Budget presentation to Parliament and the nation is an important annual event laying out not only the financial forecasts and measures but also, particularly at the start of a mandate, an opportunity to set out the larger vision of development priorities and a foreseeable, predictable framework for economic operators, social agents, trade unions and consumers.
We can’t do away with the high noon of lengthy budget presentations by the Minister of Finance, accompanied by the rumbustious cheerings and desk thumpings of government ministers and backbenchers.
Those rituals are part and parcel of our parliamentary folklore, although when a government has been changing tack a few times over twenty months, it can leave strange tracks even for the political leaders. In the euphoria following a massive parliamentary majority, in the face of a dishevelled Opposition, smugness was to be expected but it would not be unkind to recall some epic statements regarding the first Lepep budget of March 2015, that would be so rapidly dismissed by later events. If only to relativise the equally elogious statements being made by Ministers today regarding the second budget speech of the Lepep government.
Hon Pravind Jugnauth concluded his budget speech on 10 April 2015 as follows: “…the hon. Minister of Finance and Economic Development has… displayed an avant-garde mindset and a very dedicated and innovative approach… and has enunciated many bold measures that will lay the foundation for the second economic miracle that is cherished by our hon. Prime Minister.” Economic miracles are no longer the order of the day, nor encouraged terminology in official spin, as forecasts for 2016 or 2017 growth rates, at about the 4% level or barely above, are judged optimistic.
Even the Prime Minister was equally impressed and gave his own glowing tribute in March 2015 to the architect of the miracle waiting to happen: “..the excellent first Budget of the ‘L’Alliance Lepep’ Government… a well-thought out, long-awaited projet de société. I am confident that, within the next eighteen months, Mauritius… will be reaping the first fruits of our collective efforts for the advancement of the nation.” The lauded “projet de société”, the dusted off thirteen mega-projects, the thrust and priorities, rightly or wrongly, had to be laid aside within a few months by the PM’s own Vision 2030. As for “fruits”, Mauritius is growingly dubious of what has been actually reaped as yet.
Where matters bite perhaps most, is highlighted by the concluding remarks of Hon N. Bodha on the same maiden budget of 2015: “…That is where our strengths lie; our strengths lie in the leadership, in the vision, in the teamwork and in our capacity to deliver… When I say it is about the culture of power, we have a culture of power…”.
Hon Bodha, for long the political communicator, if not actual strategist of the MSM, has been consistent on the issue of “power culture”, sometimes vaunting its proximity and shared values with the MMM, so this sentence cannot be said to be taken out of context. Yet, one would be tempted to say that on all four counts listed by the Minister of Public Infrastructure, the street assessment is far from positive to put things mildly. And the succession of recent nominations and events are leaving much of the nation nonplussed by the “culture of power” so proudly proclaimed one year ago.
One must remember that probably for the first time since 1983, the MSM is today in the position of a commanding majority in Parliament that allows it to impose its will and directions irrespective of allies and thus translate its political culture and philosophy concerning the management of public affairs into reality. All previous regimes driven by the MSM party were tempered by partners who could not be ignored, from one political alliance to another.
Since December 2014, the MSM has the somewhat daunting responsibility to show what the party stands for, how it harnesses the country’s talents and resources and what it can actually deliver, from this most singular of vantage points where it is in sole control of both central and local government. Most advisors reckon that the heavy responsibility now rests on Hon Pravind Jugnauth, in his triple capacity of party leader, Minister of Finance and PM in waiting. Independently of what his future holds, he is undoubtedly being called in the immediacy to rein a party fractured internally by egos and ambitions and stem the growing sense of leadership vacuum at the helm of the country. In the medium-term, to ensure deliverables from a budget that still holds room for further tempestuous winds around some announced major projects.