Q & A: Yuvan A. Beejadhur, Leader – EnForce !
‘First, break the cynicism. Break the caste system. Get rid of those breeding nepotism, cartels and division’
With a view to introducing new aspirants in the political field, we are giving the voice, this week, to Yuvan Beejadhur, who leads a new political party – EnForce Maurice! – which is fielding Ms Deeshvy Ragpot in the No. 7 by-election fixed for 13 November 2019. Beejadhur brings with him 15 years of international policy experience in the areas of international sustainable development and Public-Private-Partnership: agriculture and environment, climate change and energy, ocean economy, global/public-private-partnerships, technology start-ups and blockchain technology. An economist by training, he held different positions at the World Bank Group, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, International Labour Office and several UN specialized agencies. In this week’s Q & A, he shares his views on the local political situation and tells us how his party proposes to do things differently.
Q. There will be a mixed bag of incumbents and aspiring candidates who will line up to file their candidacy once the Nomination Day for the next general elections is announced. Tell us about your primary reason for running: is it also to continue the family political legacy?
A. Imagine our children having the visibility and support they need to succeed, our entrepreneurs creating the jobs and services of tomorrow, Mauritians coming back and joining our citizens here in building the most sustainable island in the world! Right now, that potential is like a seedpod: small but powerful. I see a young population that wants to build, innovate, question, unite, love, care, one that wants to move ahead, travel and see the world, prosper and feel good. I see my role as someone who can catalyze this change, help unleash and harness our nation’s much greater potential, together with “EnForce !” and the people.
What our great grandparents achieved was nothing short of extraordinary – they were the early architects of our nation. My grandfather, Aunauth Beejadhur, a former Minister of Education alongside SSR and later on Governor of the Central Bank, died when I was seven months old. I honour the hard work, ethics and principles he stood for and defended. That was the pre-independence era, and those of his generation were the early architects of our nation. Today, we are a fractured society. There is a decay of democracy and erosion of freedom. We owe it to them and to us to do more and carve our destiny differently. We can build the Mauritius we want.
Q. It’s usually particular economic and political circumstances that create the conditions for new parties to emerge or make a breakthrough on the political scene. Isn’t it the wrong time to start a new political party?
A. It’s time to push for a new movement. The Jeux-des-Iles showed our best in sports. We need the best in professional politics. Communalism, casteism, division should have no place in our society! If we do not break these now, when will we? If not our generation, then which one? #AnsamPouMoris is our creed. The culture of mainstream parties is ‘business as usual’. We cannot afford that anymore. No one owns the monopoly of ideologies or power. As a father, I want my son to live in this country but not the one we have right now. If I was happy with the status quo, if leaders were giving their best to deliver the Mauritius we want, “En Force !” would not exist. Precisely because I disbelieve, like many, in the way our country at large is being managed, I feel compelled to push for something clean, agile, and different.
Q. Wouldn’t it have been so much more convenient to jump on the bandwagon of one of the mainstream parties rather than start a new party altogether? Or did you get the feeling that you would have had to buy your way to their list of candidates?
A. Are we living in a country in which you can ‘buy’ your way into a mainstream party? I want to live in a country in where we value you for who you are. The party with the best ideas, with competent people for the future of Mauritius has to win. “EnForce !” stands for a proper way of professionalizing politics: putting people first, being accountable and transparent, being methodical/substantial, building consensus, rewarding those who merit, and supporting those who are lagging behind. Am I ready to compromise on these principles? Certainly not!
Q.One criticism of young politicians who say they propose to do politics differently is that they show up only at election time, then go into hibernation until the next one comes up. It isn’t surprising that they are not taken as credible and their parties fail to pick up even a reasonable following. Isn’t that so?
A. These young politicians are courageous and believe in our country. They want to be heard. I also faced a choice between complaining – or fighting the fight. I am proud that my fellow ‘enforcers’ have stepped up to the challenge and I invite everyone who thinks we can do better to join “EnForce!”.
Many of those ‘established’ politicians are not seen in their constituencies once elected. Rather, they have a proven track record of not delivering, abusing funds and tarnishing the reputation of our country. “En Force !” wants to be at the forefront and change all of this. You want young talents to “stick around” and prove what they are worth? Well then give them your vote!
Q. Tell us what’s wrong with politics in Mauritius, and what’s going to be different in the way you’ll do it, that is if you intend to stay around, whether you get elected or not?
A. Overall, we lack politics and politicians with a vision, purpose, ideals and values. Politicians have been deliberate in weakening checks and balances, ignoring accountability and transparency. Everything is politicized, even religious events. This has resulted in vindication, divisions, cynicism, fear and insecurity. Some clap when women are called by names or when someone does not get a job because he is from this caste or this community. Furthermore, there is no truly democratic Labour Party, MSM or MMM. For them, the stakes of the general elections is a battle for survival of clans and dynasties – and not about national issues and solutions.
What will be different with EnForce ! is that we will try to create a decorum with a push for rationality and objectivity. Much of my professional training was precisely about being evidence-based and multisectoral in our analytics, seeing what works and what does not work elsewhere, saying no to things that are politically convenient but won’t achieve results, ensuring the voice of the poor is heard in the process, and working with everybody to make change and reform happen and last. EnForce! proposes to introduce a credible permanent body to investigate and counter discrimination, corruption, retaliation, racism. We are pleased to align Ms. Deeshvy Ragpot as our first candidate for the partial election. EnForce!is a movement that lives through all its members, gains strength through all its candidates and is there to stay.
Q. Do really think we should “rajeunir la classe politique”, as they say, and professionalize politics?
A. Running a country is sacred. There is a moral obligation to deliver. Imagine a dynamic National Assembly with a Ravi who speaks forcefully on topics and with respect to women, a Prem who talks of our ocean economy issues at the tips of his fingers, a Kalyan who doesn’t play with his phone during parliamentary proceedings, a Roshi who does not show his back, or a Speaker who commands the room, or even a Shakeel who gets to the point.
Imagine politicians being assessed with KPIs and giving the very best of themselves with some level of strict oversight on them. It is possible! We have introduced a “point system” to evaluate our team internally, but also for our future MPs. Many recommendations, such as the study “The Ocean Economy in Mauritius: Making it Happen, Making it Last” are ready and only awaiting full implementation. ‘Rajeunir’ should mean not only new faces and new blood, but also new methods and ways of handling the affairs of our country. This is why in EnForce ! we invite anyone with new and critical thinking to come forward.
Q. When you meet the common people in the town suburbs and villages, didn’t you get the feeling they could not care less about the way politics is conducted here… so long as their needs are addressed?
A. People have needs and the job of the government is to enable the emancipation of people, be just and impartial, and help people lead prosperous, happy and healthy lives. The PM has done a very good thing in introducing a minimum wage and better pensions. However, there is no sense of a new game in town. People I meet are worried. Some are hurting, some feel betrayed, some feel left in the cold. “Pena l’avenir” is what I hear the most. Corruption is real and perceived, we are ranked 51st in the world index, but we can do better. The continued sense of impunity, opacity and copinage is discouraging and preventing people from making it in life with a Mauritian Dream in mind.
Q. It’s said that many of the failures in public service stem from the way political parties are run and financed. What’s your take on that?
A. Inevitably. EnForce! has a different structure. We will rid the system of opaque financing towards opaque ends. It is shocking that the Freedom of Information proposal has remained elusive. It’s a must that political parties – from existing legally to financing to marketing to what they can and can’t do — operate within the framework of a larger chapeau of oversight
Q. As a former economist at the World Bank, tell us how the Mauritian economy is really doing presently. Do you think there is a strong case for course correction right now or in the near future?
A. As a SIDS integrated in the world economy, we are vulnerable to exogenous shocks like Brexit, the US-China trade war, changes in double taxation treaties, fall in tourist receipts, and fierce competition in textiles, sugar and IT. Natural disasters too, where with cyclones only, we could lose 7% of our GDP over the next 40 years.
Vision 2030 of the Alliance Lepep lays important foundations. We have also made important changes with respect to Doing Business. So far though, the measures/interventions taken by governments lack boldness, firepower, and are not transformative enough. Our projected annual growth through 2026 is only around 3.3%. We are overtaken by our neighbours Uganda and Tanzania who share our hemisphere yet seem on a different trajectory.
More investments are needed in our people and natural assets. Moving forward, we will need stronger actions and results on:
- Decent and Well-Paying Jobs: Where are our youths heading, where the unemployment level is as high as 25 %? We need to be growing by at least 8%.The current national emergency on drugs/synthetics is not just a cost to the economy, it’s a symptom of a broader problem of unemployment, frustration, of feeling stuck and left out. We need further investigations into how these are impacting our healthcare, productivity and the well-being of our youngsters.
- The blue-green economy: Many industries are dying. The sustainable ocean economy – which now accounts for 12% of our GDP, can expand to 25% over the next 10-18 years with large scale investments in areas like renewable energy, marine research and ICT, development of new species, nature-based tourism, and medication like anti-cancer products. An estimated USD 580 million yearly investment would lead to massive gains for our country across the board – boosting returns on investment of 20% per year, creating 36% more jobs; 20% increase in diversification of the ocean economy away from tourism; improving the trade balance by 60%; reducing poverty and inequality; and strengthening the government’s finances with a 2% reduction in the debt/GDP ratio.
- Smart Gender economics: EnForce ! will attempt to close the labour force and wage gap suffered by women – women make 30% less than men in the private sector for example. We want to introduce stronger parental leave policies, more affordable and available child-care.
- Debt consolidation: The last budgets/EDB have failed to show a pathway for our public sector to be more efficient, to consolidate our 70% debt to the GDP (GDP at 14.22 billion) and contingent liabilities.
- Impact investments: Much of global FDI into Mauritius is phantom in nature, meaning that there is no real job creation, economic or ecological value addition resulting from it. Furthermore, we are unclear as to the nature of those investments. The FDI in real estate is fraught with the risk of creating a property bubble. Our inflation standing at 103.4 points in June 2019 makes it hard for people, even if it has decreased from April.
- Diagnostics of the profitability of Government and parastatal bodies: Many of them such as University of Mauritius, CWA need a complete overhaul of their mechanics and undergo a business needs exercise to see whether people and talent are in the right place to attain the objectives. It feels as if the Government is trying to replace the private sector. I do not understand how Air Mauritius, which is making huge losses, can afford to keep the same CEO.
- Cleaning up the informal economy: Between 20-25 % of our economy is informal and needs to be formalized and taxed.
Q. Which other areas of public life needs revisiting with new ideas and façon de faire?
A. I want engagement with civil society, private sector, and educational institutions in making Mauritius resilient and prosperous. Recruitment needs to be merit and competence-based. We need to fight retaliation, lousy managers, harassment and discrimination. Salaries and income especially for non-skilled workers need to be reviewed in an easier system than the NRB.
EnForce ! will push for greater work-life balance with shorter working hours, provided we can do the job more efficiently and be more productive. People should be able to work from home, choose a time which works for them and spend quality time with their family. It would help on traffic management too. Government procurement is a large sector, its expenses need to be spent right and in the best interest of citizens. Countries like Ukraine, the UK but also Uganda are ahead of us in embracing new technologies and implementing new e-procurement systems allowing for full transparency and scrutiny by civil society.
Q. What other options do you have for the education sector, for housing and lands, for setting up new pillars of economic growth?
A. The time to start a general reform could not be better. Starting with our whole education system not only for our youths but also for those working. We need more focus on learning, skills training and adapting for this fourth era of industrialization which threatens those that fall behind and offers opportunities to those that innovate. Mauritius so far isn’t fully prepared: change in jobs, automation, hazards and disasters, pandemics, wars, etc. We need to get ready!
EnForce ! is elaborating some master plans for key sectors mentioned, housing, lands and cadaster would be one of the key ones – to be accessible by all components of society and on an equal opportunity basis. More information will be provided after our press conference. Some sectors are untapped: from fishing in banks to the big blue economy passing through marine spatial plans and a modern and efficient port and shipping, to climate-smart agriculture to renewable energy and recycling/waste.
Q. If another Mauritius is possible, what according to you will it take in concrete terms to achieve that?
A. We need to fight for it, plain and simple. First, let’s vote in new candidates, new blood that can do the job and who have the competence to deliver. Break the cynicism. Break the caste system. Get rid of those breeding nepotism, cartels and division. We would need also to make the Republic of Mauritius a truly secular state while respecting all its diversity. Political leaders and government too need to be upfront about what they can and can’t do.
In terms of steps: Full expenditure review of our needs and expenses, audits when you enter office as well as exit office, long-term investments in our education system and healthcare. Our real education starts at home, realizing we are all on the same boat as nation, as a people – will get us a long way. From early childhood, we need a greater sense of pride, belonging, unity and freedom – and respect to our Mauritian nation, our values and natural assets and animals. En Force ! is working on just that, with and for every Mauritian that shares our belief in the future.
* Published in print edition on 20 September 2019