From mediocrity to hope… What will the new year bring?

As 2017 draws to an end, festivities have started to welcome the New Year. For many, it is a time for reflection, the pessimists perhaps have little to celebrate, while the critics have a lot to say. The papers are full of anecdotes and personal failures. The past was eventful,
both nationally and internationally. International politics have reshaped the world order and are dictating global economic policies. I am not going to dwell too much on global events, although they have implications on the domestic situation. In this piece, as a year-ending exercise, I will focus on the realities and challenges in Mauritius and what could be expected in 2018.

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On the political front, the ups and downs in the current government will continue. However, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth will have to rally his troops and consolidate his position if he intends to bring stability. The lessons from 2017 should be fresh in his mind. It is time for him to strengthen his government and assert his leadership. He can only do that if he is not distracted by fall-outs from his own party and his government. The Prime Minister cannot afford to face further scandals. He has shown signs of leadership and he will plough through. Although his government has a majority, he cannot lose more members. Pravind Jugnauth has to show that he is in power. But don’t be surprised.

In 2018, some will cross the floor that could shake the Lepep government. The previous year, that is 2017, was a missed opportunity for the opposition parties. The Opposition is divided, and unable to challenge the government when it mattered. In 2018, the Opposition will remain divided, and potential alliances will emerge going into elections in 2019. I don’t anticipate a general election in 2018, as some claim. Paul Bérenger,
Navin Ramgoolam and Xavier-Luc Duval will continue their verbal war. There are no signs of new challengers to replace them. It is clear that the Labour Party wants to return to power with Navin as its leader. In Mauritius, the electorate has a short memory, therefore, major political changes are not expected in 2018. The typical headlines will dominate
local news. The no. 18 by-election that caused such a media frenzy in 2017, was a non-entity, and is unlikely to unravel any change of direction. It is not a game changer going into the new year. However, Pravind Jugnauth made a wise decision not to participate in the by-election, instead consolidated his leadership by focusing on matters of the state.

While the opposition is fragmented, Labour takes on pole position as the main challenger. In 2018, Labour will rise again, others like the MMM and PMSD will watch with envy and concern. Going into 2018, the party to be most concerned about the future is the MMM. The recent by-election was another setback for a party that is trying to reinvent itself. It should stop the blame game and restore confi dence with its supporters. As it continues to decline in popular support, the MMM has to take a serious look at itself as it plans for 2019.
The party cannot afford another setback. It is still a force, but needs a saviour. 2018 will not be the year of the MMM. Time is running out for this party to put into place a new and dynamic leadership. Paul Bérenger should bow out graciously and let the party rebuild itself. He will go down in history as one of the great politicians the country has produced.

At a policy level, economic challenges remain. International factors have impacted on domestic policies, causing infl ation and affecting the growth rate. The recent announcement of the minimum wage has saved the government from some criticisms. While the promise of thousands of jobs remain just that, the unemployed lament. Unless
there is a reversal in the current trend, it will continue in 2018. As the Metro Project gets underway, some opportunities will arise for the skilled and semi-skilled, but youth unemployment will remain a problem in 2018.

The government can pat itself on the back. The Nine-Year Schooling gets underway. I have stated previously that the proposed reform is not bad in itself. If implemented responsibly and with a coordinated approach, it will revolutionize the education system. It is too early to evaluate, but it is a bold initiative by the government. Critics are many, but the reform should be given a chance. There are still many challenges in the education sector. Complex as these are, the reality is that the government wants to press on. Another bold initiative is the creation of the higher education commission, set to replace an ineffi cient and poorly administered Tertiary Education Commission. In 2018, expect further announcements on this. The country needs a long-term vision.

The government will press on with the Metro Project. The Prime Minister has shown that his
government will not deviate from this. In spite of the criticisms and lukewarm reaction from many, the construction will continue into 2018. There are still some grey areas regarding the financing and management of this huge undertaking, but these will be forgotten quickly. Mauritians will have to put with the chaos as construction gets underway.
Short-term inconvenience and more congestion. The deaths on our roads continue to bring pain to victims and their families. Can our roads be safer in 2018? The short answer is NO. There are many reasons why accidents will continue to cause fatalities, and these have been debated and examined in details. Some new initiatives have been put into place, others are being planned. To make our roads safer everyone has to play a role and be responsible whether you are a driver, a passenger or a pedestrian. While there are wild drivers, we all have to get engaged and prevent these horrific deaths. I hope there will be fewer casualties in 2018, and expect good citizenship from everyone.

Air Mauritius will continue to fl y the skies. Its recent acquisitions are very fl attering. But the internal turmoil will not go away in 2018. It is not about pilots and airline personnel. Some would say the national airline has run out of ideas, others would argue that a further shake up is required at the company’s headquarters. In 2018, could we wish that the airline be allowed to operate free from political interference or appoint a management that
knows how to run a modern airline? I let the readers dwell on this.

The Commission of Drugs showed that it is for real and wants to expose those involved with drug trafficking. A positive step in the right direction. In 2017, the Commission exposed many individuals who thought they were above the law. The work of the Commission will continue for a while until its investigation and inquiry is completed. Some
should be shaking. In 2018, the population will learn of several outcomes. A note of encouragement to the members of the Commission presided by former judge Paul Lam Shang Leen. Good job, keep it up. A bold initiative. I hope the fi nal report will be made
available to the public.

Aside from politics, the last twelve months did not bring a lot of celebrations. The country went down in a “business as usual” mode. The year was marked by peace and stability, although there were moments when tensions mounted and one sensed
an explosion. But that did not happen, Mauritians are peace-loving people. The degree of tolerance and respect for one another is high. Those who try to “divide and rule” should look elsewhere. Diversity won over exclusion.

In my view 2017 will go down as an eventful year but with little substance. A lot of noise for the wrong reasons, theatrics without a proper script, and many promises unkept. However, 2017 is not a lost year. I looked around to see who is worthy of any accolade in 2017. I couldn’t find anyone in politics, industry or media. I looked for Mauritians who are making a difference. As a writer, I came across many publications by Mauritian authors. I
attended art exhibitions and musical concerts by young Mauritians. I saw children talking about the environment and college students cleaning the beaches. I read novels and poems in Kreol. I watched tree-planting ceremonies. Voluntary associations and informal groups are doing a wonderful job. The orchid show was a delight. I was thrilled by the photography exhibition in Port-Louis. The galleries show-cased various artists. The young
dancers and singers who performed at the MGI brought joy to the audience. I realised this country has talents and my wish is that our local artists be recognised. Collectively, they are the catalysts for change and nation-building. It is encouraging to know that civil society is alive and well in Mauritius.

My sense of optimism grew stronger and it’s not all doom and gloom. In 2017, the artists and performers are the worthy winners and congratulations to all of them. 2018 will challenge us further. There will be calamities and disasters and a bitter medicine that some will find hard to swallow. We will scream at politicians for their failures and incompetence in 2018. The headlines will be as depressing, and the political vendetta will continue. But hope is what makes us think of tomorrow. Our artists are the symbol of hope.

Happy New Year!


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