial Committee with a wide-ranging agenda sounds rather presumptious for outcome in a near future.

On the diplomatic and international front, the intensely mediatised affairs of 2015 and their handling have left scars, to which one may add the bungling of the DTAA, the insensitiveness to regional power-politics coupled with the virtual irrelevance of a Foreign Affairs ministry on major topical issues, which could take quite some time and deft handling to sort out. We do not need a Vice-Presidency to make us look out of our depths and this might be worrisome at a time when the crucial long-term lease renewal of Diego, the implications of COP21 and global warming or the intelligent exploitation of our marine resources are coming up for smart thinking.

We can only and truly hope that “nettoyaz”, “charges provisoires” and other buzz-words have outlived their political artfulness, if any, during 2015. Severe dysfunctionings should be put right at the institutional level and guilt, where suspected, established by independent Court processes. The population and the country deserve better and the government should have heard the ominous rumblings in the last months of 2015. There are major uncertainties ahead, and we cannot assume political maturity has reached our shores, but we may still hope the country’s fate weighs more than those of the political class during 2016.

* Published in print edition on 31 December 2015

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