Damn the statistics!

Tit-bits — 

Nobody expects miracles or magicians. The nation has to heal. The entrepreneurs have to regain lost confidence. The population has to start believing again

It has been announced that government has set up a “high-level” committee to look into unemployment… statistics. After the intuitive approach to economic policies, hostile to rather boring and stubborn facts and figures, are the latter now expected to better toe the official line and fit the spin? War on “lies, damn lies and statistics”?

Former Minister Sithanen, in last Monday’s issue of l’express, has exemplified this official annoyance with plain simple figures, trends and forecasts, at two levels: more than twenty thousand Mauritians have unexplainably disappeared from the labour force between the last quarter (2015) and the first quarter of 2016. This subterfuge has hidden the loss of twenty thousand jobs in that period, while Ministers could cheer us with unemployment ratios that apparently remained stable or even declining from 7.9 to 7.6% over the same period.

As for Statistics Mauritius and its vagaries in growth forecasts for 2015, changing four times in a year from 4.1% to 3.1%, they bravely attempt to colour obdurate facts, figures and trends, flying in the face of all other more serious forecasters.

Dr Sithanen has opened eyes to the gerrymandering going on to keep our remaining illusions afloat in troubled times when scepticism, if not downright deception, is the most commonly available commodity in streets, town markets and villages. At a time when the upcoming budget hopes to re-establish some measure of confidence in economic choices and their associated forecasts, the underlying hostility to stubborn facts and figures seem to run wider afield.

More tragic headlines have added further fuel to the population’s parlous level of trust in officialdom and its peculiar approach to statistics. Following the field activists and NGOs’ warning bells about rising synthetic drug availability, the Health Minister’s declarations have thrown the alarm bells in doubt, poo-pooing – you are right!– those unruly statistics. Even if some backbenchers and Ministers, including Aurore Perraud and Prem Koonjoo, have added their concerned voices to the street activists, the Minister would rather have us believe that there is nothing to be alarmed about.

Concerned parents, educators, rectors, school-heads and society watchers have raised the alarming occurrences and trends of synthetic drug trafficking and infiltration into colleges, and, horrifyingly, in primary schools. Several recent reports have quantified the issue and the worrying trends taking place in our public schools and colleges. They could have prompted if not urged IVTB House to some concerted action. Yet, the Minister of Education, the one most conspicuously absent on this disturbing issue, reassures us that they are but isolated incidents. Again, trust the authorities, there is nothing to be alarmed about.

Will these and all other unwelcome facts, figures and trends concerning tragic road accidents, deteriorating law and order, growing social ills, rupee devaluation or loss of purchasing power meet the same fate and the benign neglect that it implies? The only guy who seems to have no ongoing guerrilla with facts, figures and trends in his localised sphere of influence, is our trendy “reziltas lor reziltas” Minister for Tourism and External Communications.

On a more serious note, the new Grand Chancellor, Hon Pravind Jugnauth, has his work cut out to rid the country of incoherent policies, noisy busy-bodies and the general morosity or disinterest expressed loudly by struggling SMEs or quietly by large economic investors. On the international scene and FDI, government actions and opacity in decision-making over the past twenty months may have contributed to the general lack of confidence. The aftermath of the Bramer/BAI handling, the Courts, CT-Power, Appollo-Bramwell, Mangalore, DTAA and other affairs have had their toll. The “KGB” episode and offshore allusions have been damaging. We have lost considerable goodwill in several foreign capitals considered traditional allies, partners and friends.

Time is running out and this budget could well be determinant to the future of the Lepep narrative or the Minister’s political career. But he benefits from unusually favourable circumstances. In addition to the number of factors on his side as listed by former Minister Sithanen, one could add, according to l’express, a respectable array of senior advisors, experts and officials at Treasury headquarters. Restoring some measure of trust and confidence require that they help leave spin, guerrillas and noisy, if not petty and vengeful distractions aside.

Nobody expects miracles or magicians. The nation has to heal. The entrepreneurs have to regain lost confidence. The population has to start believing again. Rather than barbed traditional attacks on the purported “heritage” of former Finance portfolio holders, the budget should have the audacity of acknowledging past errors before laying the credible contours of action for the future.

* Published in print edition on 22 July 2016

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