One view which is often expressed in social media is that our elected representatives are our employees probably because they are paid indirectly by us through the various taxes that we all pay. In this article, I would like to explore the implications of this thinking.
To begin with, if our elected representatives were really our employees, this would imply that we as employers are clear about their job descriptions and their expected profiles. Furthermore, we need to be able to describe what success on the job will look like. This raises a number of questions: are we clear about what we expect our elected representatives to do? Assuming that we are individually clear, is there a consensus among most voters about what is we expect from our representatives and how we expect them to behave? Is there a consensus about the competencies they should have to succeed on the job? Is there a consensus about what a success really looks like as far as these representatives are concerned?
On a superficial level, judging from the fact that the relatively ‘better’ members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) are generally more popular, it would appear that there is some kind of consensus. However, when one looks deeper, one may speculate about the weight of common practices – like attending every wedding, funeral, and religious event in the constituency, or helping a close one to get a job irrespective of merit – in the assessment of these MLAs. On the other hand, one wonders how far the alleged corrupt practices of certain MLAs can be compensated by their occasional ‘generosity’ especially closer to elections – even though the amounts distributed are insignificant compared to the amounts allegedly misappropriated. How else can we explain the fact that many of the current MLAs have been elected more than once irrespective of their poor performance and/or misdemeanours / corrupt practices?
This leads us to a related issue. One often comes across comments from people on the lookout for a new breed of politicians, people who would be a class above many of the current ones. One wonders from where these superior individuals will emerge. Realistically speaking, they can only be the products of our society, of our education system just like the current politicians. Do the politicians simply embody the best and the worst of the Mauritian population? Or else, is there a mechanism in place that is indirectly preventing the better elements of the Mauritian society from emerging in the political arena? Is it money? Or is the unruly behaviour of some of the MLAs in the Assembly (that we regularly see on our TV screens) discouraging the more decent ones among us from joining politics? Are we then caught in a vicious cycle?
In the circumstances, we wonder whether there is hope for real change, for avoiding the “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” syndrome. Should we then give up hope? The answer is clearly ‘No’. The stakes are too high – we cannot afford to give up. The international environment has changed drastically in recent years. Most of the protective trade schemes that benefited our key economic sectors have disappeared. It is true we may be able to count on ‘friends’ like India or China. But for how long? In any case most of the international assistance available to us is not without strings attached. There is a price to pay and we’ll have to pay it. At the end of the day, the future of this nation depends on the quality of leadership that is exercised at all levels of the society, be it in the public or in the private sector.
Here too, there is a blatant lack of consensus on what we mean by leadership or about the leadership model that we should adopt. This is a serious lacuna – considering that leadership is a ‘sine qua non’ condition for the implementation of any breakthrough strategy or any large-scale social project. Moreover, in the absence of an agreed model and of a common yardstick, it is impossible to assess those who pose as leaders in the political field – we face the same problem in the private and public sectors – it is impossible to assess the quality of leadership that they have exercised, if at all. While there is no universally accepted single model of leadership, most of the research point towards models centred around dimensions like integrity, respect for others, walking the talk, courage, vision, competence, the capacity to unite people around a common purpose and the capacity to take calculated risks to bring about sustainable positive change. Once we as a people agree on our model, we would be in a position to compile a list of leadership behaviours that support our model and thus weed out from public office those that do not fit our model.
To conclude, a new breed of politicians will emerge when we the people are able to formulate in clear terms what we expect from politicians, when we are able to describe concretely our leadership model, when we are able to describe exactly what success will look like for MLAs and under what conditions they can expect to be re-elected. Many of us may first have to undergo an internal change, to ensure that our own expectations change. We should make time to guide those who may still be tempted by petty electoral bribes and ensure that they are no longer cheated by empty electoral promises and slogans like ‘changing your life in 100 days’, or ‘making the country great’. Otherwise, they will continue to vote as they have done in the past. We should also stop seeing elections as a football match where we as spectators have no role other than celebrate noisily when our team wins. We have an active role to play to ensure that our elected representatives comply with their job description and our leadership model and to objectively appraise them without being influenced by irrelevant considerations like ethnicity and caste.
Published on Le Mauricien on September 1, 2017