JHAYRAZ (OUDESH) BHURTUN

  Every country including Mauritius that has been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic has been scarred by its effects and consequences. The evidence is clear, real and painful to read and watch, as it transitions from country to country destroying lives and communities in its wake. An invisible enemy it may be, but its effects have been dramatic, visible and may remain with us for some time to come for many of our towns and cities around the world.

The social, health and economic costs are estimated to be staggering and recovery will be measured not in terms of months but years. There will need to be a concerted effort from all and, more so from our parliamentarians working collaboratively, if we are to succeed in riding out the hard times ahead. They need to have proper and serious discussions with the bankers, financiers and business leaders; consult with our engineers, economists, doctors, sociologists and psychologists; engage with the corporate giants to the one-man band. It will require representation and co-operation from all levels of society.

As we practice social distancing to combat COVID-19, it is an opportunity for everyone including our parliamentarians to reflect and learn as we emerge and adjust to “new normal”.

In such time of crisis, we look to our parliamentarians for guidance, for them to steer us through the troubles and difficulties ahead. The measures that have been put in place by the health authorities in Mauritius to fight COVID-19 have been effective in controlling the spread of the virus and the good diligence that followed has paid off in some respect.  However, amid this unprecedented time in our history, where the country faces such a serious health pandemic, we can still see petty squabbling going on in the ‘House’. The debates have turned personal, accusatory and almost farcical.

Petty battle of personalities

Our politics is tainted by petty battle of personalities rather than of ideas; false accusations, lies, harassment, intimidation, corruption and nepotism – the antithesis of the standard of behaviour required in public office and the enemy of any true democracy.

Parliamentarians must put party politics to one side and work together. Now more than ever, we need leaders who can shoulder the responsibility and have the charisma, capability and compassion to move and carry the nation forward and out of this crisis; to try and foster a spirit of togetherness and nationhood so that, no village, town, community or individual is left behind or forgotten. The leader of a nation has to be capable of more than soundbites and electioneering. The coronavirus pandemic has served as a sobering reminder of the importance of strong leadership during a crisis, leadership that engenders confidence and which garners respect both at home and abroad.

Times of crisis provide fertile ground for abusers of power – we should be weary of leaders who take advantage of their citizens. As the saying goes – ‘power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. People will give up their liberties to feel more safe and secure, no matter how false that security really is.

Once upon a time, people would enter politics because they wanted to make a difference. They worked together to bring about changes in society and improve the lives of all individuals in the country. Today this seems like a fairy tale, as we witness policies and practices bred by greed and self-interest. Instead we must unite in delivering on well thought out policies; on healthcare (which is crucial at the moment in combatting COVID-19), social care, the environment, education, the economy and about tackling poverty, which incidentally are the real issues facing the country today. It is crucial that our parliamentarians are held to account and don’t pass draconian laws that will disadvantage the poor and less fortunate in our communities. It is important for a thriving democracy that expression and freedom of speech are not eroded especially, in the current climate where politicians can use the so called ‘emergency powers’ to rush through legislation without proper consultation or debate.

Our Parliamentarians must have conviction and vision; a steadfast resolve to serve and to do so with humility. Integrity must preside over self-interest. In recent times, the disconnect between politicians and voters has grown. The public has become uninterested in politics, disillusioned with what the future will bring and, above all, mistrusting of public servants. Promises made have been too easily broken.

In politics today, there is a dearth of integrity. There is nothing, it seems, that cannot be bought. Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence their work or behaviour. To do so puts the entire machinery of government into question and disrepute and renders it a laughingstock on the global political stage.

Responsible and principled leadership…

It is time for us to call out mediocrity and incompetence whenever we see them and not to reward and defend them. As responsible citizens, we must take charge of our lives and insist on more responsible and principled leadership from our parliamentarians.

Parliamentarians have the ability to bring tremendous, positive change; why then do we continually witness the pointless squabbles of partisanship? Today, we see disunity, bickering, and infighting – a compulsive need to blame one’s predecessor rather than being bold and looking forward with a vision. United in their endeavour, parliamentarians can be a force for good thereby improving the lives and prosperity of everyone in the country. As public office holders, they must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination, bias or external influence.

Parliamentarians should also be accountable for their actions or inactions and submit themselves to whatever necessary scrutiny that is required under the rule of law. No one is above the law. And what of the Judiciary? It should be uncompromising, impartial and free from political influence in order to carry out its obligations to the public and the country.

Our Institutions should not be in name only. They should be free from vested interests and have the power to act and uphold the values on which they were founded.

Parliamentarians should not propagate false information which can create fear and resentment in the minds of people for political gain. Information they share should be accurate, genuine and based on facts. We have seen several examples across the world regarding misinformation and fake-news and what it can create — family breakdown, tensions amongst neighbours and in some instances social unrest.

As the Pandemic slows down and we begin to count the fallout in terms of social and economic costs, everyone is now being asked to make sacrifices. We are all in it together and together we should all make sacrifices. We are reading in the media of multinationals cancelling or postponing dividends payments to its shareholders; employees being asked to take substantial pay cuts in order to keep the corporation afloat in return for their jobs; about small business laying off workers as they cannot continue to operate. There are mass redundancies on the card for many, leaving them with uncertain and bleak futures. Our parliamentarians too can play their part and share some of the burden in solidarity by sacrificing some of the generous benefits and allowances they enjoy from the state. We have seen very little in that regard.

Pre-pandemic there were lots of people who were living on the bread line, living from day to day and hand to mouth to survive and look after their family. For them, COVID-19 has amplified their already precarious situation. What else can they sacrifice? As a country, we should make sure that they are not marginalised further. The government should step in to help and not leave it to charities and NGOs (like Aide Nou Prochain and others) who have been doing their best distributing food parcels to those affected during COVID-19. A responsible government must intervene and assist by using the donations and money raised by the Solidarity Fund in order to alleviate the sufferings and desperate situations that many poor and vulnerable people find themselves in at the moment. To give them a helping hand now so that they don’t fall into this vicious cycle of poverty and destitution. Some help has been forthcoming but, it may be too little too late for some!

Change is inevitable. Covid-19 is a wake-up call for us all. It has forced us to slam the brakes, hit the pause button, take stock of our situations and lives. Lockdown, confinement or social isolation has been a period of reflection, revaluation and revelation to many; to enjoy and appreciate the true value of things that matter; family, friends, nature and the environment; the very Oxygen we breath. The road ahead will be arduous and may be prolonged but is surmountable only if we change our outlook and behaviours and start acting responsibly. We all want to go back to normality but for many people around the world ‘normality’ was the problem to begin with. We need to look at and redefine what normal is and what it should look like going forward.

Let us leave a thriving legacy that our children and grandchildren can enjoy and build upon. There is no greater gift than this that we can pass on to the next generation.