The Government Programme 2020-2024 read out in January, as is the custom, by the President of the Republic, before a Parliament where the Opposition parties made it a point to be symbolically absent, has suffered another setback by virtue of the Leader of the House and incumbent PM, Hon Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, deciding that the National Assembly should not meet during his overseas trips, thereby cutting short debates by a fortnight. Yet for government apologists inside or outside Parliament, the document seemed to carry enough boldness and novelty to have deserved an uninterrupted power supply to light up those areas.
The first, undoubtedly reflecting the new Chancellor’s personal ideas, is the pervasive concern for Inclusiveness as the authorities aim for scaling greater economic heights and financial performances. “Inclusiveness at the Heart of the Nation”, as Chapter 1 is titled, epitomizes the thinking for a brave new order and the same concept indeed reverberates at several other places throughout the document, leaving little doubt about the government’s sincerity, at least in intent.
Nobody can fault such messaging, the more so as it has been clearly backed by actions, namely the rather generously positioned minimum wage and the increases in old-age and other pensions in 2019, both, in addition, having been the object of campaign pledges for further increases in January 2020. Although these pledges are being challenged in the Supreme Court as undue electoral influencing, the theme has been and is a strong suit in government’s hand and has been appropriately brandished in the Government Programme, the debates around which have been so unexpectedly postponed, running the risk of making future argumentation disconnected and somewhat stale. The logic of such a postponement when there are obviously experienced Deputy and Vice-PMs to handle matters has baffled and kept observers guessing.
Other measures in this important inaugural chapter concern better facilities and recreational centres for the elderly and more commendable efforts to provide affordable social housing for low and middle income brackets, particularly the needy and vulnerable. In these areas, past experience with ambitious objectives have been shelved aside in the Programme. Deliverable targets will probably be revealed through the normal upcoming budget exercise and, if still applicable, its accompanying three-year perspective.
Equally significant is the new importance granted to educational skills and competencies, which constitutes the Programme’s second chapter, again aptly titled “Education and Skills for the World of Tomorrow”. It is a long-awaited and welcome shift in emphasis. We can however note that no mention is made of the implementation of the ministry’s major educational reform launched in June 2015, Nine-Year Basic Continuous Education (NYBCE), which is scheduled to enter a decisive phase later this year with the National Form III examinations which are supposed to select the “cream of each cohort” for access in January 2021 to the “Academies” proposed by establishment. No mention is made either of those who have failed Primary School Achievement Certificate (PSAC), who are in a sad state of illiteracy and innumeracy after six years of standard primary schooling, and are somewhat parked in “extended streams” where they are being granted one extra year and, we hear, “remedial education”, to attain the levels of their academic counterparts at those same National Form III examinations.
This chapter remains somewhat baffling by lack of those important details: few people really know how PSAC failures (extended stream) are supposed to catch up while preparing for a dozen subjects at Form III. Few people are certain either in what ways and with what better staffing or resources the planned Academies, beyond accommodating a handful of the brightest students, will be different from the regional colleges. As for the technical education stream promised we have to wait for the meat on the skeleton outlined and trust it won’t be just “schools for failures” but a full-fledged educational pathway overseen by the announced Institute of Technical Education. But the promises of new awakenings of the primary-secondary education sector that are in the Government Programme will be awaited by all stakeholders.
Operators eagerly awaiting some strategies or policies regarding the traditional pillars of the economy will have, it seems, to hold their impatience in check. Studies and reports, policies and strategies that will soon be worked out, are not perhaps the sort of stuff that will grab the attention or the plaudits of business operators, from SMEs to conglomerates. We now will have two economic planning agencies both operating under the aegis of the MOFED (Ministry of Finance and Economic Development) and if that sounds strange, we can only hope that they will start delivering more than real estate deals and forecasts.
Although only at Chapter 7, there is an expressed intention to address with some purpose environmental and eco-green issues, a priority which Minister Kavi Ramano has tackled off the starter blocks by engaging civil society in a welcome Assises de l’Environnement. But the proof of the pudding will necessarily be in the eating but we have to await that intents are effectively translated into specific programs or thrusts towards a more sustainable development.
There are some oddities like the proposed creation of a new Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Mauritius when the latter has already one in operation for more than ten years, when the UTM has been struggling to develop another. It must have some reasoning behind but this remains to be fleshed out, the more so when it is evoked in the Quality of life chapter rather than in the one relating to tertiary education. Promoting Mauritius as an International Centre for political dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts is another which has already elicited some degree of bemusement among observers.
The document offers little in concrete objectives and targets for the macro-economic indicators and perhaps wisely so from government perspectives. But at a time when the economy faces somewhat dire straits, if only because of financial outlays for campaign pledges, repayments for the increasing total debt burdens and the uncertainties hovering over our traditional economic sectors, most observers will await the upcoming stuff like extra supplementary budgets or the 2020-2021 budget to gauge the goose. If the Programme 2020-2024 was perhaps designed more as a general orientation guide of government intents and priorities, it might, despite some shortcomings, have achieved its objectives.