What We Expect From Our Ministers

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By Jay Narain Roy

We shall have Ministers soon. How do people feel about it! So so. There are four categories of reaction.

One is enthusiastic. But probably they cannot define their enthusiasm. They have the enthusiasm of novelty. Something new is going to happen. Something that has never happened before. There is some point in that zeal. The people’s representatives are going to govern the country. At least such is the expectation.

Another set is simply antagonistic. They think it is laughable. It is laughable that the people’s men should dare run the country. They are anxious to find loopholes. They are dying to hang the dog and the underdog. Between the two extremes are two classes. One is partly concerned, partly indifferent. They are concerned because it may be turned to good account. But they are indifferent because they think that it is too muzzled to be effective, too moribund to be fertile.

The last category is of those who have some reason to put their trust in the capability and wisdom of the leaders. They have systematically learnt to do so. Just because they believe in the innate good of human nature. And also because their long party affiliation has taught them to put faith in the leaders. They will continue to do this until they are completely disillusioned. It means very clearly that failure by the Ministry to rise to the expectations of this class will produce the most major catastrophe in the history of the country.

We cannot blink the fact that the ministerial system, if it is established, will only set up a Triarchy. No diarchies have ever worked in the world but a Triarchy has enough venom to corrode its usefulness. It is going to be a Triarchy because of three warring elements pulling in three different directions. That will be so on vital issues. And the Labour Party cannot justify its co-operation unless it tackles vital issues.

The three elements are obvious. The Labour Party would wish to cut through deeper economic matters. The Tories would wish to make much noise about non-essentials just to deflect public notice. The Officials would wish to pose as experts to hammer upon details and technicalities to stay the rapid march of principles. As execution will largely depend on their diligence, they can through thousand pretexts soft-pedal things to the exasperation of the people. The latent opposition of the Tories or their emphasis on non-essentials and the soft-pedalling of officials will all tend to discredit the Labourites.

It is difficult to believe, having the history of colonial development before us, that the Labourites can manage to stand up to the expectations of the people. I have backed the Ministry idea only to send our men to expose its inevitable flaws and after proving it to the people, to make an honourable retreat. If we boycott it now, we shall take upon us the blame of wrecking it. But if we try it and prove that it is singularly inoperative, we shall have built our strength before the people to face the next elections. But if we are cajoled to hold on despite pitfalls, we shall wreck the Party and the people’s welfare both in one blow.

We expect that before taking office, our men will haggle about minimum conditions to implement a socialist programme. What can that minimum demand be? A programme to be useful and permanent should provide both for revenues and expenditure to meet social services. It is absurd to think that we can salvage the people by merely providing palliatives of social services. We want to improve the standard of living of the people. That can be done in two ways: by tapping new avenues of development and production and by ensuring a greater measure of economic justice. Slogans and stones do not fill bellies.

The greatest problem of the country is labour and employment, and it is there that the policy of the Government has been an ignominious failure. We want an economic enquiry in two parts: to assess economic possibilities of our resources and potentialities and to ensure maximum employment and fair distribution of profits among the factors of production in the various industries. That will naturally also deal with the organizational and managerial aspects of production. If we only harp on slogans of social services, we shall have embarked on measures that while being a bottomless drain on public revenues will bring little more than emotional relief to the people. These measures do not touch the economic structure of the country: they will be too gladly backed by the Tories to divide the kudos and to take the wind out of the sails of Labourites.

But the other measure cuts so deeply that both the Officials and the Tories will at once be exposed and the Labourites will come out exposed and the Labourites will come out with flying colours. As regards the organisational aspect of say, the sugar industry, I have already written that I do not believe in nationalization as the sugar industry will become a larger Sugar Research Institute or a Central Electricity Board. I believe that the Sugar Syndicate together with the Docks should become a Government Department and the whole paraphernalia of brokers should be wiped clean. It should not entail any revolutionary changes nor huge compensations. There should be similar controlling agencies for the Tea and Tobacco industries. In this way by imposing a mere superstructure we shall have brought under government sway the industries which provide the bulk of our national revenues. The Sugar Research, Tobacco Board, the Central Board and the Central Electricity Board should at once become Government Departments. And so the Agricultural College whose final examination entails an overseas scholarship should be conducted from England.

The attitude in most quarters that reforms can only come on the shoulders of the Government is a clever manoeuvre to bring a comfortable bifurcation between politics and economics. That is what has been ingeniously attempted all these years to the utter frustration of the country. It is obviously playing the game of the Tories. Politics and Ministries to be worthwhile should attempt a complete reorientation. Otherwise we shall be blowing hot air and digging the grave of future Ministries in sloganish experimentations. The least that is expected of a popular Ministry or at any rate of the popular element thereof is that it will give the right political and economic lead at this crucial juncture of our history. Far from mere speeches and petty concessions, people will judge the work of the Ministry by the amount of changes that they actually experience in their day to day life.

4th Year No 149 – Friday 14th June 1957


* Published in print edition on 20 October 2020

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