Mauritius: Whither bound?

It has been announced that the Prime Minister will present on the coming Saturday an ‘Economic Mission Statement’, which is said to contain clues about how the government intends to achieve what it has called the second ‘Economic Miracle’. Short of delivering an ‘economic miracle’, given the difficult times currently facing the global economy, it would have been enough if the new government were able to steer the economy on a stable progressive course.

First things first, however. The government should first of all be thanked for having stepped in in the last polls and averted what could have represented a Constitutional catastrophe. However much its distinct constituents were patched up together at the last minute, they managed to pull up an unquestionable majority, even though several inexperienced and immature novices in politics got elected in the process.

Voters put their trust in them, even though the parties forming part of the Alliance Lepep may have appeared to have been stitched together in peculiar circumstances. Thus, the PMSD, which had been allied to Labour in previous governments over many years, found a place in L’Alliance Lepep at the last hour for having been found incompatible with the newly announced Labour-MMM alliance last year.

In the same manner, had Ivan Collendavelloo and others – who had had the courage to break apart from the MMM in spite of the near-certainty of an hypothetical arithmetic Labour-MMM win – not given more substance to the MSM, just like the PMSD, Lepep would not have carried the amount of conviction it did with voters.

Credit must go in this context to SAJ for having assembled all these people together under his leadership to fight a common cause – a potential irreversible distortion of the Constitution. Despite his advanced age, he took up the main role to measure up as direct challenger of Navin Ramgoolam. Much collective work was done to make credible the new political party in the eyes of voters.

But the greatest amount of credit should go to the voters themselves. It is not that they were looking for replacement of the previous incumbents of political power. They gradually became conscious of the real danger represented by the political plan cooked up by the Ramgoolam-Berenger tandem. Taking the risk, voting for novices if need be, they acted in their majority in unison to throw out that tandem remorselessly. The voting pattern was so consistent that constituency after constituency, they massively rejected Labour-MMM. It shows the amount of maturity they exercised – despite age-old party loyalties – in the country’s superior interest, even overcoming the usual clannish interests that keeps preying upon Mauritian politics.

Having gone this far, voters sincerely believed that the new government would deliver the goods. By this they understood first and foremost consolidation of the economy which had not received the attention it deserved from the previous regime which had other fish to fry. They were also worried about some of the economic and social right-wingers in the Labour-MMM team who, the recent World Bank Report discloses, managed to aggravate income inequalities and to drive the middle class to the edge of poverty.

Yes, many of the more emotional among voters were expecting a parading of the various abuses the previous government had lent itself to as well as cleaning-up the various failings pointed out in successive reports of the Director of Audit. Although quite necessary, this was not the priority of priorities for the more mature ones among the voters. They did not need to be impressed by such things. They were more keen to see the work of economic and social redress done.

A little over three months in power, the government’s economic agenda seemed to be distraught. It began with the dismantling of the BAI Group in early April – despite the first budget, despite the governmental programme. As this agenda progressed from one sensational public display to another, it was becoming increasingly clear that the government had not the least cue how it would repair the economic damage being done in parallel due to its clumsy handling of the whole affair, how it would pick up the massive costs the whole mess was producing, how it would handle the loss of confidence in the economy all this was generating.

Responsible ministers did not appear to have the guts to arrest the miscalculated frenzy with which the dismantling was being proceeded with. Also, almost all the guns appeared to be aimed at the elimination of political rivals, leaving little time to think about the future of the economy. All this may give some temporary thrills and vindicate those who were condemning the previous government but it hardly adds to GDP. Not even weeds grow on sanitized granite.

We stand today at the threshold of a world economy which is fixed ever the more on rewarding according to the rule of ‘survival of the fittest’ among global economies. And we appear, eight months into the new government, to have barely done whatsoever – apart from grand statement of intentions – to make Mauritius survive the onslaught of international competition.

It is not enough to say that we will partner with regional economies, for example. It is necessary to establish why and under which of our comparative advantages will they want to do business with us and why us in particular, not others. It is not enough to say that the greater exploitation of the ocean will carry us forward; it is important to identify what are the tools and implements we are putting in place to take off from the past economic slack in this regard.

Business doesn’t happen without leaders. Leaders are those who have the bigger picture constantly in their sight and they know the steps and actions to be followed to achieve the economic turnaround. Who are they? Certainly, not the Ministers alone? Especially, not Ministers who have little or no experience of handling real business. There should have been people in charge of the various rudders with which the economy is to be guided to a more elevated plane.

We’ve taken and are still taking so much time to appoint the right people in the right stations – whether from within the country or from outside — to man our existing institutions. If we have been blundering into making the wrong choices at this elementary level of institutions that are already established, think about the leaps of faith it will require to place people with the right expertise from outside our shores to efficiently run newer institutions that will play the transformational role to enlarge our economic outlook.

To do this kind of work requires a government that is coherent and decisive. One that is more after real results of its work in order to get elected again on that basis than one whose members would be more concerned about self-seeking during a temporary tenure of office, blinded by the powerful light of power for its own sake. One that doesn’t allow itself to be splintered up even if one of its key members appears to be temporarily left on the wayside.

Many will admit that the government has been extremely short on execution at this level. If it had lifted a few only to a higher economic orbit for the good of the country to set the example, people would have started believing in its capacity to deliver, something that is critical.

No one wants to get entangled in a perpetual contest of popularity now that the elections are over since eight months. The need of the moment is work and results. One would think that a pragmatist like SAJ would care more for this kind of things than for all the displays of the paraphernalia of power we’ve seen so far.

Instead of the bickerings now on display and focus of re-composition of the political chessboard, the government would have done the country a great service to embark now on doing business, real business.

  • Published in print edition on 21 August 2015

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