Stones from a glass house

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The current situation, where the private sector and the public one are at loggerheads, does not bode well for a progressive economy and is not conducive to job creation.

It is not our intention to defend anyone. The private sector is big enough to defend itself and has come down hard on the prime minister’s adviser, Sateeadev Seebaluck, for having accused it of ‘suffering from the chronic disease of waiting’. We are also well aware of its shortcomings, namely an unhealthy protectionism far too often rampant in some companies. It is, however, the only sector which can create productive, sustainable jobs.

Government and the private sector have worked happily together for as long as each one has stuck to its mandate. Government implements enabling political and economic policies which result in trust, predictability and stability – elements essential for any type of investment. The private sector tries to spot investment opportunities to be able to grow profitably for the benefit of its owners. Companies are not some sort of altruistic charity.

What we have seen recently is government unilaterally presenting an unbelievably lofty  ‘vision’ whose realisation relies almost entirely on the private sector, without so much as deigning to engage with that sector to ascertain whether the government’s ‘vision’ is realisable or not.

This lack of synergy is compounded by the government’s astonishingly naïve belief that just because some mandarins of the private sector sit in the front row and applaud the government’s stated vision, they are necessarily sitting there with their purses open, on the ready to disburse the money. Many of those who sit, smile and clap are in truth sneering inside at the gaping chasm between government’s ambition and its amateurism.

There is no doubt that the last two years have seen a sharp slowdown in investment, both local and foreign. From Rs18.5 billion of FDI in 2014, for example, we went down to the meagre sum of Rs9.6 billion in 2015. But, instead of looking for a scapegoat – again! – the government might benefit by examining its impetuous, irrational and reckless actions. Think British American Investment and the nationalisation of some of its companies – think Bramer Bank, think British American Insurance – and the sale on the cheap of others for reasons we dare not go into – think Apollo Bramwell, think Britam, think Courts, think, think… Other actions have genuinely demonstrated how the government is prepared to cut off its nose to spite its face. Think Betamax. Think permits which go only to those who are in the good books of government.

The government might also be well advised to ask itself if, at the present time, there is enough trust, stability and predictability to encourage investment of any type. Three ministers of finance in less than two years and counting; a prime minister constantly mulling over the idea of handing over the crown to his son; ministers who are more interested in travelling and filling their pockets than in running government; a level of nepotism unseen before; huge favours  to cronies; and a few hyperactive ministers who shoot from the hip, resulting in humongous sums of public money wasted; projects which are on, then off, then on again and then off but with the resurrection of old ones; amateurish, inexperienced ministers discussing important treaties with top-notch Indian civil servants with the outcome that we know. Just how does the government expect anyone in his right mind to throw their money into the fray?

But perhaps there is hope! Where are the Rs100 million the Boygahs promised to spend to develop 46 acres of OUR land given to them FOR FREE? Where are Rakesh Gooljaury’s colossal loans which have been written off, at the expense of eternally shorn taxpayers, in exchange for his ratting on his former friends? Why isn’t this money used to set up projects and create employment?

And, by the way, maybe all members of government and advisers should agree on one narrative. Some ministers are still bragging that the economy, thanks to their unique competence, has never been better! Good! Maybe we don’t need investment after all! Just loud-mouthed propagandists repeating the same lies until we start believing them!

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