A Non-Performing Political Establishment

When the Lepep government was voted to power, it was hoped a new departure would be initiated. It didn’t take long for disappointment to set in

 

When a strong enough government comes to power, it gives people the hope that matters which ought to have been dealt with, will now be acted upon in the country’s best interests. Such was the case when the MSM-PMSD-ML government was voted to power in December 2014. Hopes were high that a new departure would be initiated in the governance of public affairs and that the country’s priorities will take front stage.

It didn’t take that long however for disappointment to set in. The new government immediately prioritized politics. It started spending much time hitting its direct political adversaries, whom the electorate had floored already in the elections. In lieu of taking to its task coolly as it was expected to, it dramatized situations to score political points. Instead of adopting the proper approach it was expected to adopt, it appeared ready to upset the very basic tenet of our system: “innocent before being proved guilty” beyond reasonable doubt.

Like a bull in a china shop, certain of its members went about taking the law in their own hands. Some of the investigative bodies were “instrumentalized” to hunt down those who were not in the good books of the government’s potentates. Business confidence was soon destroyed. Contracts were unilaterally repudiated without listening to the voice of reason and reasonableness. Seriously questionable political appointments of some close to the politicians in power were made in public institutions, not necessarily relevantly or based on pure merits. Its manner of dealing showed that it had scant regard for due process in a rule-of-law context.

Soon the element of trust which binds voters to elected members was eroded due to the exaggerated attitude adopted by certain members of government. A good part of the price the government is paying today in terms of people’s disaffection with it is of its own doing. There were barely any tangible realizations to its credit.

This went so far as to erode the strong majority with which the alliance was elected when the PMSD decided in December 2016 that it would be better off breaking away from the government it had helped bring to power. This made the government fish for defectors to comfort its numbers in the Assembly, something it had been denouncing during the electoral campaign.

This kind of situation has happened before when earlier dispensations have underperformed in more or less similar circumstances, breaking themselves apart not on issues of national interest but on partisan concerns and conflicting sectorial interests as well as for petty squabbles with respect to the sharing of the spoils of power amongst cronies. It is dissatisfaction with such predatory attitudes of many governments that led voters to confer power alternately on “anybody but” the incumbents indulging in gross self-gratification. It seems this alternating process has by now become a zero-sum game for disillusioned voters.

People find themselves disillusioned similarly with the present government for having wrought so much havoc so far. Yet, all that it did was not wrong. For example, it gathered enough political courage to free Port Louis of its daily disruptive street hawkers, something no previous government had the courage to act upon.

Of late, the government established a Commission of Inquiry on drugs. What is coming out of this Commission so far is showing members of the government or its nominees in public bodies not only not having kept the necessary distance from criminals, but even having apparently employed their professional status to help drug dealers in the commission of unlawful and criminal activities.

On the positive side, the Commission’s work is showing the scale and size of this illicit activity, possibly stretching over decades which, if the country dealt with as necessary, has the potential to rid us of an entrenched and multiple system of corruption having severely infected some of our key public institutions. Those who have been named as having indulged in shameful acts in this context should, if they had the dignity, have resigned of their own from the posts they occupy.

The question is: if they don’t and thus threaten to bring the state apparatus to shame along with them, will not the government pay a heavy price? If they don’t, will the government act as it is legitimate to do, by throwing them out? Or, will it allow the rot to remain and thus lose the credentials, or whatever is still left of such credentials, of the entire government?

Another significant initiative: short of decentralising from Port Louis for having entirely mismanaged this project, the government has been contemplating a Curepipe-Port Louis Metro Express project. Its implementation is expected to at last involve capital expenditure on a sufficient scale to make good its shortcomings in infrastructure building.

It goes to its credit that it may, however deficient its implementation might otherwise be in terms of costs, future public debt implications and delivery of service to the public, finally produce something concrete as an alternative mode of public transport. Against what looks like an unstoppable and ever-growing traffic congestion situation on public roads. Against enduring procrastination on the project by previous governments.

Despite this, the government’s track record in terms of gaffes is so much that its few concrete realizations risk being drowned by its past amateurish approach to dealing with issues of national importance. If so, what does Mauritius get in the process?

We’ve had enough of several governments that have lost their way or done much harm to the country. Since the fate of the country is more important than that of individual politicians who hold sway over everything, it would be interesting to see whether politicians will be willing to take the risk of removing themselves from power for the good of the country, when it comes to it.

One of the suggestions made by the president of Mouvement Patriotique in a private motion before the Assembly at its last sitting is that Constitutional changes be made to water down excessive power wielded by political leaders which has the effect of failing to renew the political class and not making for dynamic political representation. The motion will be discussed again when the session resumes after vacations.

It is important to ensure that the electoral process does not keep returning to square one. It is also important to ensure that the system remains balanced for sustaining social stability and economic progress, while retaining the overall architecture. The question is whether MPs will endorse something that will take away political leaders’ overwhelming dominance over the system.

Let us see where a debate regarding overhaul of the system will lead to. We may take the risk if it is worth the while.  At least, Mauritius would cease replaying the same tragedy over and over again, to its own detriment.

M.K.

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