Matters of The Moment
The people are in no mood to be shortchanged or hoodwinked and are keeping a watching brief on the turn of events
By Mrinal Roy
This burning question is in the minds of a majority of Mauritians at a time when so many things are awry in the country. People from all walks of life are angry and up in arms at the plummeting standards of governance, the unending array of scandals and allegations of corruption and other wrongdoings involving Ministers, the abject misuse of the national TV as a daily instrument of spin doctoring and propaganda at public expense, nepotism, the opacity shrouding the terms and conditions under which billions of Rupees of public bailout funds are advanced to distressed companies by the Mauritius Investment Corporation Ltd (MIC) and the complicit role of elected MPs in the shameful state of parliamentary democracy in the country.
“The costly Wakashio ecological catastrophe and its disastrous aftermath, the protracted delay in getting to the bottom of the alleged case of corruption and bribery in the Rs 4.3 billion CEB St Louis power plant contract despite public confirmation of wrongdoings by ‘members of the Mauritian administration and others’ by the African Development Bank and the Danish contractor Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor A/S (BWSC), the legitimate interrogations of the people regarding the endless Angus Road saga and the allegations surrounding the death of a ruling party member have mired the government in controversy…”
Senior citizens, the vegetable vendor, the banker, the housewife, the civil servant, the bus conductor and basically mainstream Mauritius are galled by the decried government policy of appointing the coterie and the party faithful to key government posts, at the head of key state institutions or as ambassadors. They are furious at the lack of transparency and accountability of government spending and government procurement tenders and evidence of successful bidders being incapable of honouring their contracts. They are also exasperated by the dilapidation of scarce funds through risky unsecured loans and questionable placements in a bank which is now in receivership as well as the ineptitude of investigative institutions to swiftly nab and bring culprits to book.
People are also very worried at the rise in sordid crimes and falling moral values in the country evidenced by the abuse of a mother by his drunken son and the brutal murder of a two-year-old child by his stepfather.
People are also particularly irate at the scale of unabated drug trafficking in the country evidenced by the proliferation of hard and synthetic drugs, hauls of drugs valued at more than a billion Rupees, deaths by overdose and the callous killing of a policewoman on duty, despite the government oft-proclaimed intent to relentlessly hound drug trafficking kingpins and eradicate this evil from the country. This is far from happening.
Various laws have been amended to include harsher sanctions so as to act as a deterrent. For example, traffic regulations have been repeatedly amended by government to make penalties for offences stiffer in order to limit road accidents and deaths.
Why on earth have the anti-drug trafficking laws not been likewise beefed up to provide for more severe penal sanctions which can act, as in Singapore, as a real and effective deterrent to drug trafficking in the country? There cannot be any half-hearted sanctions for drug traffickers who callously thrive on a deadly trade and enrich themselves on weaning people to addiction and dependence causing tremendous anguish to families and costly consequences in the country.
There are glib conspiracy theories and government allegations that insidious forces are bent on conjuring anti-government street protests. Beyond the rhetoric, it is patently evident that the majority of Mauritians who are angry at the deplorable state of the country are neither privy nor part of any purported conspiracy. They are also not party to an alleged media plot against the government.
The plain truth is that government and the whole political class stand guilty under the objective prism of history and in the people’s Court. After only one year in power, the standing of the government has been systematically eroded by its poor governance and the controversies, scandals and blunders which have rocked its first year in office. The contract of trust with the people and the mandate of the government are to inter alia assure through its judicious choice of Ministers and merit-based appointments at the head of key State institutions and posts of the government Establishment a competent and transparent management of the affairs of the country.
The style of governance of the government based on favouring the coterie and the party faithful has backfired in so many instances. For example, the lack of the required professional expertise and competence to eliminate through a rigorous management and oversight of the global business sector any risks of our international financial services sector acting as a conduit for illicit money laundering and terrorist financing has resulted in the inclusion of Mauritius in the European Commission revised list of high-risk countries with strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing frameworks.
The costly Wakashio ecological catastrophe and its disastrous aftermath, the protracted delay in getting to the bottom of the alleged case of corruption and bribery in the Rs 4.3 billion CEB St Louis power plant contract despite public confirmation of wrongdoings by ‘members of the Mauritian administration and others’ by the African Development Bank and the Danish contractor Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor A/S (BWSC), the legitimate interrogations of the people regarding the endless Angus Road saga and the allegations surrounding the death of a ruling party member have mired the government in controversy and dented its standing in the eyes of the multitude.
This is not the time for shenanigans and contrived narratives to anaesthetize public opinion or generous handouts the country can ill-afford from strapped finances as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, to leverage public support. No amount of spin doctoring can change the pervasive public perception.
Credible answers and credible leaders
Only credible answers to the legitimate interrogations of the people on these enduring controversies which meet the test of public scrutiny and swift justice as required can allay their misgivings. Those who cannot provide credible answers will have to step down. There cannot be double standards. The verdict of the people remains paramount.
It is equally time for the opposition parties and their leaders to retrospect about their own poor governance, scandals and controversies when they were in power. They also have to honestly realize after two scathing debacles at the last two general elections that the people do not consider their leadership and style of party governance to be a credible alternative for the country.
Against such a backdrop, how can the country grapple with the daunting challenges triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, its dire socio-economic fallouts and deteriorating economic fundamentals?
Verdict of the people
The verdict of the people is clear. No political party or party leader can be more important than the country and the people. The style of governance which has systematically plumbed the prospects of the country over the last decades is untenable in the context of the daunting Covid-19 driven challenges facing the country. A model of economic development based on selling high-priced villas by a handful of real estate promoters richly endowed in land assets in prime locations to rich foreigners or on consumption expenditure by households cannot be a sustainable way forward.
It is flabbergasting that in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic there has been no strategic thinking or brainstorming on innovative ways to boost the prospects of diverse sectors of the economy through a smart use of the wide range of digital tools available. There is also no attempt to control the escalation of prices in a context of eroding purchasing power. Is there a pilot in the cockpit?
This is certainly not the time for makeshift strategies. The political status quo also undermines the prospects of the young in the country. Their interests must be robustly safeguarded.
There is therefore an imperative need for the highest level of competence at the helm of the country as well as bold and responsible decision making to steer the country through the difficult times ahead. The onus is therefore squarely on the government and the whole political class to finally put country and people above their own narrow interests. The people are in no mood to be shortchanged or hoodwinked and are keeping a watching brief on the turn of events.
* Published in print edition on 11 December 2020
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