No country can function smoothly so as to serve the interests of its citizens if the State is weak. The strength of the State is premised essentially on 1. the robustness of the political system in place which, in a democracy, means a separation of the powers between the Judiciary, the Legislature and the Executive; 2. the pursuit of policies aligned to the key principles of social justice, namely Access to resources, Equity, Participation, Diversity, Human Rights; 3. Strict adherence to the rule of law; 4. the autonomous functioning of State institutions and holders of Constitutional posts.
If we were to conduct a tick-the-box exercise for the items included within such a framework starting from the time of our Independence, we will without surprise find that several of them will be marked with a query or a negative (instead of a tick) as we approach the turn of the last century and enter the 21st, with a growing preponderance of queries and negatives as we progress towards 2021. And given the many affairs that have been surfacing in relation to the Covid pandemic in 2020, that year may be particularly highlighted in such a reckoning.
By the by, creeping capitalism and liberalism in the political set-up proceeded unchecked, so that politicians as well as political parties became increasingly beholden to wealthy donors and private interest groups, who are known to pressure governments to tweak policies in their favour, or yield to conditions that go against the larger national interest. A good example of this would no doubt be found in the energy sector, when the production of electricity passed into the hands of the IPP though a contrat en beton which was all in favour of the IPPs to the detriment of the consumer who was made to bear the costs. The situation remains unchanged to this day.
But apart from giving in to the corporates when it comes to policy making, mismanagement of the country’s affairs is an even greater sign of the weakness of the State because invariably it involves breaches of the law that are easier to uncover and more easily exposed – and therefore more visible as they are splashed in the media – than the subtle tweakings of policy. The irregularities in the emergency procurement process during the Covid pandemic constitute, alas, a departure and/or bypass of normal procedures which involved institutions of the State and actors that saw in this pandemic an opportunity for making money at the expense of the public exchequer. Resources that ought to have been utilized in the service of the people were massively diverted to private individuals. Nando Bodha’s revelations have only added more fuel to the fire.
Such a lack of official oversight, coupled with the deficiencies in the investigative procedures whether it was the detective agencies or ICAC, have further undermined the authority of the State. As it is, the alleged failures of the government in the Wakashiso disaster had already undermined its position, providing space and justification for the first street protest that took place in Mahebourg. This was a direct challenge to the authority of the State. It goes without saying, therefore, that the accumulation of affairs being uncovered in association with deaths being linked to the business deals during emergency procurement as well as electoral funding were quickly seized as yet another opportunity to try and shake the regime further.
The basic problem in all this is the contradiction that the authorities are perceived as, knowingly or unknowingly, being in breach of the rules of law and procedure which they themselves enacted in the first place. They therefore have the primary responsibility of seeing to it that these rules are strictly followed by themselves to start with. It is this which would consolidate the authority and image of the State as a properly functioning one, and that would dissuade any potential defaulter from trying to perpetrate an unlawful act.
When the State fails to do so, the government of the day is ill-placed to seek accountability and transparency from the private sector, such as in the matter of disbursements made under the MIC framework, the terms and conditions of which to this day remain shrouded in opacity, and other stakeholders. The onus of addressing these lacunae is an uphill climb, but it is the only way for government to restore its credibility and the legitimacy of its authority.
* Published in print edition on 23 February 2021