How long will the fire fighting continue? 


Admittedly, it is the job of an opposition in a democracy to find faults with the government. It is normal that the government should defend itself against attempts by the opposition to find chinks in its armour. Over the past one year, the government and the opposition have been busy having a go at each other. The subjects of their disputes have grabbed the headlines and the public has come to assume that it is this kind of fire fighting that constitutes the role of the government. Nothing is in fact further from the truth. A government is sent to office to govern; in other words, while dealing with the criticisms of the opposition on the way, it should not lose track of its own agenda. This is the most important. The government has to break new grounds, balance the equation towards a greater degree of social fairness and enunciate new policies that will encourage investment and employment to proceed apace. Its job is to set milestones for future progress.

We know that Mauritius has become exposed to several vulnerabilities in past years. Indeed, current high and rising prices of commodities are signals of exposure to risk to factors outside our control. In situations like this, governments take action to bring the risk element under local control to the maximum extent, e.g., greater food self-sufficiency. This demands policy action and reorientation as may be necessary of set targets and objectives. It calls for increasing coordination of policy among the various arms of government so as to make optimum use of resources. It also calls for a Civil Service which is capable of thinking out and acting almost as hard as the private sector does in its quest for maximizing profits. Either things of the sort are being done unknown to the public or there is too little of it being done with the result that we may not be doing all the best we need to do.

Instead of enunciating all action taken to broaden the economic base, what have we been seeing? One major preoccupation of the public the past 4 ½ months has been with the Med Point deal: was it necessary, urgent and imperative? Was it done transparently? Was it tailor-made to suit certain private conveniences? Was the price correctly established? What if those in charge of the dossier mishandled it deliberately so as to favour so-and-so? There has taken place a lot of exchange on this subject to the point of displacing everything else. This kind of misplaced emphasis on cleaning up the mess, if there has indeed been a mess of public policy, amounts to a total waste of time and resources.

The Med Point affair was not yet over when we landed into the Neotown conundrum in the wake of all the fanfare with which this project’s promoter suggested to his shareholders that they had walked away with a coveted prize graciously granted by the government. This matter is still occupying the headlines despite the strong retaliatory answer given to the Opposition leader’s PNQ on the issue. Even if it does not drag on for so many months as the Med Point affair has, the serenity with which a government should be pursuing its objectives is lost. When matters like this bristle up and occupy the main stage of public affairs, the public is put under the impression that this is all to it as regards the current status of the government’s principal concerns. This cannot be true because there must be some at least in the public and private sectors who must be breaking new grounds in terms of raising the national platform. Those are more important than dwelling on negativities like Med Point and Neotown, which help the MMM Opposition drive its own agenda of preferring certain local investors to other intruder investors. At least, the MMM is not shifting from its principal objective to fight it out if there is a threat to the traditional investors, who sponsor the party, from newcomers.

We can understand that, given the small margin that determines winners and losers in a general election, a political party will not want to take the risk of finding this determining bank of marginal voters shift to the other side. On the other hand, we can understand that an opposition would do its best to effect such a shift of opinion in its favour. It has been trying to do precisely this ever since the new government was elected to power. By directing all its attention in this direction, it has done its level best to unseat the MSM from the government, unsuccessfully. It will lose nothing to continue trying. But that does not mean that the government should let itself be driven by the opposition’s agenda. It should rather pursue its own agenda vigorously, change the platform on which we produce our goods and services for the better and, in the face of scintillating results from actually implementing its programme, it should be in a position to quietly set aside petty objections that the opposition would raise from time to time. This approach will have the merit to eliminate the non-performers from among the ranks of the government, in fact, force them to perform if they have accepted to assume responsibility.

What the country needs at this point is a sense of direction. It is the job of the government to state the actions it is taking in order to give us a better living space in the future. For example, what are the actions being taken to secure an adequate water supply? We all know that without this resource in adequate supply, we have no future. We all know that the pattern of rains has changed. We are aware that for several years now, our capacity to store water has remained stagnant. This situation is untenable. A government should set out all that it is doing to restore the situation to sustainability and it is not enough to say that certain experts would be looking at things so that we will be all right. We need to be told the area in which the work has begun to set things right and what should we expect in a given timeframe from such work.

As things are going on, we don’t have a clear view of where we are headed for in the various key areas that call for urgent attention. Are we really improving our efficiencies and demonstrating that we have control over a bigger master plan? It does not look like it. We cannot take decisions concerning major projects and seek to re-visit them at a later stage on the grounds that someone down the line did not do the work as it was expected to be done. Elements of uncertainty arising from inefficient work done at one level or another, having the effect of rejecting a project that should not have been rejected, reflect a poor state of governance. Such elements only go on to portray an anatomy of failure in public sector decision-making. They also go on to reinforce the work being done by the opposition to concentrate the energies of the government on defending decisions it has taken. The time has come to shift attention to the bigger picture instead of going on fire fighting on several fronts, with fires lighted one after the other. 

* Published in print edition on 20 May 2011

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