Creating a new era for the country : The Need for Impatience – The Case of Mauritius

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The author analyses what is taking place around the globe towards good governance and relates it to Mauritius. She proposes several solutions as to how we can come out from mediocrity, patronage, poor and ineffectual leadership, ethnic politics and public Wastage.

As another new year ushers in, it is quite depressing to read and hear what makes news on the island – the inevitable political fare of imminent crossovers, courtesan politics, violence and crime, cheap speculation on mega projects and other petty gibberish. In fact, this is even more depressing when two continents that tiny Mauritius likes ‘measuring’ itself against are undergoing important changes.

The first one is India and the recent wins of the ‘Aam Aadmi Party’ (AAP) in the New Delhi state elections. AAP formerly launched in late November 2012 has demonstrated in a very clear manner, that big parties can be fallible and ultimately replaceable but perhaps more importantly the growing level of anger that the common man and woman have against such parties. The second one is Africa and here there has always been a sense of effortless superiority of Mauritius as the star performer. No doubt, a number of the indicators such as the Mo Ibrahim Index, the World Bank Competitiveness Index or the Forbes ‘Ease of Doing Business’ Index position Mauritius in the high performer category.

However, such indices give what one calls a very one dimensional assessment and is increasingly being criticized in the literature. In fact, the Mo Ibrahim Index is seriously reviewing its methodology to include a greater dose of ‘demand driven governance’ which essentially addresses the effectiveness and efficiency of laws, institutions and systems of governance. The question that will then have to be asked – is whether Mauritius would still be the star performer?

Amartya Sen in his most recent book ‘An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions’ (2013) questions appellations such as ‘India Shining’ or the ‘Tiger Power House’ and demonstrates that beneath such carefully crafted and controlled public relations messages lies another story. He calls for the need for ‘impatience among citizens as patience has only help create a tolerance towards inequalities, stratification and caste divisions’. There must be a similar call in Mauritius as we have developed unacceptable tolerance towards mediocrity, patronage, poor and ineffectual leadership, ethnic politics and public wastage.

Good governance is not only about regular and competitive elections but also about the willingness and ability for governments to be open, transparent and accountable in the manner in which they administer the coffers of the state. Despite Mauritius’ top ranking in the Mo Ibrahim Index on Good Governance, the notion of open government through the liberation of public data is non-existent. A lot of money was recently spent in developing the very hyped Mauritius Government Portal. Unfortunately, the latter remains a very flat and non-engaging experience of conventional data. In the area of open data, a number of African countries are leading the way and the case of Kenya offers excellent lessons how liberated data can enhance the quality of governance and augment citizenry engagement.

In 2012, Kenya joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) by releasing thousands of government data sets such as census data, government expenditure, parliamentary proceedings and public service locations (see Kenya Open Data Initiative). In just two years, an innovative ecosystem around government data was developed be it in the education sector, health, crime and accidents, public wastage or key development projects.

Other African countries are also following suit namely South Africa with a recently launched ‘Parliamentary Bill Tracker’ that allows citizens, journalists, civil society advocates to track the evolution of key bills and ensure that legislative lethargy is reined in. Equally interesting is the case of Ghana, where a group of journalists and developers created a website and app to follow the revenues given by the extractive industry and whether this is being used to finance development projects or line the pockets of unscrupulous public officials.

All the above-mentioned projects have considerably enhanced the quality of governance especially of the public sector. The process is neither difficult nor expensive but requires the political commitment to liberate data, which will then create the necessary ecosystem for change. In an article (l’express 11 October 2013) Alam Kasenally made the case for Mauritius ‘‘to develop data-driven approaches for real world economic, social and government problems’’. The list is long and the possibilities are numerous – be it about fixing and monitoring waste or poor performance in Mauritian hospitals, tracking the amount and use of water by region, the water levels in reservoirs, managing the traffic during rush hour, tracking crime by region, developing an app for bus schedules or for that matter the state of certain bus fleets, an interactive app for pre budgetary consultations, tracking and evaluating the performance of members of Parliament.

The other issue that needs careful monitoring is the state of Mauritian youth. A number of countries in Africa have come to the realization that they cannot ignore the youth who are increasingly becoming restless, vocal and ready to fight for their rights. The youth just like women have been systematically marginalized and yet they constitute the majority of citizens. In the case of the youth, predictions indicate that in the next 50 years, 31% of the population on the continent will be within the 18-25 years bracket.

Some countries have even developed action plans to tap into what is termed the African youth dividend by developing training, mentorship and leadership programmes. Of course this should not only be state or government driven but requires a concerted effort from the business world, the universities and other entities such as civic networks, development agencies and regional institutions. The African Union, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the African Development Bank are leading the way with the Agenda 2063 where youth is deemed a key feature of the African Renaissance. In the case of Mauritius a number of government driven youth programmes exist under the aegis of the Ministries of Youth (Mauritius Youth Council) and Finance (Mauritius Youth Employment Programme). However, it is imperative to gauge the value and impact of such programmes. Are they providing market relevant skills? Are they one-off or are they developed on a modular/continuous basis? Do they build key leadership skills?

Another issue that we must urgently address is the manner in which the Mauritian public sector or parastatal bodies are run. Many of the ministries have very little scope for young, ambitious, independent thinking and talented people to evolve. On so many occasions, long retired persons are called upon to re-occupy key positions giving little or no scope for the leadership and knowledge skills of a younger generation to be put to use.

Equally frustrating is the practice of stuffing key parastatal bodies with incompetent political nominees who often get away when they grossly mismanage these organisations (the hedging saga at the STC and Air Mauritius is a case of point). Therefore, it is not surprising to witness an exodus of Mauritian young and able minds to countries and environments that are ready to recognize competence and hard work!

This brings me to my third point – innovation, a key feature for any country wanting to be a cut above the rest. Innovation must be cultivated and this is usually through an educational system that allows children to develop critical and creative skills. Does the primary, secondary or for that matter tertiary curriculum help develop such talents? Unfortunately we all know the answer to that question. Is the state playing that role? What about the business world or civic networks?

Coming back to the type of education imparted and the urgency to retool our educational system, I would like to take the example of universities in Africa and how a number of them are becoming hubs for innovation and creativity. The case of Strathmore University in Kenya springs to mind as it has put innovation, entrepreneurship and research at the centre of many of its programmes. The Faculty of Technology has set up two hubs called ILab Africa and IBiz Africa that help nurture an environment that builds on the potential of youth to develop ICT solutions for the common good in society. What is perhaps the most appealing aspect of these hubs is that they are supported with industry money (Google, Deloitte, Samsung, Ericsson and Safaricom) who have seen great market value in such a partnership. Would it not be great if the University of Mauritius could develop similar industry interest?

Innovation is also linked to my first issue – that of open government. In fact, liberated data can unleash the creative juices of those who interact with it. For example in countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana, Open Data Hackathons are regularly organized allowing citizens, developers, journalists, students, tech enthusiasts to come together to find practical solutions and build innovative apps to deal for example with overcrowded hospitals, water sanitation issues, traffic congestion, school absenteeism etc.

It would be great if the annual event Infotech could organize an open data hackathon as the centre piece of its activities or even an institution like the University of Mauritius sponsor a one day hackathon on its premises, and I am sure that IT giants such as Microsoft, IBM and others would be very interested in partnering. When it comes to fostering a culture of innovation, we should be ready to think out of the box and abandon short term and political driven trophy projects such as the ‘one graduate per household’ or giving ipads/tablets to school children without creating the appropriate ecosystem.

The time for patience is over – where we tolerated wastage, allowed ourselves to be swayed by vague electoral promises, closed our eyes to political cronyism and allowed ourselves to operate with the notion that ‘we are the best’ and thus have nothing to learn from others. Political parties that will constitute the new government next year should reappraise their strategy – be bold in innovation, assemble the most talented Mauritians dispersed across the world, dispose cronies, stooges, and ‘experts’ whose shelf lives have long expired. Let us start a new era for the country.

An issue that must urgently be addressed is the manner in which the Mauritian public sector or parastatal bodies are run.

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