From bad to worst

The honest and democratic decision of a government losing popular support should have been to call for fresh general elections

Matters of the Moment

Our democracy is facing an unprecedented situation. There is a pervasive perception of disarray and weak leadership in the country. The people and the citizens are deeply concerned about the ability of the government policy framework to bring about inclusive prosperity, equal opportunities for employment, improved standards of living and a narrowing of inequalities. Instead, each week seems to bring its load of allegations and scandals involving government members against a backdrop of rising ire against government inaction to upbraid and sanction its bad apples and loose cannons. Too many things are therefore going awry in the country.

The present government has been a disappointment from the word go. Despite all the tom-tomming, the promises of an elusive second economic miracle seem to have been surreptitiously swept under the carpet. In truth, the government never had the ability and acumen to deliver on such a promise. Despite a pledge of exemplary governance, government actions have too often been marred by highhandedness and arbitrariness. The elected Prime Minister reneged on the mandate given to him by the people and quit as PM after two years. Instead of democratically calling for general elections to allow the people to choose a new PM at the polls, he opted for a dynastic change of prime minister without the latter obtaining necessary legitimacy though a plebiscite at the polls. To crown it all, SAJ, the elected PM stayed on as Minister Mentor in the new government.

This is a major step back. The PM is too important and sensitive a post for such in house arrangements. The prerogative of choosing a PM for the country is the sole preserve of the people. This choice and the mandate to govern the country can only be conferred by the people at the polls.

In free fall

The string of scandals, inept governance, nepotism and the collusion of the coterie in exercising an overbearing control over basically everything have already taken their toll. The last straw has been the government’s inability to sanction its black sheep. The government standing in the eyes of the people has been in free fall. Despite the rhetoric and daily propaganda, there is no prospect of reversing the downward momentum.

Under such circumstances, the honest and democratic decision of a government losing popular support should have been to call for fresh general elections to enable the people to choose a new team of talented young Mauritians at the polls to take charge and innovatively carry forward our most ambitious dreams as a nation for the benefit and well being of all. The interests of the country and the people should always take precedence over personal interests and those of political parties. However, this is unlikely to happen as those enjoying the handsome benefits, perks and trappings of power are unlikely to let go and call for general elections which they are certain to lose. Can they morally stay on?

The current situation is therefore neither sustainable nor acceptable. The onus is therefore on the people and all those who wish a radical change in political ethics and the establishment of a new, fairer and inclusive socio-economic order in the country to add their voice to the growing clamour for urgent general elections.

New ethos and democratic standards

More importantly, the people must steer the political class and all those aspiring to join politics towards a sea change in political ethics and democratic standards in the country aligned on the ethos of our fight for independence. They must demand that all politicians and political parties adhere to its cardinal principles, a high code of ethics and a commitment of selfless service to the people. This sea change in political ethics above all means a truly democratic reform of all political parties around a new young and bright leadership and an end to pre-electoral alliances contre nature cobbled for the sole objective of wresting and wielding power. It also means uniting the nation around principles of meritocracy, equal opportunities and a level playing field for all. It further means an end to divisive politics and the balkanisation of the people into socio-ethnic components to divide and rule. It should also mean a new mindset which would enable the most able and talented Mauritians committed to the ethos of our independence and the inclusive well being of the people to assume the highest posts in the political and constitutional hierarchy of the country.

As a nation, we collectively owe it to ourselves and future generations to put an end to the endless rigmarole of composing with the same discredited political system and leaders which have plumbed the prospects of the country for too long. We and in particular the young owe it to the nation to bring about this salubrious sea change in political ethics and democratic ethos, which are necessary and essential conditions for the bright and successful future of our country.

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Chronicle of a disaster foretold

As a private company which is listed on the Stock Exchange of Mauritius, Air Mauritius is expected to be run efficiently by seasoned professionals and a competent Board having a recognized experience in the management of airlines or in business. These are sine quo non conditions for sustained success. This is the more so as the Airline Business is a very competitive business. Every year there are a host of airline companies across the world which file for bankruptcy. The management of the company therefore needs to run a tight ship. There is above all no scope for the costly blunders of the past including the billions of Rupees lost through ill advised hedging operations. These blunders have impacted on the results of Air Mauritius which have seesawed from being in the red to profitability on several occasions.

The number of political appointees on the Air Mauritius Board is contrary to elementary principles of corporate good governance. There is a high risk of overbearing political oversight and interference over the affairs of Air Mauritius. There is also a risk of usurping the prerogatives and overriding the sound decision making acumen of top management. There can thus be an obvious cause and effect between decisional blunders and political appointments of Board members not fully savvy with the intricacies of such a sophisticated business as a national airline company.

It is all so tell-tale to note that the Prime Minister’s reaction in the context of last week’s pilots related crisis was mirrored in the Air Mauritius Board decision to sack three of its senior pilots with immediate effect. How on earth can a national airline company antagonize its pool of pilots to the point of them allegedly taking unwarranted actions? The result is a lose-lose situation for both parties and a terrible blow to the image of the company. The simple truth is that without its odd 200 pilots, the Airline is grounded. Apart from being a key element of its operations, pilots of international airlines constitute a powerful lobby which is backed by the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Association (IFALPA). It would be foolhardy to appear not to be fair to pilots employed by Air Mauritius.

The chaos provoked by the cancellation of numerous flights and its poor crisis management has dented the reputation of Air Mauritius which will entail substantial invisible costs. The rescheduling of flights to carry thousands of stranded passengers and the related costs of hotels and transport has cost Air Mauritius a whopping Rs 242 million to date. Such costs could surely have been avoided through constructive and timely dialogue and goodwill from both parties.

Saving the Kestrel

Air Mauritius benefits from a huge captive market of passengers as it is said to carry the lion’s share of some 1.36 million tourists forecast for this year in an upbeat tourism industry which is one of the key growth poles of the economy. Information which has transpired in public has also revealed that quite a few aspects and procedures of personnel management at Air Mauritius are under par and needs to be urgently set right in the long term interests of the company. There must be structured mechanisms of dialogue to resolve any differences in a spirit of fairness bearing in mind the overall interests and viability of the company. There must also be procedures of amiable arbitration when agreement cannot be reached. Pilots and an efficient airline crew and personnel are vital to the success and viability of Air Mauritius. It is also imperative that the quality of diverse on board services, leg space and customer care and seat comfort on our long haul flights which are also under par be benchmarked on the best norms prevailing in the airline business. Above all, Air Mauritius must ensure that the on board experience of tourists and passengers travelling on long flights to Mauritius is thoroughly enjoyable and comfortable and provides them with a delightful glimpse of the high quality of service, rich culture, culinary fare and warm sense of hospitality of the country.

Regrettably, the situation at Air Mauritius reflects what prevails in State controlled private companies which are subject to government interference. Government must realize that all things being equal, a professionally run State controlled company having robust bulwarks of check and balances but shielded from political interference is much more profitable than those with Boards made up of political appointees with no expert experience in the field of activity of the company. Without political interference and inept political appointees on its Board, an Air Mauritius manned by professionals with the necessary experience, expertise and business savviness will be a much more efficient and profitable company. Isn’t it high time for Air Mauritius to also have a structured in-house succession planning for the future instead of having recourse to outsiders, to carry forward the ethos and thrust of the company for the benefit of all its stake holders and the country? Isn’t it equally time for Air Mauritius to benefit from the synergies of a competent and aptly qualified Board and a top management team to devise the best strategies for a bright and successful future distanced from political meddling?

The endangered Kestrel deserves better for its sustained growth and success.

 

*  Published in print edition on 13 October 2017

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