Who will lead the country forward?


By TP Saran

Mauritius, where are you going? This is a question that has all its relevance as we have already entered what many observers are thinking is the electoral year, with indications coming from two events that have been in the public domain for a number of years, namely the MedPoint affair and the Chagos issue. In the latter the former leader of the MSM Sir Anerood Jugnauth, who is the only living politician present at the Constitutional conference at Lancaster House in 1965, claimed a justified success at the International Court of Justice where he made an impassioned plea, and his success has been unreservedly saluted.

In all fairness, it must not be forgotten that it was Navin Ramgoolam’s successful initiative to contest the UK’s plan to set up a marine protected area around the Chagos Archipelago, taking it to the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration, which emboldened the Mauritian Government to pursue the matter to its logical end with the International Court of Justice. As regards his son Pravind, to whom he handed over power as Prime Minister in a move which has earned qualified approval by the population, his ‘victory’ in the MedPoint affair has not received as unanimous a recognition, despite acceptance of the verdict. Nevertheless, nobody can fault him to ride on the crest of this ruling and feel reinvigorated to march towards the next general election.

So there’s more than a whiff of elections in the air, and it is vitally important that we start thinking about which way we want our country to go and to share our reflections with those who will be preparing to take the helm of power. The game of signalling towards potential partners for alliances has already begun, despite denials, which means that we are likely to see the same combinations and permutations among the established parties, with the smaller formations that have broken off or sprouted afresh bargaining for position one way or the other.

Many a time opinions have been expressed about having new blood in the existing parties, or about the need for the emergence of a third force. The likelihood of the latter is, sadly, constrained by the financial dimension of such an endeavour and the constraints posed by our electoral system to allow such formations to emerge and be reckoned as credible political forces. It is also presumed that such a third force would consist of mainly younger members, who would bring in dynamism and new ideas for a 21st century Mauritius. That was also what was expected of the younger cohort that was inducted into the MSM, but unfortunately most of them have disappointed the country. So it is not always the case that younger blood will be better, as it is soon contaminated by the bugs of corruption, cronyism and so on. Which means that renewing the established parties is a real casse-tête for the leaders.

When it comes to the leaders themselves, dynasty is abhorred by the population at large – but we are faced with this reality. Except in the case of Labour Party, which was led by Sir Stacam Boolell at one stage when it was at its lowest ebb, until he decided to hand over to Navin Ramgoolam. There was a collegial system of sorts that served the party well for a number of years, and if this is revived then who actually is in the forefront as leader will matter less for the country though perhaps not from an electoral point of view.

This is an important consideration at this stage as the current leader has two cases pending in court, with no definitive timeline as to when these will be resolved. It goes without saying that for the main opponent to LP, the MSM, the longer that Navin Ramgoolam remains ‘in the box’ as it were, the better it is for the MSM. But people have short memories and are also averse to victimisation without limits – as has been perceived regarding Ramgoolam – so that may well factor into the electorate’s calculations when it comes to casting votes. LP has to also do some serious lateral thinking about leadership, party governance and governance of the country, and spell out is clear terms about these and national issues.

Moreover many sectors are undergoing immense upheavals and difficulties – textile, the energy sector, education, tourism among others. What we are seeing is an ever increasing creep of the corporates whose primary motive is profit and wealth creation for themselves, resulting in cresting hardship for the masses. A prime example relates to power supply, and the government has recently renewed contract with the IPPs. In earlier editorials we had drawn attention to how this arrangement is inimical to the country as whole because all the risks are borne by the CEB which passes it on to taxpayers – so it is the consumer who suffers the most. And yet, there we are with another set of contracts to the same conglomerates.

Unfortunately this seems to be the result of a lack of central planning by the government, not Soviet style but at least the government ought to have had the equivalent of a continually upgraded and updated think-thank to guide the planned development of the country. Instead of holistic and integrated development that would have allowed projects as part of a whole instead in a piecemeal manner, there have been such sector-wise arrangements as with IPPs that have neglected to consider the wider socioeconomic dimensions and yielded to purely economic and financial forces which have no brief for the common weal.

It is this same lack of coordinated thinking that underlies a number of problems that have a direct impact on the future of the country and its people. We can cite among access to land and housing for the upcoming generation, the damage to the environment, the unbridled levelling of land in rural areas — and hence floods – ignorance of inputs from local folk wisdom, the chaos in urban space without forward provision for increased vehicular traffic, jams and slow downs — and the list is long!

Let the parties be more realistic therefore about what they will propose to the population, since we are fated to live the less than ideal situation of having to fall back on the mainstream parties and their unchanging ways. Will they come up with clear ideas about how these problems will be tackled or will it be just more of the same?

* Published in print edition on 15 March 2019

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