Audit Report – Of Policy and Procedures

By TP Saran

We have read with interest the reply given by the Prime Minister in answer to Parliamentary Question B/563 posed by the Honorable Third Member for Belle Rose and Quatre Bornes, Ms Deerpalsing, namely, ‘Whether he will state if consideration will be given for the setting up of a Policy Guidance and Prioritization Unit within his Office?’ about two weeks ago. We reproduce the reply with some editorial modifications, putting in italics some parts about which we wish to comment:

‘As I stated in my address at the Mauritius International Investment Forum, organized by the Board of Investment some two weeks ago, my vision is to take Mauritius from the status of an Upper Middle Income class to the league of developed nations, while at the same time promoting inclusiveness and ensuring sustainability.

The Maurice Ile Durable (MID) is one of the major projects which precisely embodies this philosophy of Government about sustainable development and inclusive growth. This Project seeks to transform the environmental, economic and social landscape of our country. The MID vision is embedded in a strategic framework embracing five pillars of development, namely, education, environment, energy, employment and equity. The MID seeks to build up capital, not only for our generation but for generations to come.

As the House is aware, since assuming office in 2005, we have initiated a process of change at various levels for the establishment of a modern, innovative and prosperous society. The bold and decisive measures taken by the Government have allowed the country to weather the worst financial crisis in the last 60 years. Besides, the policies pursued by the Government since 2005 have also been endorsed by the population. We are now working resolutely for the implementation of the policies enunciated in the Government Programme 2010-2015 so as to take the country to a still higher level of development. We are clear on our priorities for the short and medium term and so far we have fared well, inspite of the difficult international context. Our success is acknowledged worldwide.

However, as I said the other day in the conference, we must avoid the pitfall of “satisfactory underperformance”. There is no room for complacency. We still have higher rankings to reach in several areas. We are conscious of the fact that moving the nation forward will require more than a set of sound and well crafted policies. Indeed, policies are of no value until and unless they are successfully implemented. Policy implementation is just as important as the policies themselves. There is a need therefore for a close monitoring of the major Government projects so as to ensure their effective and timely implementation.

This is precisely the reason why the Government has set up a High Level Project Monitoring Unit which will operate under the aegis of my Office. This Unit, which will be chaired by the Secretary to Cabinet and Head of the Civil Service, has been tasked with the responsibility of monitoring the timely implementation of important policies and specific major projects of the Government.

As the House is aware, we have earmarked 10 Billion USD to finance infrastructure development projects over the next few years. We are expanding the airport. We have embarked on a major road decongestion programme which includes building a Light Railway Public Transport system. We are also developing an integrated water management system. It is through these decisions that we are building the Mauritius of tomorrow.

During my official visit to Singapore last year, I discussed several avenues of cooperation, including the LRT project. I would like to point out that the first phase of the LRT project will cover the Curepipe – Port Louis corridor. But this first phase is part of a much bigger project under which the LRT system will eventually cover the whole island. Such huge projects deserve a special monitoring mechanism so as to ensure their timely completion.

The Government Programme 2010-2015 does reflect our policies and priorities. But I do agree that we must take a long term view of our social and economic development and come up with a blueprint for the next 25 years or so. Some members will surely recall that during our first mandate, we did prepare a document entitled “Vision 2020 – The National Long Term Perspective Study” which chartered out a development strategy for Mauritius for the following twenty five years.

I am therefore envisaging the setting up of a multi-disciplinary team of eminent professionals, both from Mauritius and abroad, to elaborate a similar document that will reflect our long term vision for Mauritius for the next 25 years and provide a much broader perspective for the development of our country.’ 

We concur with all that the Prime Minister has said, starting from his vision to his appreciation of the need for a broader, long term perspective for the development of the country, and it would seem that the Maurice Ile Durable project shares this view of holistic and inclusive, sustainable growth and development. However, we should not stop at development: the finality of development is human progress, and we have not seen that dimension addressed sufficiently when considering the future of the country.

We note that Lord Meghnath Desai, who was the Chief Guest at the International Investment Forum organized by the Board of Investment, and to which the Prime Minister has referred in his reply, stated in the interview he kindly gave to this paper during his stay here, that ‘I am a development man.’ We make a distinction between growth, development, and progress, but will not elaborate further in this paper which is focused on policy matters.

While we approve fully the idea of MID, may we point out that it is a project that remains insufficiently known to the public at large. Given its scope and the significant impact it is expected to make on the country’s future, we feel that it should have been better ‘marketed’ to Mauritian citizens, so that they could become if not actors in its implementation, at least they become its strong advocates – which, clearly, would have strengthened government’s case. It is still not too late to take action in this respect.

As regards ‘the policies pursued by the Government since 2005 have also been endorsed by the population’ and ‘moving the nation forward will require more than a set of sound and well crafted policies,’ again we couldn’t agree more. He has given the answer expected of a politician, and the answer is correct. But from the wider standpoint of governance, we have to ask: how are the policies pursued by the government ‘crafted’?

In an earlier article we had argued for the necessity of an Institute of Policy Formulation and Analysis; the lack of such an institution is a glaring deficiency in our governance set-up. It is different from a Civil Service College, for example, and there must not be an amalgam between the two concepts. It is right to have a ‘Policy Guidance and Prioritization Unit’ at the PMO – but as a complement to a functionally autonomous Institute of Policy Formulation and Analysis, whose role and function would be to scrutinize from a policy angle any project or proposal submitted by parent ministries, parastatal bodies and even the PMO for that matter so that the best advice, objectively formulated and in all transparency, is made available to the unit at the PMO where, just as ministries will defend their case(s) at the Institute, so will the latter justify its position on project proposals.

There are many issues of critical national importance which require to be analysed from a policy angle, and we will come to them afterwards; suffice it to give one example, that of the buying of the MedPoint Clinic to make it into a National Geriatric Hospital. Much water has already flown under the bridge on this matter, but our point is that it seems that there were alternative ways of providing the same services that were relegated to the backburner without any serious consideration being given to them.

This is where we feel that an Institute as proposed could not only have saved government embarrassment, but assured the population that there is a serious thought-through policy process in the country that safeguards its interests and ensures that at all levels the government not only does but is seen to do the right thing, based on the best expert inputs. Again, we reiterate that the country must have such an Institute at its disposal, manned by the best brains: there must be Mauritians abroad who would be willing to give time to their country and shoulder locals who would have the primary responsibility for such an institution.

As regards the High Level Project Monitoring Unit, we would submit that given the heavy burden under which the Secretary to Cabinet already functions, this responsibility would be better taken up by some other high official from the PMO who would report directly to the Secretary to Cabinet. There should be a two-weekly meeting and reporting, and clearly the Secretary to Cabinet would not have the time to do so.

We will comment further on some of the points in this reply next week.  

* Published in print edition on 15 July 2011

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