A deadly disease

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When former Mauritius Telecom CEO Sarat Lallah was posting profits averaging Rs1.5/Rs1.6 billion and at times reaching Rs2.8 billion, we never thought he deserved our praise. After all, when you are operating in a quasi-monopolistic situation, what else is expected of you?

Then the tragedy happened. In spite of the quasi-monopolistic situation, since 2015, as revealed in parliament this week by MMM Member of Parliament Aadil Ameer Meea and highlighted by l’express, profits started to dwindle gradually until they reached Rs74 million in 2021, with a major feat: a Rs98 million loss – loss! – in 2017!

The State Bank of Mauritius – which was born to stay ahead – also joined the list of miracle institutions for writing off between Rs2.4 billion and Rs3.8 billion every year since 2018, depriving the state of Rs12.8 billion in the last four years!

As for the biggest miracle, Air Mauritius, that is for another day.

With each of these miracles happening to us, the country is getting impoverished and the money is being dilapidated in an opaque way. Those who are supposed to ask questions and hold those responsible to account seem to be happy to draw their salaries and look the other way.

And when the country has become so poor that it no longer has enough money to feed its people properly, it starts to sell its assets. So Maubank and the National Insurance Company are on the line to be sold to whoever the government decides at whatever price it decides through whoever it decides.

Behind each of these tragedies is a sad story that can be summed up in one word: Nepotism or its cousins favouritism and cronyism. It is one of the worst forms of corruption. Defined as the abuse of power to support a specific group’s interest, usually based on personal greed, it eats the country from within. When it becomes rampant and little progress is made in curtailing it, as it is the case today, it robs the people of their dignity, lowers the morale of the nation and distorts institutional incentives. It is a deadly disease!

The country has become so polarised that it is the same people who are eating at the high table while the others are helplessly watching. It is the same families hogging jobs, contracts and nominations. It is the same clique bleeding the country dry. It is the same cronies having their loans written off every year. The same ones robbing the country of its prime state land. And the same people getting away with crime and offences as the whole country is controlled by that very clique.

The price is of course obvious. The country is not benefiting from its capable and educated elite because those who “are against us” are sidelined no matter what their competencies and expertise are. The result is a workforce unable to do the job properly and, because they have been picked for the wrong reason, they are unable to motivate others to do so. The people are not getting value for money because those who are providing goods and services to the government are not selected on the basis of offering the best product at the best possible price. So a whole set of values changes.

Another insidious result of this is the inexorable brain drain that we can witness today. Large chunks of brainy and experienced resources are leaving the country or have left already. And our young people, many of whom have graduated from, or are studying in, some of the world’s top universities, choose not to return to the homeland and rather contribute to the advancement of the foreign countries of their adoption. What a waste!

The debate really is not just about the financial mess some institutions have become. It is not even about the credibility of others that were beyond reproach – like the Mauritius Examination Syndicate, where a leak is treated with such levity that one wonders if anyone is in charge. It is about the consequences each setback has on the country and its people. That is the ultimate price we are paying!

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