… they seem so adept at fighting amongst themselves that they do not really require any opponent”
* ‘The most outrageous fact remains that the Central Bank acts as the coolie of a happy few’
RajenValayden, Chief Editor of Capital Media, environmental and social activist, minces no words in sharing his views in this free-wheeling interview on various topical matters ranging from the worrisome state of our institutions, the abyss of cronyism, mismanagement and corruption, and the tumbling reserves of the central bank while oligarchs were being handed fantastic lifelines. He also gives his unfiltered opinion on the ability of leaders of the main traditional parties to surmount their egos and differences to challenge the MSM effectively.
Mauritius Times: As we are just a few weeks away from the end of the year, what are your thoughts about how the country is doing generally and where we are heading?
Rajen Valayden: In January 2022, many of us thought it just couldn’t be worse. Again, we were proved wrong. The invasion of Ukraine, which started as an issue of Russia’s national security and Ukraine’s sovereignty, finally took an awful turn and now has the allure of a cold war impacting on faraway households.
On the local front, we have reaped in 2022 the consequences of years of mismanagement and foolishness. The crumbling down of our institutions, the increasing number of our children falling prey to drugs and with mediocrity on a rampage, we are swirling into the abyss. On the environmental front, while most local issues remain unresolved, and COP 27 has been as usual under par.
* What about the state of the economy itself?
At the very outset, 2022 has been clouded by considerable uncertainties. The Ukraine crisis teaming up with the third year of covid-19 made life really hard for middle-income families and others down the ladder. Though output bounced back after a steep decline over the last two years, the depreciation of our currency and high prices of commodity have impacted immensely on the lives of our countrymen.
2022 has been the year where we have witnessed the dire consequences of income inequality. Prior to Covid, our economy already had its alarm lights flashing. By outsourcing the task of rethinking our economic model to a handful of economic operators, the government is not only abdicating its responsibility but also putting at risk the future of the country. These conglomerates are far from being bright benchmarks and serve their own private interests first and foremost.
* The latest report of the Bank of Mauritius informs us that its reserves, which were around Rs 2.5 billion last September, have one month later come down to less than Rs 1 billion. That does not augur well for the financial stability of the central bank, isn’t it?
The latest Central Bank Survey report indicating the poor status of the Capital & Reserves has sparked an unprecedented flow of reactions on all media platforms. Prior to Covid, I had affirmed from a common-sense point of view that the BOM would have to be recapitalised.
In all fairness, we should concur that the BOM has acted as a cushion in absorbing most of the covid related shocks thereby avoiding a widespread trauma. Yet casting aside critics such as political interference, depreciation of the rupee, artificial bloating of assets, steep drop in Shareholder Reserve, manipulation of balance sheet, structure of MIC, etc., the most outrageous fact remains that the Central Bank acts as the coolie of a happy few.
A glance at the balance sheet of commercial banks would suffice to observe what a boon Covid has been to them. They have benefited from bailouts, but mostly reviving their dying clients through the MIC. Conglomerates such as Omnicane were like patients hanging on thanks to ventilators prior to covid and are only alive thanks to the courtesy of the MIC. A fact hushed hypocritically by all. The tragedy of this whole story is while we will have to foot the bill by cutting down on our expenditure, the happy beneficiaries of MIC are busy sharing dividends. What a shame!
* Criticisms about the state of governance at the level of our public institutions, especially of our regulatory and investigative bodies have been piling up for quite some time now. Can we reasonably expect to see any positive change next year, or does it seem to you that the authorities will press on with their political agenda no matter what?
Recent events have extinguished the slightest hope of turning around our institutions. They all function like kingdoms within the empire. How can there be hope when the one at the helm of our country himself claims “the mafia has infiltrated our institutions”? While there is unanimity in the country on the extent on the rot, there seems to be a void when faced with the question of who’s responsibility it is to take to task those running the institutions. Persisting along these lines will only get us closer to the brink of anarchy.
The political masters need to draw lessons from happenings abroad. The current strategy cannot be sustained over time and will backfire causing irreversible harm to the country. foreign diplomats and investors whom I have had the opportunity to meet express concern about the state of our institutions. As storm clouds gather over the global economy, there is urgency to act and act responsibly.
* The ruling alliance may find comfort in the fact that there is really no opposition in the country. The recent agreement reached by the L’Entente de l’Espoir and the Labour Party in view of municipal elections, which may or may not be held, may be what’s necessary for the urban constituencies. Will that do in the rural constituencies?
This perception rests on basically three assumptions: (i) the ethnic spread of the constituencies, (ii) the belief that people from the so-called “minority” communities live in urban areas, and (iii) these communities adhere mostly to today’s main opposition parties.
A honest assessment would lead us to observe that there has been a shift since 2014. Every mainstream party has been cut down to size and can no longer claim to benefit from their traditional vote bank. There is no longer any such thing as an urban or a rural constituency. The voting behaviour of citizens has also changed and is extremely tough to decipher even when using granular data.
The MMM, which ruled undisputedly over towns such as Beau Bassin-Rose Hill, should be concerned by the constant loss of vote share in various wards. Though the campaign, should the elections be held, would revolve around national issues, we could see a record performance by non-traditional parties and independent candidates.
* Even if the Opposition parties have finally managed to come together in view of municipal elections, do you see them sticking together and capable tochallenge the governing alliance?
The projected image of a unified opposition alliance is deceptive. They seem so adept at fighting amongst themselves that they do not really require any opponent. Everyday there are leaks reaching out to newsrooms on politburo battles, which would suggest thatPaul Bérenger would be willing to burn down the MMM for the sake of a dynastic succession while Navin Ramgoolam seems keen to gamble against the odds onDaneshwarDamry. I guess Xavier Duval should be wondering what’s he doing in the middle of this mess. Right now, they appear as threezebras pretending to be a stallions.
Since Labour Party claims to be the driving engine that pulls the wagons, let’s focus on their chances. Navin Ramgoolam has the knack of achieving difficult tasks. He has succeeded in losing two consecutive elections which could have been won. Be it the 2014 alliance or the one of 2019, both had neither steam nor ideas. Let alone their pompous behaviour, most of those from the campaign committee acted like headless chickens. It remains to be seen whetherthere has been any significant change.
Today’s Labour Party is a tribal federation and, at its best, a glossy version of the MSM. What’s the use of reshuffling the pack if all the cards are jokers? It’s a pity to acknowledge that, as matters stand, it would be no surprise if the Labour Party were to lose a third consecutive wicket.
It would be worthy reminding Navin Ramgoolam of the advice from Lal Bahadur Shastri to Jawaharlal Nehru: “When a small sacrifice is withheld, a bigger one gets to be demanded.” With some deep reengineering and discipline, Navin Ramgoolam can be in power without necessarily be in office. But “power” would be meaningless if devoid of knowledge and courage. Read More… Become a Subscriber
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 25 November 2022
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