Air Mauritius and State-Owned Enterprises
The ability to hear out differing or opposing views even when not necessarily agreeing, to consider political opponents as adversaries not as enemies, to allow public manifestations as legitimate democratic expressions, are all part of what should distinguish us from autocratic states. When competencies are believed to emanate primarily from a small and restricted coterie of faithful friends, cronies, yes-men, advisors when it’s not simply family and relatives, then we end up where we are today, a society that is in a mess and is looking for answers and alternatives.
We have no crystal ball to gauge the undercurrents in the population, but clearly the message from the unified Opposition regional congress in Mare d’Albert has rattled the MSM and its satellite outfits as they attempt to claw back from the demeanour of the past five years or more. Some aspects of that image clean-up strategy may be seen in the proposal to set up a future Financial Crimes Commission after years of lacklustre performance and a signal failure to take any of several ministers and other high officials of the ruling regime to task. Another is the rather more obvious attempt to rope in civil society, the press and NGOs in the necessary fight against drug trafficking and abuse, and somehow share or dilute the responsibility for the most notorious failure of the ruling regime since they took office.
It is with this background that the continuous damages to the national image of our national carrier MK in the Yogita Babboo dismissal case is adding unwanted fuel to government’s discomfort both locally and from international agencies (e.g., ILO) and professional cabin-crew associations. A few months ago, some political nominees at MK and Air Mauritius Holdings have found criticisms of their management and policies by the president of the MK Cabin Crew Association too ruffling for their personal image and that of the airline they were despatched to manage. So, Ms Babboo-Rama, already with some 15 other cabin crew on leave without pay well after the mandatory vaccination requirements for staff have gone, was called in for a disciplinary hearing and dismissed.
MK was a former cherished carrier, which was brought to its knees in 2019-2020, ended up in receivership, getting first an injection of Rs 14 billion to stave off liquidation, then a further Rs 25 billion from Bank of Mauritius/Mauritius Investment Corporation generosity from public purse. In that dark period, consultants earned countless millions while brand-new Airbus planes were reportedly sold off for peanuts and spare parts while older ones are being leased today under unknown conditions. Whatever the legal contours the Babboo case takes in the industrial courts, with the obvious inability of the Ministry of Labour to rein in the excesses and ego-trips of mighty power nominees against a long-serving professional, the public image of government and its babus is taking a severe blow.
It raises a more fundamental question our polity has to address, that of the essential unaccountability of our major State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), not amenable to questions in the National Assembly or to some form of supervision of its good governance practices. Whether at the national carrier (MK), or at other major entities where public funds, whether majority or fully-owned, like Mauritius Telecom or the State Bank, the quest for improved accountability and transparency has to define new modes of thinking.
The reliance on once-a-year shareholders meeting is obviously proving insufficient. As for top representatives of various ministries, the cream of our civil service establishment, on their Board, their contribution in preventing abuse either during the pandemic or after, has been less than sterling. Who is advising or supervising the MK Board for instance in those plane disposal and leasing arrangements or the announced decision to release its slots at Heathrow, in favour of Gatwick one assumes, and which is causing quite a stir in knowledgeable circles? One avenue might be through a permanent Select Committee chaired by an independent figurehead empowered, without overstepping Board and management, to supervise good governance and to keep tabs over any departures in those SOEs. Another alternative is to rely on a Freedom of Information Act and/or a stiffened Public Accounts Committee but the excesses of today should guide experienced minds on necessary changes that are needed to promote corporate good governance.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 18 August 2023
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