Prosperity Index Meets Ground Reality

While we may feel a certain pride that the Mauritius has been given an ‘honourable’ ranking, we must nevertheless not bask in self-complacency

According to Legatum Prosperity Index, Mauritius has maintained its status as a regional leader in this year’s Legatum Prosperity Index, ranking 18 places above second place South Africa. Apparently Mauritian prosperity has been driven by ‘strong Governance and Social Capital, with impressive improvements in Civic Participation’.

The classic metric of a country’s prosperity has been its GDP, but it has been realised that it does not reflect all the elements that make for prosperity, since its focus is purely economic, neglecting the social dimension. Hence the development of an index of, for example, GNH or Gross National Happiness, which takes into consideration other factors. It has been in use in Bhutan as a more holistic metric for the country.

In the same line of thinking, that national success is about more than just wealth, the Legatum Prosperity Index was developed by the Legatum Institute, a division of the private investment firm Legatum, as an annual ranking based on a number of variables. These are grouped into 9 pillars: Economic Quality, Business Environment, Governance, Education, Health, Safety & Security, Personal Freedom, Social Capital, Natural Environment. The Prosperity Index is reviewed and critiqued by an advisory panel of academics and scholars representing a range of disciplines.

The Legatum Institute presents the Prosperity Index as ‘the only global index that measures national prosperity based on both economic and social wellbeing (using objective and subjective data)’ which ‘seeks to redefine the concept of national prosperity to include, as a matter of fundamental importance, factors such as democratic governance, entrepreneurial opportunity, and social cohesion’. The aim is ‘to spark debate and to encourage policy-makers, scholars, the media, and the interested public to take an holistic view of prosperity and to better understand how it is created’. Covering as it does ‘96% of the world’s population and 99% of global GDP, it provides a more complete picture of global prosperity than any other tool of its kind’.

This may be so, but it is also important to note that nevertheless there is scepticism about some aspects of the index. In the US it was pointed out that ‘much of the data derives from opinion polls, which are inherently subjective and difficult to compare across countries, and some of it has nothing to do with prosperity’. For instance, social capital, described as a ‘vague notion’. The criticism was about one of the alleged measures of social capital: how many residents ‘attended a place of worship in [the] past week.’ This was considered to bean asinine measure of prosperity’ since, ‘by that “standard,” Islamists who plot daily in mosques to murder Americans and Israelis would top this portion of the rankings’.

The point here is that, while we may feel a certain pride that the Mauritius has been given an ‘honourable’ ranking by a credible enough body, we must nevertheless not let this go to our head and bask in self-complacency. The Mo Ibrahim Index also placed Mauritius at number one in the region, even while the BAI empire was defaulting on governance and engaging in financial irregularities, some of which had apparently already been identified in audit reports. It was only when the fall came that the rot was exposed. To the extent that there has been exposure we may say that the country has shown that it is prepared to tackle such scams, and thus score on governance, but there is also the fact that the brutal manner in which this process was carried out caused a lot of trauma to the clients and the country for that matter.

On the other hand, it may be true that Africa as a whole is showing a reasonable rate of economic growth, yet the antagonisms and conflicts that persist in that continent as well as the power tussles that take place are surely matters of grave concern, and thus our high place on that table may not mean a lot compared to the rest of the world. This is part of the regional reality, but there is also a ground reality at home that we must reckon with, despite this pat on the back by the Legatum Institute.

For example, there has been the dallying at the apex level of the country with the Angolan Alvaro Sobrinho. It is therefore instructive to take note of what the Legatum Index has to say about Angola: ‘Angola is significantly under-achieving. While it is one of the wealthier countries in Africa (GDP per capita of $6949), its over-reliance on one industry (oil) and its high unemployment rate and track record on civil liberties means it ranked just below Central African Republic as the second worst performing country.’ One may therefore ask what made Sobrinho choose Mauritius to invest instead of doing so in his own country and create much needed employment? Who are those who are benefiting from his continued presence and influence in Mauritius. Has the Legatum Institute considered this and other similar involvements in the country?

As much as we would like the country to have the best ranking possible, we must also not cover up in statistics and in global indices the dysfunctions that are occurring. We hope that by the time the 2018 report from the Lagatum Index is due, the outcomes of the Lam Shang Leen Commission on drugs and the serious deficits in their behaviours that led to the resignation of politicians will also be taken into account. We also hope that by then, sufficient corrective measures would have been taken that would have helped the country go forward more honourably. This would help to measure itself more globally than remain at the Sub-Saharan level.

We must, therefore, also take account of Legatum’s observation that, ‘however, prosperity has however declined in Mauritius for four straight years following a high in 2013, prompted by significant declines in mental health and increasing dissatisfaction with healthcare. Personal Freedom and Safety and Security also fell in 2017 – people reported feeling increasingly unsafe at night.’

On the educational front, too, we will have to await what comes out of the 9-year schooling scheme that government has decided to implement. We are loath to call it a plan, because all indications are that there has not been enough strategic thinking and planning about the implementation and the impact that this will have on the educational system as a whole. Already our educational system is a discriminatory one, with the private sector and certain religious schools allowed to operate on lines that are denied to the public sector, despite receiving grants from the government. The Prosperity Index may not have factored this in, and the ranking therefore does not reflect this serious mismatch.

We trust that our decision makers will follow the recommendation of the report, to wit: ‘We urge policy-makers across the continent to take the findings of this report and reflect on the state of the fundamental cornerstones of prosperity delivery at home. We hope that this report… demonstrates practical ways in which governments can deliver greater prosperity with the wealth they have.’

 

* Published in print edition on 1 December 2017

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