12 points for strategic and cultural change

 The 12th March celebrations will start in barely a few weeks. So, if you don’t want your

FOUAD DIOUMAN

party spoilt, kindly do not read this. Mauritius has come some way since 1968 but it is nothing compared to what could have been achieved. With well-governed public and private sector management, our island could have been a beacon of prosperity and culture to the world, despite limited resources. Sadly, these very scarce resources have been squandered, putting future generations at risk.

With a vastly inefficient government sector, public sector jobs even sometimes used as political bribes to various groups, a credible policy-implementation driver is absent. The main culprit? The country has never had a leader (or even an opposition figure, for that matter) who would see beyond his own person or political party, concentrating more on re-election to cling to power rather than the country’s sound socio-economic management. Thus, without vision, policy and planning, the private sector is let off the hook, its excesses condoned by a lame government. The economy is partly a cartel, as witnessed by the billions in profit reaped by banks every… quarter. Our rightly world-renowned tourism sector hides major cultural dysfunctions, composed of forbidden apartheid zones. Hotels have started to open the gates to their gilded cages for locals (read, non-whites) to trickle in only recently, due to the mercantile imperative of filling an over-supply of rooms in off-peak seasons.

One political leader has, belatedly, called for a ‘rupture’ with the past. But all politicians have changed… for the worse once in power. Will the ‘new’ one in 2020 be the first notable exception in 50 years? A thorough change in mindset is required to break from our mediocre past. What follows is a wish-list for a new manifesto.

  1. For a leaner (and cleaner) government, Mauritius should have only 40 MPs, hence two per constituency.
  2. Ministers and MPs should no longer benefit from cushy lifetime pensions, easily ‘earned’ after only a few years of part time work (whilst humble workers have to toil for 40 years for much less).
  3. The anachronistic ‘best loser’ system only serves to perpetuate the community calculations inherited from colonialism. We are all Mauritians or, hopefully, we will be one day.
  4. Similarly, the Vice Presidency is the most useless position in our constitution. As we all know, it is a costly ‘consolation prize’ to the community who did not ‘get their President’.
  5. Financing of political parties by the private sector (see concluding paragraph) is one of the major cancers in our society today. It should be made illegal. Only individuals should be allowed to donate to political parties and to a maximum of Rs 1,000 each. On the one hand, the willing ‘clientéliste’ attitude of the private sector is the very source of corruption and, on the other, the non-payment of bills by politicians looks like a well-oiled racketeering system.
  6. The close relatives of politicians, as well as party members, should neither be eligible for senior employment in government nor be allowed to apply for (and automatically ‘win’) juicy government contracts. At a more micro level, ‘per diem’ payments to politicians, some always on roaming mode, is yet another relic of our colonial past. It should be abolished and easily replaced by refund of expenses against receipts, as in all companies.
  7. A drastic reduction in the number of parasitic parastatals is required to put a stop to the ‘jobs for the boys’ scheme. Indeed, ultimately, no parastatal bodies would be needed if Ministries were efficient.
  8. Hence, structurally, Ministries should be re-cast as National Strategic Business Units (not more than six or seven of them), with qualified and dynamic CEOs at the helm, the Minister acting more as a Chairman.
  9. In the same vein, embassies should stop being the usual golden parachute to reward political dons, but rather be transformed into economic and cultural antennae. The ambassador (again, more of a CEO, assisted by professional diplomats and economists) is to be appraised annually by the tangible amount of foreign investment and tourists channelled into the country as well as the value of exports facilitated.
  10. A review of our Tourism industry and its Strategy is critical in light of increasing competition from emerging markets. This should shift the focus to fundamental intangibles such as culture, history, identity and uniqueness to showcase l’Art de Vivre à la Mauricienne (to borrow the slogan of a well-known tourism professional)but also better manage practicalities like safety, customer care centres and social media. A short civic training (an online video or a web tutorial) for all would help.
  11. A liberal air access policy (one wonders how transparent the process of granting air access is) hurts Air Mauritius, which is too small to compete globally on a level-playing field. The only chance of survival for the national airline is to… close it down and start with a blank sheet. Government should also facilitate MK in obtaining Management Contracts to run African airlines as well as the setting up or acquisition of African airlines by MK, which needs critical mass to survive.
  12. At least one major solar power plant by 2022 would pave the way to a carbon-neutral island as early as 2025. Indeed, a review of the mass transit system is necessary and should include compulsory electric buses besides, if required, a light rail network. Only hybrid and electric vehicles are to be imported by 2021.

The worst current practice holding back the country is the hypocritical socialist discourse of politicians whilst, at the opposite extreme, winking to the private sector behind the scenes, allowing the latter to bask in its profiteering cartels and monopolies with scant regard to price stabilisation, let alone service and consumer rights. Whether one is for or against the dismantling of the BAI, this saga has had the merit of revealing the very dubious aspects of ‘doing business in Mauritius’: how a major conglomerate can make its bed of roses with government – or what hell awaits if you don’t play ball. In a video interview in the wake of this affair, the CEO of a major ‘blue-chip’ explained how he was compelled to finance political parties in order to get his business going. His frank exposé was commendable but he obliquely portrayed himself as the victim, conveniently forgetting to mention that there would be no corruption without a willing corruptor.