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Friday, 12 May 2017 22:02

Loss of Direction

The extremely damaging “entrée en scène” of the new government the last two years did not augur much good. A lot of it was about getting the upper hand in politics than improving the image of the country as a good venue for doing business. Despite the first budget of the government and announcement the following year of a series of long term redress measures called ‘Vision 2030’, nothing much happened to add substance.

With unbridled zeal, the government went around pulling down brutally the BAI group early in its mandate, introducing highly controversial legislation likely to erode Constitutional liberties and undermining public institutions. Interference in Air Mauritius, which eventually led to the unceremonious sacking of its Chief Executive, rocked public confidence even further.

All this sent very negative signals to an economy that had already run short of valid projects to do during the term of the previous government itself. Bad governance was in. It seemed one had just to wait for the next catastrophic decision to be initiated by uncontrollable chaps on the government side. It was evident there was an internal struggle for power. The government chose to look the other side, seemingly oblivious of the harm being wrought to the polity.

In the face of such inertia and negativity, it was sought to launch the economy with a massive project to re-house the public administrative offices by constructing what, to all appearances could have ended up being a white elephant, the Heritage City project. Many received the news of its abandonment eventually with a sigh of relief. Ministers were reshuffled or suspended, not without reason.

The attempted introduction of a Constitution-amending Prosecution Commission Bill to take away the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions finally broke the camel’s back. It ended up splitting the government, with the PMSD deciding to go for the opposition benches late 2016 - though not necessarily or entirely for reason of this Bill.

Not only was the government balance sheet terribly non-performing after two years. A number of controversies around the appointment of highly remunerated persons close to politicians in power to positions in public bodies also became, as it were, a major preoccupation for the country. The government had just done exactly what the public had been reproaching previous governments of doing: helping cronies to achieve good remuneration from the public purse.

As if that were not enough. Last week saw the continuation of another type of in-house confrontation. Mr Koomaren Chetty, a defeated MSM candidate at the elections of 2014, who had been appointed to look after the good running of Business Parks of Mauritius Ltd (BPML), resigned from Landscope Mauritius, an urbanisation project which had merged BPML into it. The reason: he had serious differences of opinion with Mr Gerard Sanspeur who occupies the top position at Landscope. Mr Claude Wong So, another director, had resigned from Landscope just a few weeks earlier for apparently an identical reason.

Like it or not, despite all the controversy it raised, the appointment of Pravind Jugnauth as Prime Minister this year was seen as a possible turnaround from all the bad scenario played out during the first two years of the new government. It called for better signals to be sent that the government now meant business. That was without counting with the succession of calculated leaks of alleged wrongdoing by a previous insider of the government and the fact that the PMSD, which was now in the opposition, was also privy to certain actions of the government which could be employed to embarrass it.

Power politics thus took the centre stage once again to undermine government redress action to repair all the damage previously done. Even if the new Prime Minister would be expected to do all he can to wipe the previous slate clean again and embark on serious work, the political game being played at the moment will thwart attempts to set the economy back on track.

The stock of competency required within the government team for undertaking this task is sorely lacking. There is a severe shortage of ministers who work more than they indulge in all sorts of sophisticated smart talks. Pravind Jugnauth has to be PM, with its own heavy portfolio, while also taking on the duties of Minister of Finance.

This situation will produce conditions of insufficient attention being given to dossiers of urgent importance. It is unlikely the government will find a sufficiently competent person within its ranks to do justice to the important portfolio of Finance, allowing the PM to concentrate on strategy and meaningful foreign affairs.

Besides, those who have broken ranks from the government are lurking behind to spot a place for themselves not by their own merit but by pointing out failings of those in power. To deal with the momentous task ahead, government will not only have to silence useless internal controversies. It will also have to manage fickle characters within the government who got elected in 2014 and have the potential to disrupt attempts to raise the government act to an acceptable and convincing level. It may even have to tackle blackmail, if any, asking for its own pound of flesh, howsoever much undeserved and highly disruptive of constructive work.

Let’s add to this another dimension, not of the making of the government. International markets are currently in an acute phase of uncertainty. Individual countries and blocs of countries are keen to defend their economic space even if that were to undermine the working of the global economy on which Mauritius depends very much. That makes uncertain the market opportunities Mauritius must perforce open up in order to increase its much needed economic scope. The coming Metro Express project, which the government sees as having potential to create additional local business centres, does not address issues from this front.

So the question arises: where do we go from here? Beyond the daunting economic issues at hand, the new government chose to shoot itself in the foot in its initial years in power. To catch up from the harm it did is not easy. Moreover, it is hemmed in by numerous potential risks and an unfavourable international economic climate. It will be a feat indeed if it were able to raise its head despite the havoc all over. For the good of the country, one would wish that we overcome obstacles – many of our own making – to give Mauritius another chance to come out of the rut.

M.K.

Tags:   Editorial M.K.   Heritage City project    Director of Public Prosecutions   Pravind Jugnauth   Alliance Lepep Government   Vision 2030   Prosecution Commission Bill