The present government has reached mid-term. If one were to assess its balance sheet so far, it looks like it has more liabilities than assets to show
Governments come and go. The national interest stays. What counts is whether by the time a government makes way for another, the country has advanced. If it has, one has to acknowledge that, despite certain wrong or miscalculated decisions it may have taken, the net outcome is positive for the country as a whole.
The present government has reached mid-term. If one were to assess its balance sheet so far, could it be said that it has accumulated more liabilities than assets? On the surface of it, it looks like it has more liabilities than assets to show. We have ourselves condemned it when, caught up in the web of power, it took certain decisions which appeared anything but constructive.
We pointed out, for example, how clumsily it had handled the BAI affair. Lack of legal discernment caused it to unilaterally repudiate the Betamax contract. The amateurism with which such serious matters were dealt is not difficult to see. We were critical when the government attempted to undermine the Constitution, for instance, in its dealings with the Office of the DPP. We expressed our concern with the arbitrary manner in which certain persons were being arrested under ‘provisional charges’. That is why many cases shoddily investigated by police had to be abandoned, undermining the credibility of public institutions.
Several of its actions were contrary to what it had proposed in its government program. Meritocracy did not always occupy the front stage. Friends and relations of politicians were favoured to an extent it shocked the population. Quite some members of the government showed up in their public dealings that they were not effectively of the expected level.
There was the case for decentralising public administration from Port Louis, the right thing to do for numerous reasons, but so poorly handled that it gave rise to serious doubts about its bona fide and eventually had to be abandoned. It finally led to infighting within the ranks of the government. This was sheer incompetence. An asset was thus turned into a liability.
On the positive side, the government was credited with having taken the decision to stop the chaotic invasion of the streets of the capital by an ever-increasing crowd of so-called street hawkers. A decision no previous government had had the courage to take despite the disruptive state of things in the streets of Port Louis. Its decision to live broadcast proceedings of the National Assembly was also a sound decision no previous government had contemplated.
It also took the correct decision to set up a Commission of Inquiry on drugs. What is coming out from proceedings of this Commission is that the drugs trade has assumed a huge dimension to the point of invading public institutions and professions in such a manner one would have thought impossible. If the findings of the Commission are duly followed up, this pernicious evil may be effectively dealt with as should be, thus averting an aggravating socially destabilising problem before it assumes unmanageable proportions. Even in this case, there have been several negative spill-overs from the work being undertaken by the Commission on persons having close association with the government. Of course, guilt if any remains to be proved. But perception of wrongdoing can sometimes be stronger than facts.
Thus, while it finally took the decision to undertake a major transport infrastructure project – the Metro Express — to deal with a constantly deteriorating public transport system, it was put on the defensive for lack of transparency about the project, when good communication was of the utmost importance. Why this lack of transparency, one may well ask? It shows poor management even when it embarks on an otherwise transforming project.
The latest has to do with the price increase of petroleum products. Some have claimed that the international price of oil has actually fallen and that the State Trading Corporation’s decision to lift the price would not be reflecting this situation and that it was sought to raise money for other hidden purposes. Actually, international oil price is not going down: Brent crude oil fell to near $40 a barrel early this year but is now at $53. One could conveniently choose a suitable recent reference date when this price was lower on international markets than what it was at some other convenient point in time but that could be far different from the price at which the STC actually received on a specific day its consignment of refined oil being supplied currently to the local market. Had those figures been brought out and explained plausibly, the insinuations that the price of diesel and fuel oil had been manipulated artificially for hidden motives would not have made headway. Yet another inept handling of a subject which has thus landed the government in negative public perception.
It is evident that the government has not lived up to expectations overall. It has blundered so much that it has made itself an easy target of all sorts of criticisms – even cheap ones – for all and sundry, the like of which is being seen daily in part of the local media.
So, the question arises, given the time it still theoretically has on its side before the end of its mandate, can it set right all that it has been doing wrong? It’s doubtful that it might do so, but the possibility that it could partly redeem itself cannot be fully ruled out, given the pressure under which it has come of its own doing or wrongdoing. The problem however is: it keeps adding to its shortcomings almost regularly.
In politics, people remember the negative aspects more than the positive ones. The last general election showed that this government came to power unexpectedly, not for anything highly promising it had done but because those it was challenging had hatched an electoral deal that the people could clearly see was against their interests and which would have bred instability in the polity.
The bad image projected in public of the government, due largely to its own misdoings, will persist notwithstanding constructive acts it might seek to undertake to avoid being submerged by all sorts of negativities being blown up in the media regularly. Governments may complain about the particular agenda of the media; true, the latter may have their own agenda but was it necessary for the government to collaborate, with all the accompanying mess, to assist the negative portrayal it was being mostly exposed for?
* Published in print edition on 11 August 2017