In a perfect world, we would be able to exercise our intentions without fail. What we establish from collective thought and cooperation would be a simple task when converting this collective thought into collective action. However, as we are aware, intentions, no matter how honourable are never as easy to execute as they are when putting pen to paper.
Still, we need to hold firmly onto the spirit of optimism and remain positive that an ideal model for Mauritian governance exists and can be exercised. Perhaps this spirit of optimism was shared by the ç at the time when the decision was made to become a participating member state of The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) in 2003. This decision essentially committed the country to ‘observing the principles of democracy, socioeconomic development and corporate governance’[i].
Looking at it from two perspectives, we see that on one hand it was indeed a liberating move on NEPAD’s[ii] part to hand the power of improved governance practices to the country’s themselves by inviting them to become part of this self-monitoring mechanism and on the other hand we see it as a typically strategic move at dealing with a problem that is too big to let go unhandled. The APRM’s mandate states that it is a mechanism to ‘ensure polices and practices of member states conform to agreed political, economic and corporate governance values, codes and standards contained in the Declaration on Democracy, political, economic and corporate governance’[iii].
How then, would the ideal Mauritian ideal look if it had to be formulated and exercised? While there is no template or formula that comprises such a model, a good place to start is by looking at the UNDP’s Five Principles of Good Governance and their relevance to the country’s dynamic. It is important though to point out that even according to the UNDP, defining such principles can appear controversial[iv] and for the purpose of such an exercise in the context of this book and its subject matter, these are purely suggestive in nature.
Legitimacy and voice as principles are made up of two fundamental aspects, being participation and consensus orientation. Participation firstly refers to the equality in decision-making processes and is based primarily on freedom of speech and citizen’s capacity to participate constructively. What this means is that men and women should have the right to participate constructively in the processes related to decision-making at whatever level this happens to be at. In Mauritius, the trend of women’s involvement particularly in the political sphere has been slow to gain momentum even up until now in the year 2014. However in saying that, quotas of male to female politician ratios have been formalised over the past few years and more women have begun to play a role in the affairs of the state. It is, however, not nearly enough simply to instil a quota of positions to fill. Mauritian governance needs willing and passionate men and women from all walks of life to actively and constructively participate and this means that the subject needs to be opened up and education needs to take place. It is about educating the young minds and reassuring them that their word and actions can count towards a better country. I feel strongly that this principle when looking at an ideal Mauritian model because it boils down to opening the topic up fully, particularly to the youth of the nation. We should not be treading lightly regarding this topic, we need to trail blaze and inform to encourage passionate and willing men and women to be more involved in their country’s affairs.
When speaking about consensus orientation as the second part to this principle, we refer to the differing interests and about reaching a broad consensus on what is in the best interest of everyone. So, in our Mauritian model, we would then need to keep in mind that because the country is made up of a highly diverse nation, different interests and groups need to be considered in order for the greater good to be obtained. In this sense then, I feel it necessary to mention that culture and possibly religion, should not dictate to this aspect of achieving good governance but rather be taken into consideration. At the same time, we very well cannot be encouraging policy to be made up based on one particular culture or religion. The idea of an ideal Mauritian model for good governance means that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. To still think in a pluralist manner and formulate governance policy around that is regressive to say the least and takes the importance away from practicing good governance by making the focal point a culture/race issue. Just as equality applies to men and women, so does it also stretch across cultural boundaries. Very simply, we need to see people as people and formulate policy to improve the lives of those people that make up Mauritius.
Directionless strategy is as good as having no strategy or doing nothing to change the governance policies for the better in any way. Direction is thus a principle and has everything to do with strategic vision shared by not only those in power but parts of society as well. The vision should be long term and focus on human development along each step of the way. Not only is it key to have such long-term vision but possessing a sense of what is needed in order for such development to take place is just as important. Again, a number of factors come into play with one such a principle being about having a strong understanding of the historical, cultural and social complexities the society may possess. Relating this principle to a Mauritian model requires society to understand good governance and is not only based on today’s decisions and actions but the decisions and actions that will take place for the next few years. What we embark on today, the strategic thinking we employ today, the hours we give tomorrow all count towards a new and improved country in the long-term sense that will indeed benefit from today’s hard work. There is an adage about planting the trees today so that your children may enjoy the shade of the trees. I like to think of governance in Mauritius as just that. Political turnaround and good governance is not an overnight process. The multiple facets of dynamics that exist in this multi-cultural society mean that careful thought and consideration, and once more compromise, are needed in order for the greater good to benefit. One interesting point to note is that of the intertwining nature each principle has with the other. It is almost as if it is an example of symbiosis in that one needs the other to work and taking away one principle causes disruption in the chain. In this way, we need to keep in mind that good governance and especially achieving it is not about picking one or two factors to concentrate on. It is either embarked on wholeheartedly or not at all because anything in between is essentially a waste of time, resources and skills.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the concept of good governance is such a contested topic because often countries have a way somehow of twisting the principles into shapes that suit their own personal agendas instead of those of the nation. It could also get its controversy from countries not fully willing to adopt the strategies in order to improve governance because they are indeed happy with the mismanagement going on but are simply in a bind that they desperately need financial assistance of some kind. This way, they are seen to be complying but in fact are barely meeting the minimum requirements needed to make any kind of change whatsoever.
Good governance requires a number of mechanisms in order to work efficiently, performance being one of those mechanisms. As a principle, performance is determined as their ability to respond to institutions and processes trying to serve all stakeholders involved. It also goes without saying that in line with performance indicators, effectiveness and efficiency features in among this as performance is hardly anything unless measured as being effective or at least having the ability to measure such factors. When speaking about effectiveness and efficiency in the context of good governance, it enshrines the processes and institutions ability to produce results that meet the needs of society while ensuring that resources are used as best as possible.
When looking at our model once more in the Mauritian context, we can describe a better-governed country as one that sees its government performing in all spheres. Mauritian governance, in my opinion, requires a swift rethink in terms of its responsiveness, efficiency as well as effectiveness. One must realise that a government does not simply obtain good governance on good faith, but rather on its actions and this includes responding to its citizens and carrying out their policies effectively and efficiently.
As with any form of checks and balances, accountability – in this case – on the part of the decision makers in government, private sector and the greater civil society, is an essential in the pursuit of good governance. As much as organisations are accountable to citizens, so are citizens accountable to their fellow citizens. People do not vote organisations into power in Mauritius, they vote people in on the belief that these candidates can and will make a difference. Hand in hand to accountability is undoubtedly transparency because honesty at the end of the day is a fundamental of good governance. It is simply no good in holding people to account for policy and not finding transparency in the situation. Transparency is built on a free flow of information ensuring that this flow of information is not simply going in one direction.
I ask you to think to a recent topic of debate in Mauritius concerning what I think comes down to accountability and transparency in the pursuit of good governance and also in fact goes towards our ideal Mauritian model. The freedom of information, originating particularly from government and civil servants needs addressing. Though directly linked to media in Mauritius and their difficulty in gaining access to information through governmental departments. It is standard practice for civil servants not to be allowed to give information to media personnel. This has proven to restrict the movement of media but also the free-flow of information which some might say is the citizens’ right to access. It also goes a long way in undermining the media’s role in holding the government to account as they are essentially acting on behalf of citizens but are being thwarted from doing so. What we have as a result is a diminished media sector that can and sometimes does turn to irresponsible journalism because they base their stories on unfounded facts. This in turn creates a catch-22 situation where government refuse to make the information available because they feel the media are not responsible and neutral in disseminating it and the media insist they are unable to do their jobs correctly because they do not have access to the said information. As we know good governance in a country is not simply about policy but it is how responsibly matters pertaining to the state are handled. In this sense, a far more responsible method for Mauritius is to create a media watchdog which can then regulate the flow of information and ensure that responsible journalism takes place but also that the media are in fact not hindered from accessing that information to begin with.
Probably one of the most important pieces of this good governance puzzle or at least the binding property that links all of the above spoken about principles is that of fairness. No set of immaculately prepared principles are complete without a good sense of direction in carrying them out which is where the concept of fairness was likely born from. Fairness comprises equality in that all men and women have – or should have – the opportunity to improve or maintain their wellbeing. The other aspect of fairness in this regard has to do with the rule of law and how the legal frameworks established need to be fair as well as enforced impartially, especially when it concerns human rights.
It sounds fairly simple to execute. A country should put in place rules and policy to allow for the good governance that will ultimately benefit both the developmental aspects of the nation but its people also so that they are motivated to participate and hold accountable the government. I say simple but as is in life, things rarely turn out to be as simple as they are on paper.
In this sense, I feel that when adapting such principles to our ideal model for Mauritius it calls into question the fairness being exercised currently. Can we say, that in the year 2014, the island is running as fairly and equally as it should be? No, to put it very frankly. Mauritius is in desperate need for the empowerment of the female citizen. Whether in politics, business, education or any other field, the men-to-women ratio is far too outnumbered. The male dominated workforce needs to be brought up to speed on the capabilities of the female workforce and this idea that women should be the caregivers and not pursue any kind of career is one that needs to disappear rapidly. The concept of female entrepreneurship also needs a relooking. Instead of stating that low-level business is the only option available to women because of a lack of education, educate women to improve their lives. Expand their minds and get the gears of change to work so that they experience this change in mind-set and encourage themselves to better their lives. Help them to understand the bigger picture and the potential instead of simply telling them about it. It is universally known that when you help someone to understand a concept or why they need to instil change in their lives, they are more likely to engage with it successfully instead of simply telling them what they need to do without helping them to understand why.
In the political field I carry the same sentiment. Do not simply tell women they need to become more active in politics, help them to understand why and they will soon lead themselves into successful political careers. In this sense also, men need to encourage more female participation and swiftly remove the mindset that women are not their equal in the workforce. This superior attitude needs to be abandone for any hope of a better governed country to exist. Because let’s face it, more and more heads of state around the world are filled by women. The mindset just as equally needs to change from the women themselves. They have to want to participate and know they can make a change. At the end of the day it comes down to believing in themselves and their capability to bring positive change to their country. There is no power struggle here to prove which gender is stronger, it is about human equality and the ability to work together to effect change on all our lives.
Finally, in our model, the rule of law principle needs to strengthen its position in Mauritius. There should be no doubt in any citizen’s mind that the rule of law is practiced without prejudice. No outside influence should dictate to the rule of law and how human’s rights are protected and upheld. The justice system needs to appear a separate body and strictly act in the best interest of what is according to the law, right or wrong. Currently, the credibility of the justice system in Mauritius is not in jeopardy. But it is not about just being alright and cruising, good governance is about improving the situation constantly and working towards a better tomorrow always. In saying this then, I believe that complacency is not a welcome trait on the road to good governance.
[i] Zenawi, Meles, 2010. APRM Country Review Report No. 10. Port Louis: APRM The African Peer Review Mechanism.
[ii] New Partnership for Africa’s Development is the African Union’s economic development programme adopted in 2001 to assist in Africa’s development and poverty eradication as well as promote better governance and policy across the continent.
[iii] NEPAD, 2003. The African Peer Review Mechanism. Pretoria: Department of Foreign Affairs – South Africa NEPAD.
[iv] Graham, John; Amos, Bruce; Plumptre, Tim, 2003. No. 15 Principles for Good Governance in the 21st Century. Policy Brief. Canada: Institute on Governance Institute on Governance.