…the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. – Proverbs 29:18
The quote is from the Old Testament and was written by a prophet of Israel. His people spent 40 years wandering through the wilderness because they had no map to guide them to the Promised Land and a leader who had lost God’s favour. In the 1990s, our nation developed a long term strategy – Vision 2020 – to illuminate the path to a sustainable and prosperous future. It was the responsibility of the current Governor of the Bank of Mauritius and largely completed by the end of the golden age of Sir Anerood Jugnauth. A regime change in 1995 meant that its launch was delayed and with no communication programme, it soon disappeared from the consciousness of the people.
The parallel with the Maurice Ile Durable project is noteworthy. MID has just passed its fourth birthday. The Strategy and Action Plan have still not been been published and who can recall the vision statement – the culmination of widespread public consultation? One might have understood if the Prime Minister, who proudly announced MID to the United Nations in 1998, had been ousted in the elections of 2010. But he was not. The same man who hamstrung SAJ’s Vision 2020, has overseen the demise of his own baby. It is hard to imagine Paul Berenger performing a better hatchet job.
Other translations of the Old Testament replace “the people perish” with “the people cast off restraint”. It only takes a few powerful actors to undermine progress towards a worthwhile goal. Hence, society creates policies and laws to prevent deviants seeking their own advantage to the detriment of the rest of us. But when guiding visions become obscure, the peer pressure that prevents transgression declines. Rules are bent and then broken, officials accept bribes and even participate in dubious ventures. Self-restraint for the future, greater good is replaced by short term gain and self-interest.
Vision 2020 prioritised the preservation of our fragile lagoon by limiting the number of hotels, hence ensuring the long-term viability of the tourism sector. This was undermined by a construction boom which temporarily boosted the economy but severely dented Mauritius’ enviable image as an exclusive destination that is able to charge premium prices. If environmental protection is not perceived as a priority of the government is it surprising that citizens flout laws that prohibit littering beaches?
Vision 2020 was followed by the 2003-2023 National (land) Development Strategy (NDS) which inspired companies like Medine to produce a compatible long term master plan with a strong emphasis on social integration. As its raison d’etre was forgotten, the NDS became progressively subverted; inevitably the private sector drifted back towards a purely profit motive. For example, the integrated town at Highlands would have been a model of sustainability and given impetus to our knowledge hub. It was killed off by property owners in Port Louis, speculators in what was supposed to be Cyber City and a sugar estate commercialising prime agricultural land instead of contributing to food security.
At his annual dinner this time last year, the Governor of the central bank called upon the leaders of the private sector to join with NGOs and pick up where Vision 2020 left off. His words fell on deaf ears. To whom will he appeal next? In April, the new government programme acknowledged that the country needs to update Vision 2020 “to provide an overarching view of development for the decades to come”. It proposed the formation of a National Strategic Transformation Commission to help create this in consultation with all stakeholders. Was any provision made in November’s budget?
Nothing unites a nation like an inspiring shared vision of what we want our country to become. Where is the leadership that will encourage us co-create it, remind us to stay on track, prepare the necessary policies and laws, and enforce them when we stray? How will future generations judge today’s Prime Minister and his MID project? What will be his legacy in comparison to his predecessors?
- Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam: “The Father of the Nation”.
- Sir Anerood Jugnauth: “The Father of the Economic Miracle”.
- Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam: “The Father of Sustainable Mauritius” or “The Mother of Disappointments”?
It is not too late for him to make his mark, but does he have the courage to put principle before political ambition and sacrifice some golden calves? Otherwise we will be consigned to wandering through the wilderness and risk destroying our own Promised Land.