The People and The Country Cannot Risk Another Debacle

Breaking Free from a Toxic Political Culture

Mauritius is at a crucial crossroads. It is being throttled by a toxic political culture. It is patently evident to all and sundry that the political and socio-economic status quo is untenable and unacceptable to the multitude, especially as the country and the people face so many daunting challenges and existential hardships owing to escalating prices and widening inequality.

For too long the country has been crippled by an abysmal standard of governance, lack of transparency and accountability of public expenditure and the inept economic and financial management of the country. For too long the appointment of the coterie to key posts of the government establishment or to head important government institutions have spawned incompetence and an array of onerous blunders costing billions of Rupees to the public exchequer. This goes on and on unchecked.

This appalling situation is a far cry from the promise of a far better socio-economic and political order made to the people during the fight for independence. This promise remains largely thwarted. The bottom line is that there is a pervasive feeling of revolt among the people for being repeatedly let down by the political class. This cannot go on.

People want to cut loose and break free from this toxic political culture.

There is therefore an imperative need for a political big bang. In the UK, the qualifications and professional career of Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, and the key ministers chosen for the cabinet showcases the high benchmarks of ability and competence required to make the cut to become PM or ministers or MPs in the best democracies in the world. Instead of the dilettante and the hapless neophyte, the country therefore needs a new team of highly qualified Mauritians with a track record of professional achievements and a commitment of service to people and country to brainstorm an innovative policy framework to tackle the daunting challenges faced by the country.

These relate inter alia to an urgent recasting of our economic model highly dependent on tourism and high-end real estate development, the concomitant overhauling of the educational system as well as addressing the existential hardships of people caused by the erosion of their purchasing power resulting from a depreciating Rupee and rising food and energy prices caused by the continuing war in Ukraine. Despite a substantial budget of some Rs 15 billion, the education sector has been unable to recast the thrust of the sector to provide the skills and technology-based qualifications required to diversify the economy to supply the upmarket demand for technology-driven high value-added services and products.

Business as usual

What is particularly galling is that despite the public clamour for radical changes and a new breed of politicians guided by a high sense of ethics and principles promoting meritocracy, competence and accountability, it is business as usual for the ruling coalition and the main opposition parties. The same protagonists are all already rearing to lock horns ahead of the next general elections in 2024. The political mano a mano is heating up. Before they all jump blindly forward, it is vital that they learn from some of the crying lessons of the 2019 general elections.

In a three-cornered fight, the government coalition Alliance Morisien (a coalition of the Mouvement Socialiste Militant (MSM), Muvman Liberater, dissident MMM members of the Alan Ganoo Movement and the Plateforme Militante) elected 38 MPs out of 62 with 37,68% of the votes whilst the Alliance Nationale made up of the Labour Party and the PMSD elected 14 MPs with 32.76 % of the votes. The MMM won 8 seats with 20.57% votes. With the allocation of best losers, the final tally of MPs was 42 of the 70 seats for Alliance Morisien (AM), 17 for the Alliance Nationale (AN) and 9 for the MMM. The upshot is that L’Alliance Morisien obtained an absolute majority over the various opposition parties put together.

There were 5 constituencies where the votes obtained by the elected third Alliance Morisien candidate and the 4th Alliance Nationale candidate was less than 185 votes. The reality is that even if a recount reversed these results, this would not have changed the outcome of the elections.

In an election, it is the popularity of the candidate and party but more importantly the public standing and persona of the party or coalition leader and PM candidate which makes the difference especially in closely disputed constituencies. It is evident that the leader of the Alliance Nationale lost this key battle as he was himself not elected. Weakened by dissent and departures, the MMM registered one of its worst electoral performances and was unable to elect a single MP in the rural constituencies. Its standing has been severely dented.

The flabbergasting fact is that despite their repeated defeats at the polls and public criticisms the main protagonists of the 2019 elections have not changed. The 2014 elections have also shown that there is a negative synergy in a Labour Party-MMM alliance and that political arithmetic can backfire. The key question is: Despite the induction of some new candidates and a few cosmetic changes, will a nondescript and hotchpotch alliance of parties with diverse ideologies led by the same protagonists guarantee victory at the crucial 2024 elections? This is far from being certain.

The people and the country cannot risk another debacle. Time is running out. This is clearly not the way forward. The government is already making abject use of the publicly-funded national TV channel to deploy its propaganda against the opposition parties and leaders. 

Change can only be triggered by a new team of highly qualified Mauritians with high ideals, a new ethos and willing to put their professional expertise and competence at the service of the people and the country and able to mobilise people and canvass their support on their proposals for an innovative pathway for equitably shared prosperity.

There is a political vacuum in the country. There is a clear opportunity for such a team or party which strictly adheres to these high benchmarks to fill this vacuum and inspire people to rally around their proposals for a more inclusive, fairer and far better future. This requires hard work, connecting with and mobilizing people across the country and putting people at the centre of their policy framework and actions. Who will fit the bill?

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Plundering MIC funds

Is it not time for the opposition parties to demand that the MIC funds are returned to the Bank of Mauritius forthwith instead of being complicit in plundering it?

Whoever aspires to become a politician must unwaveringly uphold principles and adhere to a high code of conduct. This is far from being the case in respect of the wanton misuse of MIC funds.

In a clear disavowal and indictment of contested official policy, the IMF in its Article IV report last year advised that ‘the central bank law is being reformed, including to pre-empt further exceptional transfers to the government, in line with international best practices.’ It also recommended that ‘the central bank should relinquish ownership of the Mauritius Investment Corporation (MIC) and financing of the MIC should be provided through the budgetary process.’ This obviously imposes the oversight of parliamentary scrutiny.

The IMF statement basically closed the tap of budgetary support by the central bank.

It also comforted the outcry of the people at the total blackout and opacity which surround the billions of Rupees advanced from the Rs 80 MIC fund to bail out distressed private companies including some of the biggest conglomerates of the country.

It is noteworthy that some of the conglomerates bailed out by MIC funds during the Covid-19 pandemic have bounced back and are now investing tens of billions of Rupees in new smart cities and other projects. Despite this, there is no clamour from the opposition parties for full transparency and accountability on the terms and conditions billions of Rupees have been advanced to distressed private companies and other parties or the urgency to return the remaining MIC funds to the Bank of Mauritius to in priority defend the Rupee to allay the tremendous hardships faced by people owing to the continuous depreciation of the Rupee and rising cost of living.

Instead, the opposition parties are now demanding that Rs 4 billion are drawn from MIC funds to finance the extension of the airport at Rodrigues in replacement of theAgenceFrancaise de Developpement which has decided not to finance the project. There are obviously loaded political undertones to this proposal. Last week, the government announced that Rs 1 billion of MIC funds are being used for the construction of desalination units to improve water distribution in Rodrigues. Is the opposition now emulating government and party to despoiling MIC funds?

Such double standards are not acceptable. With the opening of our frontier to the world, economic activities have resumed in brisk mode. In a context of severely strapped public finances, it is important that we remain clear-headed and get our priorities right. Is it not time for the opposition parties to demand that the MIC funds are returned to the Bank of Mauritius forthwith to defend the Rupee, people’s purchasing power and public interest instead of being complicit in plundering it?

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 9 September 2022

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